Thanks to the inspiration from a VCU graduate’s musical journey, the Richmond music community can say ‘aloha’ to Fan Guitar and Ukulele: a small music store on West Main Street that opened in 2012.
Richmond resident and VCU graduate, John Gonzalez del Solar, is the owner of Fan Guitar and Ukulele. He runs the business with his wife, Genie; the couple sells musical instruments and accessories including guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers and ukuleles.
“It’s really experienced more of a renaissance in the last 10 years,” said Gonzalez del Solar, when asked about the rising popularity of the ukulele. “It’s much more a part of pop culture and pop music. We are seeing a lot of interest in it.”
Gonzalez del Solar’s musical journey began around the age of 10 when he started playing the electric guitar. By the age of 20, he learned to play the classical guitar. And in 1998, he enrolled into the VCU Guitar Program headed by the assistant chairperson and coordinator, John Patykula.
“I was never a naturally gifted player,” Gonzalez del Solar said. “But when I started getting into classical guitar and music theory, that made a lot more sense to me than just the raw sound of the instrument. So a lot of pieces of the puzzle came together.”
After graduating in 2002, Gonzalez del Solar joined the Navy. He played electric guitar in the Navy’s Pacific Fleet Band, which was stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. He was introduced to the ukulele while working at a music shop called Hawaii Music Supply. Despite some of its similarities to the classical guitar, the ukulele was never an instrument that Gonzalez del Solar considered playing when he was at VCU.
“The ukulele never crossed my mind in any way,” he said. “But back then I don’t think I knew anyone, that I was aware of, that played ukulele.”
It was also in Hawaii where he met his wife, Genie, at a Mexican restaurant called Cholo’s in Waimea Bay, where Genie worked as a waitress and Gonzalez del Solar worked as a dishwasher. Genie recalls Gonzalez del Solar going out to the back of the restaurant during breaks to play acoustic guitar.
“I would go out back for a break and I saw him playing,” Genie said. “And our first real conversation was about music because I wanted to learn guitar.”
In September 2012, John and Genie Gonzalez del Solar married. Shortly after, they began talking about starting a music business. They eventually moved back to Richmond and opened Fan Guitar and Ukulele.
“Everything fell into place,” Genie said. “It was so smooth and so amazing, the whole process. I mean, yeah, it is stressful and scary, but it was amazing and here we are.”
Chris Swineford is a senior at VCU and a customer of Fan Guitar and Ukulele. He plays bass guitar for a band called One Way Ryde. The band often goes to Fan Guitar and Ukulele to purchase strings and other musical items.
“I recommend it to all of my friends who play any instruments,” Swineford said. “…it is the best guitar shop near campus. …There is no reason every student shouldn’t come here.”
When asked how he feels knowing that one of his former students owns his own music business, Patykula said that he is very proud.
“I think since he has a degree in music too, people who come into his shop, I think they can be guaranteed that they are getting some very good information on either the purchase of an instrument, or on lessons, or on sheet music, or any of the accessories,” Patykula said.
For Gonzalez del Solar, the experience of owning his own music shop has been gratifying.
“I am really grateful that we have had the opportunity more than anything,” he said. “And whether we end up succeeding and doing it for 40 more years or letting it go after five more years, it’s something I think we had to do. And we are loving every minute of it.”