A quartet of musical instrument shops are still popular destinations

By Peter Whyatt

Shopfront with violins in the window.

J P Guiver, 99 Mortimer Street, the oldest violin dealer in England.

J P Guiver & Co in Mortimer  Street claim to be the oldest violin dealer in England and is one of four specialist music shops still surviving in Fitzrovia. Guiver's specialise in violins, violas, cellos and bows. They have a world renowned selection of conductor’s batons, and sell strings, cases and accessories. The business is spread over five floors, was originally established in 1863 to manufacture strings, and moved from Soho to its current address in the 1940s. Customers can try a selection of instruments and bows in private practice rooms. They keep a good selection of fine older instruments from the best European violin-making schools and offer a choice of at least 36 available handmade conducting batons of different styles and lengths. Repairs and restorations are carried out on-site in their own workshop. The mugging at the start of Howard Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question describes Julian Treslove looking into J P Guiver's shop window when he is assaulted.

Ivor Mairants Musicentre in Rathbone Place specialises in fretted stringed instruments: guitars, banjos, ukuleles, and bass guitars; and also sells strings, books, pickups, tuners, amplifiers, and effects pedals.

Ivor Mairants was born in 1908 in Rypin, Poland, and came with his family to the UK in 1913. He took up the banjo at the age of 15 and at 20 became a professional musician.

From the 1930s he was a featured banjoist and then guitarist of many of Britain’s leading dance bands. In the 60s and 70s his guitar playing was often heard on television, radio, film soundtracks, and many recordings including the Mantovani orchestra, and Manuel and his Music of the Mountains. His guitar quintet broadcast regularly in the late 1950s on the BBC’s Guitar Club series.

In the 1950s Ivor Mairants established his central school of dance music in London. All instruments were taught but special emphasis was given to the guitar. In 1958, together with his wife Lily, he opened The Ivor Mairants Musicentre, Britain’s first specialist guitar store, which became a Mecca for professional and  amateur guitarists. It moved to its present premises in 1962. David Antony Reid with over 13 years’ experience of hand-making and repairing guitars spends his Thursdays at Ivor Mairants taking care of repairs, set-ups and restorations.

All Flutes Plus moved to Warren Street from Chiltern Street, Marylebone, about ten years ago and has a large selection of flutes including bass and alto flutes, piccolos and headjoints. Instruments range from student models to advanced professional models. It also has the latest lighter flutes made of resin which are suitable for musicians suffering with RSI.

An extensive library of music is available featuring pieces for flute, flute and piano duets and ensemble pieces. It also has a range of CDs, cases, covers, music stands, instrument stands, lights, pickups, tuners, metronomes, and flute cleaning materials.

Two small instrument try-out rooms are available and a small studio space in the basement – “The Warren Room” is available to hire for rehearsals, individual and group teaching, masterclasses, workshops, and seminars. The room holds 12 people, has a piano and is also used for musicians’ posture and bodywork classes.

A repair and servicing workshop is fully equipped with specialist technicians  dealing with minor adjustments to complete overhauls and renovations.

Notice board and leaflets give details of concerts, recitals, teachers and flute related events.

Hobgoblin Music, Rathbone Place has been in Fitzrovia for 13 years and is an Aladdin’s Cave of musical instruments with a huge range of acoustic, folk, Celtic and world musical instruments to try out and compare.

Concertinas, melodeons, accordions, mandolins, mandolas, dulcimers, bouzoukis, bass guitars, bodhrans, flagelots, world percussion, bagpipes, flutes, tin whistles, banjos, low whistles, harps, fiddles, violins, harmonicas, saxophones, zithers ukeleles, kalimbas, bells glockenspiels, xylophones, recorders, amplifiers, strings, straps cases, books, tutors, CDs and DVDs (this list is not exhaustive!)

The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, they’re happy to let you make a noise in the shop and will give you pressure-free advice.

A range of secondhand and handmade instruments are stocked and Hobgoblin buy certain instruments outright, especially concertinas. They take trade-ins and can sell on a commission. If you have an instrument to sell, pop into the shop.

They too have a noticeboard with musicians contact details, teachers, bands and upcoming gigs.

J P Guiver of 99 Mortimer  Street,  London, W1W 7SX. 0207 580 2560

Ivor Mairants Musicentre, 56 Rathbone Place,  London W1T 1JT.  0207 636 1481

All Flutes Plus 60-61 Warren Street, W1T 5NZ. 020 7388 8438

Hobgoblin Music, 24 Rathbone Place, W1T 1JA. 020 7323 9040

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