The Platinum Club at Guitar Center's new Times Square location.

GC Takes on Times Square

In a move that places it alongside the largest brand names in America, Guitar Center opened a new 28,0000-square-foot showroom in Times Square on Aug. 7.

While bloggers had a field day calling the opening week's sound levels "an ear-splitting hell hole" due to the high volume of musicians trying out instruments, GC executives smiled, noting that that's exactly what they want customers to do.

"One of the things that's really important to us as a company is that everything is accessible for every single customer," said Kevin Kazubowski, senior vice president of stores, while giving the media a tour of the new showroom.

In short, if customers are trying out new gear, they'll be buying it, too.

The new location becomes GC's 262nd store and the flagship for the entire chain featuring a variety of new concepts and techniques that will be rolled out in other locations. Here's a walkthrough and insights into GC's latest thoughts on store design.

Dazzling Sound & Video

Before entering the store, the outdoor marquee features six, 55-inch Panasonic professional LED display cubes with ultra-thin bezels that are joined together to deliver a video images to the street. Above it, a three-story Guitar Center logo will be in place, but wasn't up in time for the grand opening due to difficulties in getting final approval from New York City.

Upon entering the store, an escalator takes customers down to the basement level showroom.

"As you enter the store, going down the escalator, you'll hear some crowd noise and there's a big screen with a bunch of people going crazy," said Kazubowski. "The idea is you're going to feel like you're going from backstage onto the stage when you get down there."

At the bottom of the escalator, Rick Plushner, vice president of Guitar Center Professional, described the technology behind the effect.

"You've just experienced a QSC sound system, which is all done with a Q-Sys system to control all the levels so you get all of this surround effect when you're coming down the escalator," Plushner said.

The store, designed in conjunction with 8 Inc.—a design firm that has worked with Apple, Nike and Citibank—has the feel of an expansive night club. New touches include a guitar luthier station that will be staffed every hour the store is open as well as a shipping station for tourists who want to buy now and have it at home upon return.

Unlike most GCs, this location has a substantial B&O section.

"We felt you couldn't be a music store in New York City without having a B&O section," Kazubowski said. "We have it in New Orleans. It's a newer venture for us to get into."

The redesigned GC guitar wall at Times Square.

Rolling Out a New Guitar Wall

The new guitar wall display features hot, rolled steel with LED lighting to give the wall and instruments a stage-worthy glow.

"Every single guitar is accessible and everybody can play anything they want," Kazubowski said. "They went through five or six iterations in our merchandising lab back at the [home] office and this is the one we landed on. You'll probably start seeing some of this in our other stores. What we're doing in our other stores is redoing the guitar wall, bringing everything lower so that people can get to it really easily, and we're putting TV screens above it."

Large Lessons Facility

Lessons are a new focus for GC, and the Times Square location features nine lesson rooms.

"Each of our rooms is set up with two instruments, so the instructor and the student will be playing the same thing," Kazubowski said. "We name all of our rooms after local acts. Wherever we have a lessons facility, we try to get local, like The Sondheim Room or Mary J. Blige. They're all sound proof. They all have Auralex on the walls. The drum room actually seals at the bottom so you don't hear anything.

"We have this in about 80 stores. That's one of our big initiatives to get this into all of our stores by 2017."

The acoustic room uses reclaimed barn flooring.

Rethinking the Acoustic Room

"The exciting thing you'll see here is that the flooring and the flooring you'll see next door in the Platinum Club is made from reclaimed barn floor," Kazubowski said. "We went out and got something special that we won't have in any of our other stores for this particular location. Anything is playable. We have everything from an $11,000 Taylor hanging on the wall right there all the way down to a $99 guitar right here. We really encourage people to pick up and play anything here. That's why they're all unlocked and within arm's reach."

The room features a full humidification system and displays about 200 acoustic guitars.

Powered Pro Audio

"Home recording is really big now," Kazubowski said in discussing the store's pro audio department. "People can make a record at home without ever going to a studio and many of them do. We have Saturday lessons. Every Saturday we have a recording made easy class."

Kazubowski said a newer twist for the store is a powered speaker wall.

