Geared Up: Independent Gear Shops

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XLR8R's Brandon Ivers gets wired at teh country's best independent gear shops.

Nova Musik
608 N Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 270-1948

Tony 'Tone' Gral has operated downtown Milwaukee's Nova Musik since 1999. Boasting a staff knowledgeable in fine beer and synthesizer customization, you can find everything from Nova's modded Moog and Studio Electronic synths to all the usual suspects from Nord, Roland, and Yamaha.

What are people getting most excited about in the store?
The custom synths we're doing. The Moog Solar, or stuff like the Studio Electronics 'Code,' which is an Omega 8 with a redesigned front panel and a new external-input filter control section.

What do you think of the major chains?
Guitar Center, Sam Ash, all those guys–they do a lot of advertising. It just gets more people interested in gear, which, in turn, leads them to other places.

589 1/2 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 554-1977

After recognizing the initial seeds of a burgeoning laptop musician culture, owners Steve Taormina and Alan Stewart formed Robotspeak with maxed-out credit cards in 2002. On top of being both incredibly knowledgeable and kind, they also match Guitar Center's prices.

How do you feel about customers sitting for hours on your gear?
We allow 59 minutes of complimentary playtime, at which point we break out the baseball bats–a full-sized aluminum Louisville Slugger and a smaller aluminum tee-ball bat we lovingly refer to as "Little Louie."

What's the staff's favorite piece of gear?
The Dave Smith Instruments' Mono Evolver Keyboard, a half-analog and half-digital synth that will kill you with kindness, then kick you in the trachea.

Big City Music
11106 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA
(818) 985-0855

Roger Cordell opened Big City Music in 1996 after interest in his analog synth stockpile cooled in Japan, but reheated in the United States. Big City offers tons of new and used hard-to-find synths and effects, and no one else has a better selection of unusual filters and processors.

Any staff favorites?
Analogue Systems has a Bode Frequency Shifter that is spectacular.

Most obscure item for sale:
PPG Realizer... or the PPG Waveterm

Is analog really better sounding?
Is a gourmet meal better than a frozen dinner? If anyone has any doubts about how good new analog gear is, it's only because they haven't tried it yet.

Needle Doctor
419 14th Ave., SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 378-0543

Founded in 1979 after owner Jerry Raskins found runaway success selling blank cassettes out of his backpack, Needle Doctor has grown to become a worldwide DJ/audiophile institution. If you can't find the right needle or cartridge here, it probably doesn't exist.

Any staff favorites?
The JA Michell GyroDec. It's a turntable.

Famous clients?
Carl Craig, John Vanderslice, Kirsty Hume.

Anything for the wealthy battle DJs out there?
We have a DJ cartridge that retails for $995 by Decca.

Analogue Haven
252 S Main St., #A, Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 622-2995

Analogue Haven's storefront opened in May of 2005, and stands alone as the only shop specifically dedicated to analog synthesis. The best place to go if you're looking to build a custom modular synth.

Describe the store in two words.
Analog playground! Seriously, we don't just sell this gear; everything we have is out for demo purposes as well.

What's the appeal behind modular synthesizers?
Modular gear embodies the best parts of analog: amazing sound, infinitely flexible, and total hands-on control. Everything is small, handmade, and crafted to interconnect. We think it changes the way you approach music.

Rogue Music
251 W 30th St., #10FE, New York, NY 10001
(212) 629-5073

In the early '80s, Dick Michaels tried to get rid of a Prophet 5 keyboard. Unable to score cash, he instead landed a bass, a guitar, and a tape deck, beginning a cycle of trading that led to opening Rogue. Twenty-three years later, more used music gear is sold and repaired here than anywhere else in the world.

Most popular product?
It's a toss up between MPC drum machines and a varying selection of keyboards.

Rarest keyboard in stock?
Currently, the Yamaha CS-10.

We hear a lot of famous musicians have been through the store... Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Grandmaster Flash, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, among others.