"My first album was Abbey Road, and my second was Rocks by Aerosmith," says Mike Poirier, taking a rare break to sit and chat on the couch upstairs at Mt. Pleasant Music. In the 10 minutes he pauses to explain the background of the guitar-lined store he opened in 1998, the phone rings no less than eight times.
"I'm kind of known as the emergency guy who can get a guitar out in a day or two," he says. "I definitely look out for the local guys, 100 percent."
Poirier takes in repairs from five other stores around town as well, mentioning Live Oak, Milhouse, and Number One Contender among the bands he's often tuning up instruments for. It's a labor of love, sweetened by the occasional vintage guitar he's trusted to revive or restore. He includes a '58 Fender Stratocaster owned by a local doctor and a $20,000 jazz guitar as memorable jobs.
"Restoration is fun work — taking an old unplayable instrument and getting it back out there, bringing it back to life," Poirier says. "Building or customizing guitars is also a lot of fun, starting from scratch."
Poirier stumbled into the profession after moving from Charleston to Milwaukee, Wis., in the late '70s, because he "saw more rock concerts in one summer than I ever had in my whole life." Guns 'N Roses opening on their first tour for Aerosmith jumps out as a premier memory, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan "in his bad period, but musically great — standing in one spot the whole show, sweating out alcohol, and playing his ass off."
One day he wandered into a small, family-run music store in an Italian neighborhood to buy guitar strings. "I said, 'Man, I sure wish I knew more about guitars, because I would love to work here,'" Poirier recalls. The owner told him that one of his guys had quit, took his number, and hired him soon thereafter.
"It was great on-the-job training. The old man, the father who ran the shop, was a former Gibson guitar employee," he says. "He also worked on accordions, so I'm probably the only guy in town that can open up an accordion and tell you what's wrong with it."
After returning home in 1989, Poirier worked for Fox Music, eventually managing his own location in Mt. Pleasant. After taking off to New Mexico and Colorado in the mid-'90s to find himself — "I wasn't there" — he came home again and soon thereafter opened up his first Mt. Pleasant Music location, right next door to his current shop in the Common off Mill Street and Coleman Boulevard along Shem Creek.
Today, there's hardly an instrument that Poirier can't make play like the day it was born, or better. He even took in a Guitar Hero controller a few weeks ago.
"My first thought was to kick the guy out of the store, but I realized I may be seeing more of these things," he says. "I opened it up, and it ended up having a switch in it that was very common to a normal electric guitar, and I was able to fix it."
Banjos are about the only thing Poirier groans about, because they "can't really make up their mind if they're a guitar or a drum." But he'll fix them with a smile, along with violins, cellos, mandolins, ukuleles, and whatever else comes his way. And, he'll give you a killer deal on a new or classic ax. He knows 'em well. He gives lessons, too. Every weekday there's a steady stream of school-aged kids lugging their cases through his door.
Most importantly, when that classic, rosewood Guild dreadnaught you impulsively dropped three years of lawn-mowing cash on at age 16 suddenly decides to disconnect its neck from its body, it's good to know there's someone you can trust to make it sing again. —Stratton Lawrence