If he had unlimited funds, Chris Wilcox of Bigfork would have been the perfect customer for his guitar-resale business, Roadhouse Vintage.
His love for guitars is so obsessive that at one time he had 125 in his personal collection.
“I realized it was a sickness I should cure myself of,” he said. “At that point, I started selling them.”
Wilcox now only purchases rare, boutique or vintage guitars with the intent to sell them, usually at prices from $1,000 to $10,000.
“They have to be upper end and something special,” Wilcox said of the guitars in his catalog. “I don’t deal with generic stuff.”
Some of his favorites currently in stock include a Gibson Les Paul 1957 Gold Top anniversary-edition “relic,” of which only 60 were made. Relic guitars are new, but made to look broken in, with worn spots, scratches and faded areas to replicate the look of a well-loved, often-played instrument.
“Mine’s the only one for sale that I know of,” Wilcox said of the Les Paul relic.
He also is partial toward a handcrafted Fender pink paisley telecaster relic and a John Suhr Fender design built out of rare woods.
Most Roadhouse Vintage transactions are made online, but Wilcox operates a small, appointment-only space in Bigfork where customers can give guitars a personal run-through or hear the quality of an amplifier firsthand.
“You’ll never find the stuff I have at any other music store,” Wilcox said. “There are some local people who have bought from me because they were able to try stuff they would never have gotten their hands on otherwise.”
Some weeks he’ll have as many as 10 appointments scheduled at his store, and other weeks he won’t see anyone in person. But he keeps busy with the online store, in many weeks shipping out five or more guitars, a time-consuming process.
“Shipping a guitar is very expensive and has to be done carefully,” he said.
As a professional musician since age 16, Wilcox knows the average band member can’t spend thousands of dollars on a fancy guitar for $75 bar gigs, so most of his guitars are sold to connoisseurs of the instrument.
“I’m not really musician-oriented,” he said. “Most of my guitars come from collectors and go to other collectors. Some of the big collectors are not really players, they would like to be players. They’re living vicariously through these guitars.”
Wilcox grew up in Havre and lived in Billings for almost 20 years. He met his wife, Tara, in Billings and the couple moved to Phoenix so Tara could pursue her education toward becoming a naturopath. The couple knew they wanted to be in Montana and moved to Bigfork three years ago, where Tara set up her naturopath practice and Chris Wilcox found a spot for his guitar business above Bigfork Drug on Montana 35.
His guitar trading had started long before he moved to Bigfork, during the early era of eBay.
“When it began, eBay was more of a community-level type of forum,” he said. “There were a lot of good deals that I couldn’t pass up, which is why pretty soon I had a hundred and some guitars.”
As Wilcox started trading in guitars seriously, he realized he couldn’t compete against sites like Amazon on guitar extras such as strings or straps. He does sell some amplifiers and speakers, but guitars are his main focus.
The Roadhouse Vintage website shows the business as a two-man operation. Grant Rushton, who lives near Calgary, Alberta, is also listed as part of the company, but Wilcox and his friend work independently.
“We share the website because he’s not web-literate and I am,” Wilcox said. “His stuff is listed on there as well as mine.”
Wilcox is still part of a tech partnership with the Billings company Dev406 Web Design, where he mostly works with search-engine optimization and marketing projects. And after writing a poker-player’s guide about a decade ago, he still occasionally coaches poker, flying to Las Vegas for consultations.
He hasn’t been joined any Flathead Valley bands, but Wilcox is still part of one group in Phoenix that plays originals and another that focuses on 1980s covers. His music career is winding down, though, as he has a son in kindergarten and prefers to devote time to family.
Though his own guitar collection is “down to six or eight guitars that I won’t sell,” he has no regrets over his long-ago purchases. His earlier buying frenzy launched his current business.
“The way I view it, my collection turned out to be an investment,” he said.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with Wilcox, visit www.roadhousevintage.com.
Business reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.