Chat with… Phil Williams, founder of New Canaan Music shop
Updated 3:19 pm, Thursday, February 15, 2018
NEW CANAAN — Guitars and ukuleles of all shapes and sizes line the walls of the New Canaan Music shop which recently made 90 Main St. its home in August of last year.
Phil Williams, 50, the founder of New Canaan Music, can’t hide his passion for strings. He talks about the unique make of various instruments as he paces around the shop and can’t stop himself from playing a few notes on the ukuleles and guitars, a skill he picked up during his high school days.
“This ukulele is made from Hawaiian Koa and it’s priced at $1,800,” Williams said, gesturing to the blue and green imprint of the Hawaiian Islands on the dark brown body of the instrument.
There are about 50 ukuleles lined up on the wall and almost 100 total in the shop, each one with a distinct color, make and body. According to Jim O’Neill, manager, the shop boasts one of the biggest collection of ukuleles in the state.
“People who come to the shop are always impressed by our collection,” O’Neill said.
Williams and O’Neill have known each other since 2003, when they played in a band together along with another guitarist, a drummer and a trombone player. Williams and O’Neill still play together, along with Duke McGinnis, as The Scavengers. They have performed Johnny Cash covers and some of Williams’ original music at the South End restaurant on 36 Pine St.
Though music has been a lifelong interest, Williams didn’t fully invest himself in the shop until 2013.
A former production controller at CBS for Rachael Ray’s show, Williams moved to New Canaan in 2001 from New York City when his daughter, Lily, was 2 years old and her little brother, Bailey, was on the way. Williams retired from television production in 2013 and opted to go all in with his music shop.
“Five years later and it’s the best thing I ever did,” Williams said. “I’ve grown to really like what I do here.”
New Canaan Music, which was originally located in an alley off of Elm Street, moved to 90 Main St. in August of last year. According to Williams, the building dates back to the 1800s. The relocation has proven beneficial to the shop, as it’s now more prominently displayed and doubled the space for music lessons from four rooms to eight, as well as a kitchen area.
“There’s definitely more foot traffic and more space to display the instruments,” O’Neill said.
The shop carries New Canaan both in name and instrument — literally. In 2010, a violent storm ravaged the town, knocking down one of Williams’ ash trees. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Williams chopped down the rest of the tree with his son and, after aging the wood for about a year, transformed it into an electric guitar which he christened “The Flying Vee.”
“This one is not for sale,” Williams said with a chuckle.
Along the hallway at the far end of the shop, a picture frame depicts the construction of the guitar from tree stump to final product.
“I designed the power bridge and the guitar has a real acoustic sound, which surprises people. My son picked the design.” A bold, black “W” is emblazoned unto the headstock of the guitar, a custom addition made by Williams’ daughter.
An admirer of jam music and particularly of music legend Johnny Cash, Williams also owns an electric guitar with the Union Jack colors and signed by Rolling Stone members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts. Priced at $3,500, the guitar has had a few close calls from prospective buyers, though Williams is reluctant to sell.
“I don’t know what I’d put there if I sold it,” Williams said.
The most recent renovation to the shop is the room with guitars from C.F. Martin & Co. “We just put the finishing touches this past Saturday,” Williams said, pointing to the wood-paneled wall displaying the Martin name, a valued brand in the guitar world.
Williams glanced around the room before picking up one of the guitars and strumming it vibrantly.
“Martin guitars are handmade and the company has a lot of family tradition. It’s a very tight-knit company,” Williams explained.