Just because Main Street is the veritable golden child of the town doesn’t make Railroad Avenue any less loved. In fact, the avenue’s businesses are just as deserving of the public limelight as any town business, and shining bright is ARC Guitar that is celebrating 16 years of service.
Owner and acoustic guru Al Calderone was first smitten by the guitar when he was just six years old living in New York. His neighbor owned a beautiful, blue Stratocaster and just the sight of it was enough to make his soul yearn to play. That mixed with a heavy influence from a bowl-cut band known as The Beetles mixed in perfect harmony to set Calderone skipping down a lifelong road of music.
“I first got some toy guitars until I was about nine, then I taught myself how to play. I’m pretty much self-taught on everything, like I taught myself how to build guitars, too — so it’s been a fun journey,” explained Calderone. “When I moved to Winters in 1999, I had a very expensive guitar I took to someone to set up for me and the guy messed it up terribly. Then I told myself, ‘No one will ever touch my guitars again but me.’”
When Calderone arrived in Winters he was the pastor for New Life Church. Then, in 2005 he launched his guitar repair business on Craigslist. It immediately took off. Calderone got his business license in 2006 and that’s when ARC Guitar officially began.
“I called my business ‘Don’t Fret’ at first because frets are in guitars. That was corny so I just changed it to my initials, ‘ARC.’ They’re not only my initials, but they were my father’s initials and my grandfather’s too,” said Calderone. “Around 2008, John Pickerel caught wind I was building guitars and repairing them and we had a conversation. He helped me get into the spot I’m in now by bringing me before the City Council. He endorsed me because at the time there was a redevelopment grant for businesses trying to get started in vacant buildings. I made it by one vote and the state gave me a $20,000 grant and after some sweat equity, here we are.”
Although it was rough waters during the pandemic, ARC Guitar stayed afloat. In the wake of it all, Calderone still offers guitar, ukulele and bass lessons as well as repairs and restoration work on any string instrument — except violins. He also does consignment and sales, however, Calderone is most proud of his guitar building school. With 106 students to date, this school is a testament to the human touch machine-made guitars couldn’t possibly replicate.
“Keith Cary helped me get started and I owe a lot to him. He’s a great man because he taught me some things and sold me a kit to get started building guitars. It wasn’t so much tools that he gave me, but a little bit of knowledge,” said Calderone. “So, I just started building, got better at it, people found me and I wrote my own little manual. It’s turned into a science now, but the amazing thing is my students have evolved with me, so they’re building at the same level I am.”
Beyond loving music itself, Calderone loves passing along what he’s learned and experienced to other people even more.
To get a glimpse and to experience Calderone’s passion, stop by ARC Guitar at 308 Railroad Ave, call 530-795-1795 or visit the shop’s social accounts by searching @arcguitar on Instagram and Facebook.