Best Gearhead Road Trip


If you’ve played guitar for any length of time, you’ve probably already made a pilgrimage up U.S. 40 to Catonsville. If not, go now.

This burg (population according to the 2000 Census: 39,820) just 50 minutes north of the District has for decades been known as Music City Maryland, owing to its having the best row of music stores this side of New York’s 48th Street.

Within steps of each other on the main drag through town, Frederick Road, there are four decent-to-great guitar shops—Guitar Exchange, Bill’s Music, Jim’s Guitars, and Appalachian Bluegrass—vending every sort of six-string, from vintage American heirlooms to late-model Indonesian disposables.

“I don’t know how this started in Catonsville,” says Tracey Kern, whose father founded Bill’s Music in 1965. “But people come to Catonsville if they’re looking for anything [musical]. Now, we all survive off of each other.”

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