Shop Spotlight: Dirk Witte in Amsterdam

You can find Dirk Witte on Amsterdam’s bustling Vijzelstraat. The shop is wonderfully thick with heritage, with vintage instruments adorning the walls like museum exhibits. Old photos are scattered around the shopping, telling stories of visiting musicians and highlighting how the shop has remained relatively unchanged for decades.

Barry Witte, the shop’s owner, represents the third generation of Wittes to run the store. We caught up with him to learn more about the shop's legacy and the future of his family's venerable store.

How did Dirk Witte get started?

Dirk Witte is a family-owned musical instrument shop that started in 1939. My grandfather was an accordion player, so in the beginning, the shop only sold accordions. My grandfather imported them straight from Italy.

He would be playing in the store with speakers outside of the shop, so you could hear him play outside, and it would attract people in. You couldn’t get away with doing that these days, but back then, nobody minded.

Dirk Witte Storefront

In the ‘60s, we started with organs and later realised, in a strange coincidence, that having classical guitars on the wall made the organs sound better. Slowly, it became a full musical instrument store.

My father and uncle helped out when they were young boys. They started with delivery and repairing. Then, in 1982, they took over the company. My uncle didn't have any children, and my sister wasn't interested in the shop. So at the age of 18, I took over the company.

I’m changing it more and more into a specialty shop for vintage and rare guitars and synthesizers. It's funny to note that the models we sold brand new in the ‘60s and ‘70s are all coming back to the shop as vintage pieces. Old pictures on the wall show where those guitars were hanging before. I can sometimes put them back on the exact same spot.

A view of the acoustic wall
A selection of amps for sale

What are your earliest memories of the shop? Did you always want to continue the legacy?

My parents lived above the shop, so I learned to walk between the guitars. I've been here all my life and wouldn't want it any other way.

Having been in the same location for so long, you’ve picked up a few historic pieces that aren’t for sale and are displayed behind glass. It gives the shop an almost museum-like quality. Could you pick out a few of the pieces to tell us about?

There are people that talk about the Dirk Witte private stock, which we don't sell. Actually, everything we have in the shop is for sale. The windows are just to keep them safe.

There are four guitars that are not for sale that are in my private collection:

Historic pieces protected behind glass

A Rickenbacker 370/12 Roger McGuinn, used and signed by him, thanking the shop for borrowing his own signature model for the Europe tour; a Baldwin painted by Herman Brood, used on the Wild Romance tour, bought from Dany Lademacher after the tour and painted by Herman in trade for a piano module; a D'Angelico guitar, given to me by Steve Pisani; a Yamaha electric guitar painted by my father in the factory in Taiwan, signed by him and the boss of Yamaha.

So we only keep things that have a special meaning for us. Otherwise, we prefer to sell even the really nice instruments.

You’ve had some pretty big names in the shop over the years. Any good stories?

When you have a shop in downtown Amsterdam, you collect lots of stories. Every day is a new adventure...

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

Once, my father got a call from the television company to do a shoot for an artist in the store. He didn't know them, but he knew the guy on the phone, so he agreed. It turned out to be Steven Tyler and Joe Perry jamming in the store. My dad didn't know them. So when they wanted to borrow a harmonica, my father told Steve, 'If you use it, you may keep it. I'm not selling used harmonicas.'

Another is when I bought 117 guitars from an old customer of the shop. He used to be a sales rep in Holland and a collector — worst case scenario. When he became ill, we came to a deal for letting go of his collection. A lot of old Dutch guitars, but also some nice vintage stuff. I sold one to Joe Bonamassa and then sent the old man the message that his guitars are in good hands. He was so happy that he told all his older friends to sell their guitars to me.

As previously mentioned, the shop has a museum-like quality to it, but it is also full of the latest gear. Do you ever feel a tension between maintaining the heritage of the shop and keeping it up-to-date as a modern music shop? What do you do to maintain the balance?

You're right, the tension is there, which is why I'm letting go of the new electronics. I like to focus on gear that is not possible to sell hundreds of, but only limiteds or end-of-life items.

A wall of Fender guitars

My shop is downtown and parking is not easy in the city center, so I'm selling a lot of small items. We have hundreds of pedals in stock, and we can help to build pedalboards.

Alsom there is a lot of repair work due to the online purchases. People sometimes just come in with guitars and want them to be set up in a proper way. That’s something the internet will never take over.

What’s in the future for Dirk Witte?

More vintage gear, more limited models, more Reverb sales.

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