Shop Spotlight: Janzen Brothers Music Company in Manitoba, Canada

Since 2002, Janzen Brothers Music has been an oasis for musicians in the sparse wilderness of Manitoba.

Located in Winkler, MB (about an hour-and-a-half outside of Winnipeg), the store boasts a fine collection of vintage and boutique gear, as well as being an outlet for Andrew Janzen (of the store's namesake) to sell his hand-crafted Janzen Brothers Drum Company kits.

We got in touch with Larry Abrams at Janzen Brothers Music to talk about what the small-town music store has to offer.

How did Janzen Brothers Music get started?

It was started in 2002 by twin brothers Mark and Andrew Janzen. They were working with young people in youth ministry and found themselves fixing their friends’ gear while helping kids find guitars and drums.

From there, they thought they’d start seeking out a few suppliers that would supply them with products despite not having a store front. As this continued to happen and more and more requests came in for gear and repairs, they figured the next logical step was to seek out a location and jump into starting a business. In 2004, the first Janzen Brothers Music retail store came to be in a small 165 ft2 corner space with a 16 ft2 closet used for cases.

Apparently, there were only two gauges of strings, a few cymbals, around four guitar cables, one guitar, and a couple of drum kits. But, as time went on and more and more people fell in love with who the guys were and their ability to love on people, the store continued to grow.

Within four years, the small shop had one more full-time employee along with the brothers, over 40 guitars, and a full-time guitar repair spot on the front counter — all in the same 165 ft2 space. The place was so jam-packed. I remember walking in as a young high school kid just in awe of the place.

Fast forward five years, and the brothers purchased all the inventory from the only other music store in town and moved into a bigger space in the fall of 2009. Since then, the business has continued to grow. We moved into our new, current location in 2015 and launched our website and web store in 2017. The store is bigger and better and we are thrilled to celebrate 15 years of JB this year.

What does your store specialize in?

We are the only music instrument retailer in our city, so we have the ability to cover a few different things. For the most part, I'd say our acoustic guitar market would be the biggest part of what we do, with any of the Canadian-made Godin models and Martin guitars being a draw to our show room. Also, we specialize in a variety of higher-end, boutique effects pedals, like Strymon, Greer, Emerson, Diamond, etc.

What brings people to the brick-and-mortar store in Winkler and to the online shop? How do you maintain your following, and what challenges are involved?

Geddy Lee with a 1960's Yamaha 'Samaurai' bass
from Janzen Brothers Music Company

From the beginning, our business motto has been ‘people serving people.’ To this day, we believe that fully. Each person that walks through our doors has a story, and we have the ability to impact it in some way. I don’t think it's just great gear that brings people in (even though it sure as heck helps).

Our online store is new and fresh. Every day we’re putting things up, carrying brands like Martin, Fender, Strymon, multiple boutique pedal brands, and even a full line of GoPro definitely fills a gap in our market. Now, being able to offer it all online opens it up even further.

We see people from all over come in just to see us. A few weeks ago, we had a beautiful late '70s Gibson 25/50 Les Paul that I was just about to list, and someone came in to see us from Saskatoon, SK (a nine hour drive). They followed us on Instagram and always wanted to come down to check the place out.

Long story short, he and his family came in, hung out for awhile, and decided to take the $4,000 Gibson I was working on back home to Saskatoon. Pretty cool. Keeping up to date on new stock, as well as keeping our customers and online followers in the loop with what’s coming and going keeps people locked and interested in our store.

What's Winkler and its music community like? Do you see Janzen Brothers Music playing a part in that community? How so?

Winkler has quite an extensive music community, and we are so blessed to have the ability to be a part of it. From young to old, we have a serious amount of talent in our city.

I do see us playing a part in it. With every customer coming in, we try to connect and share moments with each one of them, where the experience of the shop is one where we hope they want to keep coming back to. So in that way, we can impact the community, as well as supply our area with top-quality instruments and products that we really do believe in.

What are small town music communities like compared with larger centres close by, such as Winnipeg? Are there advantages to smaller centres?

I'd say we do have an advantage for the fact of being about an hour-and-a-half out from Winnipeg and from the nearest music store. The small town music community is tight knit so we see advantages there. We love that about what we do. It's people and relationships first. I think I can say that a lot of our customers inspire and impact us as much as they may feel we do the same for them.

Who are your favourite Manitoba artists?

Favourites? Oh man, there's a few great artists that have come from our great prairie province. The Bro's Landreth is a huge one for me. The Let It Lie record just doesn't get old. Every time you listen through you find something new that stimulates your brain. And I've probably watched every single video that Joey (Landreth) and Ariel (Posen) have put out—it either makes you want to lock yourself in a room and play for days on end or just give up. I just picked myself up a Ariel Posen Signature Rock Slide from Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville this past week, hopefully getting me that much closer!

Could you talk a bit about the JB Drum Company custom kit you have listed in your Reverb shop? When did the Janzen Brothers Drum company start? What do the kits play and sound like?

JB Drum Co. Custom Maple Bop 3pc Kit

JB Drum Co. is a company that Andrew, one of the brothers, started in 2004 shortly after the store opened up. Being a drummer and an extremely skilled craftsman, friends would come to Andrew and start requesting custom drums, so he thought he’d start building on the side as a hobby, which turned into more and more requests.

To describe the sound of them, I'd say they're open and lively. Deep, punchy kick drums with resonant and responsive toms. It’s a nice balance of attack and warmth, and they all look so good. The one I’ve listed on Reverb is a sweet little Maple Bop kit.

Could you tell me a bit about the '57 Gibson J-50 you also have listed there? It looks like it's in amazing condition, and I can only assume it sounds as good as it looks. Is there a story behind that guitar?

1957 Gibson J-50

Absolutely! I love this guitar. The story is pretty simple but worth sharing. A very close friend of mine owns this one. His grandfather purchased it new in the late '50s and played it like he should but took great care of it.

Over the years, the guitar made its way down through the family. From grandfather, to father, then to son, and now into our store. Each generation it went through, it didn't get played often, hence the great condition that it's in. And given that it's a players guitar, the owner has decided to move it out of the family to someone that will continue to love it and use it like it desires.

This guitar has only gotten better over the years. It's sounds like no other and plays like a dream. The neck is perfectly straight with clean frets. Only thing that has been replaced are the tuners, as the old machine heads had started to crumble (but the originals are also in the case).

Do you have a favourite piece of gear in stock? What's your favourite piece you've seen ever come into the shop?

I’d say it would be the American Professional Jazzmaster in Olympic White. It’s stunning. Or the Martin 000-15M. I can’t help but gravitate to that one every time I walk into our acoustic room.

As for favourite piece that has come in, I’d say would be the old Yamaha Samurai Bass we sold to a serious bass legend and more recently, an extremely rare '60s Ampeg ASB-1 Scroll Bass that was really something special. Only 75 ever made, and it looked like it came off of a spaceship or something. Crazy design! Amazing piece of history.

What does the future hold for Janzen Brothers Music?

Continue doing what we do everyday. We all love being here every day and working with people and great gear is truly a blessing in itself. As mentioned earlier, we celebrate our 15th birthday so we need to figure something out for that. And a lot of new lines and products are always being searched out. It all just keeps getting better and better.

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