Given the omnipresence of corporate musical-instrument titan Guitar Center, you'd be forgiven for assuming that the neighborhood music shop had gone extinct—or, at the very least, mostly been phased into a cottage industry. But if the prospect of hearing budding Kirk Hammetts work their way through poorly tuned "Enter Sandman" riffs makes you rethink picking up your own instrument, then take solace in knowing that Alan's Music in La Mesa offers a more palatable alternative.
Opened in 1954 by then-owner Alan Urich, Alan's Music (8510 La Mesa Blvd.) is a more casual, friendly alternative to mega-chain instrument retail, and one that's remained in the family for 60 years. The store's namesake and patriarch died in 2013, but his widow Janice and sons William and Robert still keep the lights on and the strings strumming. A true family music store in many senses of the word, Alan's caters not to rock-stars-in-training, but also to first-timers, students, dabblers and professionals.
When you walk into the shop, the first thing you're likely to notice is the racks upon racks of sheet music, but every corner of Alan's focuses on a different niche, be it the room of moderately priced electric and acoustic guitars, the electric organs and keyboards or the glass cases of curiosities—which house ocarinas, melodicas and kalimbas (thumb pianos). But no matter how esoteric the instrument, Alan's is considerably more accessible than your average warehouse of guitars, and particularly convenient for students of music.
Those in need of a custom-built guitar or banjo with a four-figure price tag might want to look elsewhere, but for everyone else, there's Alan's.