The moment Brooklyn indie rockers the National caught their first big break could be a matter of debate. Perhaps it was earning a top-10 debut with last year's “High Violet,” or maybe it was further back in the mid-2000s when Beggars Banquet opted to sign the terse adult rockers. Regardless, Reuben Cox is indebted, as his Silver Lake guitar shop is one, in some ways, built by the National.
A freelance photographer and lifelong student up until about one year ago, Cox built guitars in his spare time. More hobbyist than guitarist, Cox's approach was not too unlike that of the train enthusiast who studied the inner workings of locomotives outside of his day job. An advantage Cox had over the average part-time craftsman, though, was direct access to rock 'n' rollers, as his wife is a high-ranking employee in the Beggars family of labels, which includes such indie stalwarts as Matador, Rough Trade and 4AD.
So when Cox delivered his handmade guitars to the National free of charge, the band members were at the very least obligated to be polite.
“I just told them I had been working on all these guitars and asked if they wanted to borrow them,” Cox said. “I'd drop off a few. They would keep one, and say, ‘We're not so interested in this one.' Then I'd show up with two more a few months later. There's probably five or six guitars of mine in their rotation now, and they made it on ‘High Violet.' They're very serious when they're recording, and that gave me an ego boost to go public.”
Late in 2009 Cox's wife, Miwa Okumura, began plotting a move west to Los Angeles to open up an Echo Park outpost for the label group. Cox's part-time gig in the photo department of Cooper Union's art school was easily jettisoned, and the relocation to Los Angeles made opening a guitar shop a reality, as rent for his homey, porch-adorned wood space at 510 N. Hoover St. is a cool $650 per month.
“The only way to open a shop in Manhattan or Brooklyn is to go in with guns blazing and major capital,” Cox said. “This is so grass roots. My daughter had just been born, and I was driving around looking for strips like this. I would just stroller her around and knock on doors.”