The story of The Dallas International Guitar Show
Originally published in Buddy Magazine April 2012
Charley Wirz’ Guitar Show Dream At 35
The Dallas International Guitar Show has become the largest in the world under friends stewardship
by Kirby F. Warnock
Back in the ’70s, a little non-descript guitar shop in a strip shopping center on Harry Hines Boulevard housed one of the hippest guitar men in Texas, and possibly the entire world.
Charley’s Guitar Shop wasn’t your typical “music store” where kids came in to play new guitars that they could probably never afford, or where wannabe musicians hung out to tell stories about the women they picked up.
No, Charley’s was a store so small that you couldn’t fit more than four people in its “showroom,” a little space up front no bigger than a snowcone stand with a repair shop in the back.
Charley Wirz wasn’t known as a blistering guitar player like many of the salesmen at Arnold & Morgan. Charley just was a guy who knew guitars, especially electric guitars, and what made them work. He could take a brand new guitar off the shelf and make it better.
I know, because I watched musicians come in many times with a spanking new guitar they had just purchased at Brook Mays or Arnold & Morgan, and ask Charley to “set it up for me.”
Charley had a love of guitars that was a lot like the love affair that the dudes on Orange County Choppers have with motorcycles. He knew how to repair them, slick ‘em up and make them better. It was like a custom hot rod shop, but without the grease and grime.
When BUDDY decided to do its first guitar issue back in 1978, we approached Charley about allowing us to photograph some of his classic collectible guitars (a 1952 Fender Telecaster and a 1957 Fender Stratocaster among them).
He obliged, but we had to go to his place, shoot the photos, and then leave. He didn’t want those guitars to get out of his sight for a second.
Besides being a guitar aficionado and repairman, Charley was also an inventor. I remember one day Brian Robertson the guitarist for the British band Thin Lizzy, came in with an old Les Paul. Somehow the wire that ran from the pickups to the input plug had become disconnected.
All of this was wiring up inside the solid-body guitar, so it was nearly impossible to see, much less solder back together. Brian had heard that Charley could fix it.
Charley had invented and built a custom tool that went up into the hole where you plugged the amp cord into the guitar, but on the end of it was a small device that could grab the loose wire and solder it back to the connection on the input.
He had it fixed in short order, and an ecstatic Robertson left the shop.
Charley was a guitar man’s guitar man.
Nearly every touring rock band that passed through DFW dropped by his shop to get something done there. Besides the guitars, Charley genuinely liked guitar players.
He once told me that he would like to open a bar where only guitar players and musicians could hang out, “without worrying about people asking them for autographs.”
While he never got that bar open, he did launch a gathering place for guitar players, a showcase known as The Dallas Guitar Show. It was right up Charley’s alley—a place where guitar players could meet and trade guitars: All kinds of guitars.
That first Dallas guitar show—billed as the Greater Southwest Vintage Guitar Show— was held in 1978. It featured only ten booths and was held in a small ballroom at the Sheraton Mockingbird Hotel. There was minimal advertising and public attendance was low, but all the dealers and guitar buffs present really enjoyed themselves.
Plans were made to hold a second show in 1979, and the vintage guitar show phenomenon was born.
It took on a life of its own, growing bigger and bigger. Unfortunately Charley wasn’t able to see it become the behemoth it is today. He died of a heart attack in February, 1985, while attending the winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California leaving the show in the hands of Mark Pollock and eventually Jimmy Wallace.
The Dallas International Guitar Show and Music Festival is now in its 35th year, and has grown into a truly international event bringing in guitar people from around the world.
Yet it all started in a storefront in a rather seedy part of Dallas, from a guy who just liked guitars.
On April 20–22 Charley Wirz’s dream will continue. I just wish he was still around to see it.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Tom Van Hoose for his help in assembling this story. ■