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The Guitar Man


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Story by Joe Leary

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In music circles, most hip cities have that one special location that caters to everyone from the absolute elite performer to upand-comers and wannabe musicians.

In Vancouver, that place is Rufus Guitar Shop, and it’s been a prominent figure within the West Coast’s rich guitar culture for years.

Long in the game but only at the helm since 2014, Blaine McNamee is the owner/operator of the landmark store, with three locations.

“Rufus was founded in Halifax in the sixties by Rufus Stewart and then it moved to Montreal,” he says. “He then sold it to the gentleman I bought the store from in 1972 and they moved it to Vancouver in 1983.

The original location has been here since ‘84.’” Originally from Edmonton, McNamee started working in a guitar store at the age of 14. That would lead to employment in other music shops, all the while honing his love for the instrument. “At the age of 20 I was playing in a band and touring across Canada and got the idea in my head that I wanted to own a guitar store.

The band eventually broke up and the woman I was with at the time got accepted to Emily Carr. It was 2006 and I was 24 and wanted to move away from Edmonton, so I moved here.”

After relocating to Vancouver, the mission was to begin scouring area music stores looking for suitable employment. One in particular stuck out. “I found I liked Rufus Guitar Shop the best,” he adds, “and I could also sense that the owners were close to retirement.”

At that point McNamee identified two goals in his life. “My main goal was to play music – which I did – and my backup plan was to own a guitar shop. I started working for Rufus in 2006 and then when the owners retired in 2014, I bought the shop.”

Today there are three Vancouver locations: the original store on Alma Street in Point Grey; Rufus Drum Shop, which opened in 2015 on West 10th Avenue; and Rufus Guitar and Drum Shop which opened four years later on Commercial Drive at 2nd Avenue.

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“The reason I opened the shop on Commercial was the fact that a lot of musicians live in East Van so it just made sense and a great building became available.” Aptly described as being owned and run by musicians for musicians, Rufus offer everything from lessons and repairs to guitars; from entry level right up to the most sought-after vintage models.

“It’s not uncommon to have legendary Fenders from the sixties in the store,” he adds. “They are kind of like the Holy Grail. Fender and Gibson are the two original guitar companies and you could call them ‘the BMW of electric guitars’ – Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster.

For acoustic guitars, it’s Martin – Johnny Cash played a Martin.” Rufus remains among the largest dealer of both Fender and Martin Guitars in Canada. “We brought on a lot of lines that the previous owners of the store didn’t and we totally beefed up the electrics.

We got into pedals and we got deeper into vintage guitars as well.” And for customers, one does not need to be intimidated by the range of high-end product within the walls. McNamee promotes an inclusive world for axe-slingers of all types and talent.

“Our customers are everything from beginners and buskers who just want to buy a single string, all the way to famous Hollywood musicians who are willing to drop between 15 to 20 grand.”

 “My main goal was to play music which I did and my backup plan was to own a guitar shop.”

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