The Best Musical Instrument Stores in Toronto
The best musical instrument stores in Toronto underline a fact that's too often ignored when we try to sing the city's praises - that this is a musician's city, with a reputation that compares honourably with Chicago or San Francisco, and fitfully tugs on the hem of New York or L.A. You can find almost everything here, new or used, with the used market an ongoing testament to generations of musicians acquiring and shedding instruments, at the whims of fortune and taste.
The Church Street pawn strip's days are waning, but the city's wealth of music stores have instruments for almost anyone's wallet, and some of these shops give a sense of being curated as much as they're stocked. As voted by our readers, this cross-section of the city's music shops would equip everything from a string quartet to a bluegrass group to a black metal band.
Here are the 15 best musical instrument stores in Toronto.
If musical instrument shops were music festivals, Steve’s would be Monsters Of Rock. This Queen West institution is cavernous, guitars hanging in ranks like shiny, multicoloured bats, and amps of every size and wattage squatting beneath them like stalagmites. There are rooms for acoustic instruments, keyboards, drums, studio hardware and P.A.s, and even a little annex at the back for DJ gear, but at its heart lies the wild, shredding beat of a guitar solo - turned up to eleven, naturally. More »
And if Steve’s is stadium rock, Long & McQuade is a JVC Jazz Festival, with a little bit of High Voltage mixed in. Over fifty years old, L&M has branches all over the country, but its Bloor Street store is the mothership, sprawling over most of a city block, with a storefront for everything you need, and a famously generous store credit policy that’s allowed generations of musicians to play while they pay off their instrument in monthly installments. More »
Working the rock festival metaphor one more step would make this tiny but packed Kensington shop Bonnaroo - the sort of place you go to equip your prog-folk math rock jam band. The ghost of Church St. pawn shop legend Richmond’s Trading Post has returned to life here with a vengeance, in the front room, full of gently abused amps and affordable axes, and the keyboard-lined back room. More »
Fifteen years ago, I would have predicted that every music shop would have looked like Moog Audio. Along with Saved By Technology, it’s one of the only purely digital age stores in the city, selling vinyl and DJ discs alongside turntables and studio gear for the “made it on my laptop” artists out there. There are a few (pricey) amps at the front of the store, and a scant handful of guitars, which might be, to my ancient eyes, an admission that you can’t sample everything. More »
With a priceless view across Queen to Trinity Bellwoods Park, Capsule is a temple of twang – three cramped rooms loaded to the ceiling with guitars with f-holes or candy-apple race car finishes, and amps in battered tweed. Old classics and new retro recreations hang side by side, the gaps filled with music memorabilia from the collection of Capsule’s co-owners, twin brothers Mark and Peter Kesper. More »
Walking deeper into this Danforth shop is a trip back in time, as the electric instruments give way to acoustic guitars, then dobros, lap steels, banjos, bouzoukis, dulcimers and mandolins. The whole store is a hundred hoe-downs waiting to happen, with an inventory that should help Toronto if it decides to re-vamp its image as Nashville North. More »
Located in the city’s musical sweet spot, Remenyi stares the Royal Conservatory of Music in the face across Bloor Street, so it’s no surprise that it caters to a more classically-oriented customer, with a respectable selection of guitars, a serious string department, and lots of pianos. The store, opened here in 1959 after a family business was taken over by Hungary’s communist government, is the exclusive Steinway dealer for southwest Ontario, which is a big stinking deal in the world of expensive pianos. More »
An old house, tucked behind the hospitals, university and government buildings of the Discovery District, is a one-stop shop for string players. Catering to teachers, students, schools, professionals and serious amateurs, it features two floors of showrooms and repair shops over a basement full of sheet music, one of the largest selections in North America. More »
Every neighbourhood used to have a store like this – a humble but comprehensive selection of guitars, pianos, clarinets, saxes and recorders, priced to sell, with classrooms in the back or upstairs where budding virtuosi learned to wrap their fingers around Paderewski or “Lady of Spain.” This one persists, on the College strip no less, where it’ll be of some use to all the young families spending serious coin for a home near Bar Italia and Sam James. More »
The walls of the main floor showroom are covered with signed pictures going back decades – a testament to the loyalty professional customers have for this stringed instrument institution, open since 1926 and the place to go if your cherished violin, viola, cello or double bass suffers a mishap. More »
You’ll see Lowrey’s name on the side of grand pianos rented for professional recitals all over the city – one afternoon when I wandered the upstairs showrooms, the nine-and-a-half foot long Bösendorfer grand was away at a Ben Heppner recital. You can spend a fortune here if you want – I’d recommend the Porsche-designed Bösendorfer if you want to really impress - a steal at just $156,000 – but you can also pick up a digital piano for your apartment in the new Roland showroom. More »
Meiron Blackstien opened his Parkdale guitar shop in May, where he sells a modest selection of mostly affordable instruments up front, services and builds guitars in the back, and hosts classes in the basement on weekends when he isn’t playing stand-up bass with rockabilly trio Christian D and the Hangovers. On the day I visited he was eager to show off his recent projects, which included a Gretsch/Telecaster bastard child finished in a custom car colour, and a Jack Daniels bass clearly meant for a Michael Anthony fan. More »
Ring is a concise guitar shopping experience for serious players impatient with endless walls of instruments. The chaff-free selection is boiled down to the basics – playable models by big brands like Fender, Martin and Gretsch hanging next to used gems, with the amps to match and priced to sell. It’s the Cliff’s Notes of music stores, albeit one intent on not insulting your intelligence or taste. More »
In business for 35 years at locations all over the west end, Armstrong arrived in Parkdale a few years ago where he sells mostly clarinets and oboes, but services virtually any woodwind. The 3,000-plus customers in his database include many of the city’s top professionals, like jazz saxophonist Jane Bunnett, who took Armstrong to Cuba a few years ago where he donated his labour servicing students’ battered instruments. More »
With its careful displays and dramatic lighting, it’s easy to forget that this is a store, and that the exotic instruments – kotos and koras, shenais, santurs, tablas, hurdy-gurdies, zithers and shofars – are for sale. Most people wouldn’t know how to pick up many of these instruments, never mind play them, but the mind practically swims with possibilities as you stand amidst all this wood, skin, bone and metal. If you’re feeling timid, there’s a $35 build-your-own guitar kit. More »