"Traditionally, we've had a passive speaker wall, but the business has shifted to power speakers so people don't have to have a separate power amp as well," he said. "This is new for us, we only have this in maybe 10 stores now. We're going to continue to have these in all of our stores. You'll see the passive wall go away to be replaced by that powered wall. You can choose any speaker you want to hear. We have a mixing board over here where customers can listen to any speaker that they want."

The wall is back-lit by a colorful LED video wall.

The Serato in-store digital space for DJs.

Expansive DJ Room

The store features 15 DJ stations, each fitted with an Apple MacBook Pro, a controller and headphones.

"Every station is set up with its own computer so you can go and audition each system individually," Plushner said. "I expect that on opening night, it will be packed."

The room also features the chain's third Serato in-store digital space for DJs.

The Platinum Club

"In a lot of our stores, we have something we call the Platinum Room where we have our high-end guitars," said Kazubowski. "Those rooms have between 10-15 guitars. Here we have the Platinum Club. The idea was to mimic a speakeasy or jazz club. That's why you have the brick in there and there are about 100 guitars in there. Some amazing guitars.

"The idea with this lit back wall was to feel like you're actually playing in a barn with some light coming through in the back."

The club features a stage where live performances can happen for an audience of up to 75. With a control-room set up next door, GC plans to tape a variety of events from the club, including its award-winning "Guitar Center Sessions" television show that airs on DirectTV.

In building the club, GC Pro and its partners actually built it as a room within a room to ensure that there would be no sound leakage issues when taping or hosting an event.

"It can get loud in here," Plushner said. "In a real recording studio, you have isolation that's happening, where you have walls and floors that are actually separated from the outer walls. So you build a studio within a studio. And that's what we've done here, too."

GC has invested more than $180,000 in recording equipment for the room, including an Avid S3L system at the front of house and an Avid S6 system in the control room. The room also features Adam 3X monitors, a Manley Pultec equalizer, Universal Audio's Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier, Sound Anchor monitor stands, a Denon Media Player, an Aviom audio network that will feed headphones and monitors, a Chanler EQ, Furman Power Controls and JBL VRX arrays.

Revved Up Rentals

"This is rentals location No. 32 for us," Kazubowski said. "'Rent now, play now,' that's our slogan. We're renting back lines or if somebody comes into town and needs a guitar for a weekend, they can get that here. They have access to a loading dock in back [a rarity in New York City], so when folks want to rent a bunch of speakers or something like that, we have an easy way to get them loaded into their cars.

Kazubowski noted that DJ, lighting and back-line equipment currently drive the company's rental business.

Times Square features one of the largest cymbal rooms in the chain.

Remix in the Drum Department

Kazubowski noted that there aren't a lot of acoustic kits on the drum floor, with GC displaying many more electronic and hybrid kits. The department also features an electronic Drum Tutor display where drummers can test their skills and get electronic feedback.

"We have it in five stores right now," he said. "You play, and it tells you if you're doing it right. It's like Rock Band for adults."

The First Fender Custom Shop Room

"Down here at the break-in the wall, we have a Fender Custom Shop Room co-branded with Fender, and it will be manned by someone from Fender," Kazubowski said. "The nicest Fender Guitars that I have ever seen are in this room."

This concept of a co-branded room staffed by Fender employees is a first for GC.

Mega Pedal Display

"This is something else that we're really proud of," Kazubowski said. "It's a giant pedal display, 360 degrees all the way around it. This is probably the largest pedal display in our chain and possible the United States. More than [our] Hollywood [location]. It's an amazing collection. We have boutique vendors that we have only in this store, that we don't have in any other location. There's some great pedals. And we have demo stations here as well. So, any pedal that anybody wants to play, we can take, plug into a demo station and they can grab a guitar off the wall and feel free to jam. When you're here on a Saturday afternoon, it's really loud."

New Home for Blackie

And if the sheer expanse of gear isn't enough for customers, the Times Square location is also a bit of a museum, becoming the permanent home for Eric Clapton's famous "Blackie" 1956/57 Fender Stratocaster and his 1964 Gibson ES335. Guitar Center purchased both guitars at auction in 2004 for $959,500 and $847,500, respectively.

Finally, the Gift Shop

"Being in Times Square and so touristy, we've got shirts, coffee mugs a T-shirt wall," Kazubowski said. "This is really cool. We usually color our carpets by department. This is the first store to have red carpet. It's Guitar Center red. We haven't done this before."