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NYC Music Trail: Mandolin Brothers

by Jake Neher
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Mandolin Brothers
Courtesy of Mandolin Brothers.

Staten Island store has sold instruments to Dylan, Springsteen.

When you walk into Mandolin Brothers music shop, you're standing right in the middle of founder Stan Jay's office. He's often there to greet you and show you around the store. Mandolin Brothers, which sits in the heart of Staten Island, specializes in buying and selling high-end fretted acoustic instruments like guitars, banjos, and - of course - mandolins. But Jay says these aren't the kind of instruments you could find in just any store.

"Almost almost every single day there'll be an 'Antiques Roadshow' moment," Jay says, "where somebody will have an instrument that was in their family, and they'll bring it in and they'll put it on our main table. And we'll all wait, and we'll open up the case, and we'll wait expectantly to see what's in the case."

Mandolin Brothers has sold instruments to people like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Bruce Springsteen. They were also chosen to repair Paul McCartney's iconic Höfner bass after a world-wide search.

Stan Jay says Joni Mitchell wrote lyrics for her song "Song for Sharon" on the Staten Island Ferry after a visit to the store in the mid-1970s. The song begins, "I went to Staten Island, Sharon, to buy myself a mandolin." According to Jay, she actually purchased an instrument called a mandocello, which is roughly a guitar-sized instrument in the mandolin family.

But everyday customers like Staten Island resident Morty Jacobi are what have kept the shop going for more than 40 years.

"Do I feel like an acoustic? Do I feel like an electric? Do I feel like a 12-string? Do I feel like a mandolin or a banjo? It's all here!" Jacobi exclaims.

But it's not just the instruments or the famous clients that make the shop special. It's Stan Jay's knowledge of what makes them exceptional, and his willingness to essentially geek out with perspective buyers and sellers. And he should be able to relate, he's a pretty good player himself.

Note: This is Part One of WFUV's series on the New York City Music Trail. There are dozens of spots all over the five boroughs that embody the city's rich musical heritage. In 1992, the NYC Grammy Awards Host Committee and the city decided to map them. The NYC Music Trail includes legendary "sites of sound" like Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Tin Pan Alley, CBGB, and Lincoln Center. But all this week, we're visiting some of the places on the trail that likely haven't crossed your radar yet. Tomorrow, we take a walk around Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush, Brooklyn, which some have called "the Beverly Hills High of music." You can hear each installment live on WFUV 90.7FM at 7:40AM and 3:30PM.

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