Shop Spotlight: Village Guitars in Saskatoon

A small city in the middle of the Canadian prairies isn't where you'd expect to find a stockpile of vintage gear. Yet, along Saskatoon’s 20th St, you’ll find this original 1954 Blackguard Fender Esquire hanging prominently on the wall of a boutique guitar shop called Village Guitars.

1954 Blackguard Fender Esquire

Owner Dan Canfield opened the store five years ago following a luthiery course at the Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair in Michigan. "The impetus for it was very much a lifestyle thing," said Canfield, who is very passionate about all aspects of music. This is why, in addition to an impressive array of gear littered around the space, Village Guitars regularly hosts live performances in-store.

These performances – perfect for gearheads, music lovers, and touring musicians dying to cure their boredom in the vast expanse between Winnipeg and Calgary – are what has made Village Guitars a real gem hidden in the Saskatchewan snow.

I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Dan Canfield about how he balances a boutique guitar shop with a venue and what kind of gear he looks to stock his shelves with.

Do you ever get nervous about having shows in a space with expensive pieces of gear?

No. I mean, the less expensive ones are on the bottom. It's pretty understood, I think – people know they're coming to a guitar shop, and I think it's just understood that you don't touch the guitars.

Do you think having shows in a room filled with instruments brings a different atmosphere to the live show?

Of course. Everywhere you look, it's about music. It's not like you've gone into a room where the only thing that says “music” is the stage, for instance. The whole room at Village Guitars is about music. The place is still about music during the day when no one's here performing. It's like art on the walls but about music.

Is there something in particular that you look for when buying a piece of gear for the store?

For sure. I'm really looking for special stuff. Special tone, playability. 95% of guitars out there are mediocre guitars, and while you can physically make them play really nicely by setting them up well and doing some work to them, the tone still may not be there. So I'm looking for unique things. I'm looking for things that naturally have character and tone.

Inside Village Guitars

Off of the top of your head, is there anything specific that you’ve been looking for lately?

Early '90s Gibsons. You're starting to hear some talk out there referring to Gibsons in the early '90s as the “good wood” years. I've consistently seen guitars from those years where indeed, the wood is just like, “Wow.” It's crazy resonant with a very straight grain, and all of them that I've had in here have just been amazing. Loud acoustically – they just ring out.

Everything has their good and bad years. The '59 Les Pauls and the type of lore that surrounds that era, for example. It only makes sense that there'd be ebbs and flows in quality of workmanship and depending on who the owner of the company is at the time and on who the foreman of the shop holding the gear is, etc. Not every '60s Strat is a great Strat. They're not all good ones, same as now.

That being said, you ask guys in the guitar world – especially builders and dealers – and we all feel like we're in the golden age of guitars and amps and pedals right now. There are so many amazing builders of guitars and amps and pedals, making truly great stuff. You can buy a new instrument today that has as much vibe and tone as the good ones from the '50s and '60s.

Any new builders that you’re into in particular?

It's just endless. It's a sea of builders out there. There's a kid in town, Paul Hillacre, who makes insane, world-class guitars. He makes them by hand, one at a time, by himself, and all of his guitars are just off the hook.

There's also Collings out of Texas, and they make guitars that actually feel old when you pick them up – not relic’d or anything like that. Just the tone and the sound and the feel of them is like a 50-60 year old vintage instrument.

Fender’s Master Built stuff and some of their Custom Shop stuff – if you get the right ones, they’re great too. They're expensive, but they're not $30,000 expensive.

Speaking of $30,000 expensive, how did you get that 1954 Blackguard Fender Esquire?

It's actually from a friend of mine in Regina. It was his dad's. I think his dad was the original owner. Apparently, that guitar sat in a garage for like 30 years. The garage was broken into probably three times, but no one ever stole it.

But what do you do with a guitar like that? You could play it, but it's a liability really. Anything happens to it, and you've lost 10 grand – if the pickup dies, or the neck warps, for example.

I've had really expensive vintage things like that in here in the past, too, amplifiers and whatnot. The temptation is to think, “Oh, I'll keep that for myself.” But if the transformer goes out on it, then it's devalued.

I've got a '64 Deluxe that I've had for a long time. It sounds every bit as good as that under 100 serial number Deluxe that I had off the line. Get rid of it, let someone else risk that.

Owner Dan Canfield

I've noticed a lot of Harmonies and Silvertones come through here.

Silvertones I really like. There happens to be a lot of acoustic Silvertones on the wall right now. I think what I like about them is that for years and still, in my mind, the pinnacle of acoustic guitar sound was Joni Mitchell on Turbulent Indigo. Those acoustic guitar sounds, I think, are old Martins or whatever, and they're beautiful, pristine, glorious acoustic guitar sounds. That’s one acoustic guitar sound.

Personally, I've heard enough of that “classic” guitar sound. The Silvertones are the opposite of that. They're melancholy, and they're snotty. But, holy cow, do they have character. I quite like those. I like that sound – it's a unique sound. I go searching for them, in fact.

But the issue is that they don't have truss rods in them, so most of the time they come in with neck issues. We've got a process where we peel the fingerboard off, we straighten the neck and put graphite rods in there. Then we put the fingerboard back on, touchup the paint, and make 'em play great.

A lot of times, too, we'll actually re-fret them with some better fret wire because the fret wire that's in there is literally square. The tops are square and they were never rounded off – they just didn't do that back then. So we'll put proper fret wire in and actually level the frets so that they still have the sound and the look but play like a modern instrument.


What's it like running a boutique guitar store in the prairies? There aren't a lot of places like this in Saskatchewan.

There aren’t really a whole lot of places like this in Canada, or even North America and the world if you consider the whole business. The fact that we're a venue with a bar in the back, the fact that we have live events in here almost every night.

Lots of touring musicians come through here who play all over the place – Europe included – and they're like, “I've never seen anything like this before.” I have yet to have anybody tell me that they’ve been and played in a place like this before. So I think we’re very unique that way.

What's it like? If you were to ask me in the first couple of years what it was like running a boutique guitar shop in Saskatchewan, I would have said that it’s fuckin' scary and stressful. But, now five years into it, things have settled out; we have a model that works and is sustainable.

Village Guitar & Amp Co. Official Shop Now
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