photograph by Jon Black

The honey-hued heart-pine flooring of this 1886 building in downtown Burlington is itself a pretty piece of work, but the real beauties are hanging on the walls: dozens of guitars, banjos, and mandolins. These are vintage instruments, defined by father-and-son owners Ed and Will Lowe as those made before 1969, when Brazilian rosewood, which produces the finest wood tone, was added to the endangered list. And while collecting instruments began as a hobby for the Lowes, it soon turned into an obsession and then led to a lack of space. Hence Lowe Vintage Instrument Company, which opened on Main Street in 2014 after a decade of online sales.

Today, the Lowes’ customers come from around the state and as far away as Australia, and include both collectors and musicians looking for, say, a Martin 1968 D-45 with pearl inlay for $45,000, or a 1914 mandolin whose white face is the result not of ivory, but of ordinary house paint. Even if you aren’t in the market for a vintage instrument, it’s worth stopping by to hang out at their monthly bluegrass jam, and to learn the lingo of headstock, heel, fret, and fingerboard. And for the pure pleasure of hearing Ed Lowe say “git-tar.”

Lowe Vintage Instrument Company
327 South Main Street
Burlington, NC 27215
(336) 524-6250

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.