A Guitarist’s Paradise

“There seem to be a lot of people — of all ages — with a pent-up desire to start playing the guitar, improve or broaden their technique, or record their music”
Allen Merrill’s Guitar Studio of East Hampton offers instruction, recording and mixing services, and a select number of guitars for sale. Morgan McGivern

   After a career that took him to such far-off places as Japan, Singapore, and the Dominican Republic, Allen Merrill, who lives in East Hampton, is now letting the world come to him. Word has gotten out about the Guitar Studio of East Hampton, which Mr. Merrill launched in January, and a diverse group of South Fork residents is coming to inquire and take advantage of the new facility.
    “There seem to be a lot of people — of all ages — with a pent-up desire to start playing the guitar, improve or broaden their technique, or record their music,” Mr. Merrill said.
    As the sunlight streamed through the control-room windows on a late-winter morning, Mr. Merrill demonstrated a “synth” guitar, one of many guitars hanging in the studio. With a spectacular vista of Northwest Harbor outside, he clicked a foot pedal, raised a fader on the control room’s console, and the sounds of guitars, horns, flutes, and even keyboards filled the room to its farthest reaches.
    In the adjacent room, walls were lined with classical, acoustic, and electric guitars and amplifiers, including some by famous makers from around the world, such as Hauser, Ramirez, and Giussani. Mr. Merrill also noted the thick, soundproof door between the tracking and control rooms, as well as the collection of high-end microphones suited specifically for recording guitar, as well as vocals and other sound sources. In both rooms, Asian art, sculpture, and furniture promote a meditative, Zen-like tranquillity. It is a guitar aficionado’s paradise.
    Last autumn, Mr. Merrill and his wife, Gwen, a teacher of Mandarin, redesigned the addition to the house they built 20 years ago, to serve as a world-class teaching and recording facility. Since then, they have welcomed guitarists of all levels, as well as other musicians and performers, to take advantage of the studio’s diverse offerings.
    For Mr. Merrill, too, a lifelong passion for guitar playing, recording, and producing, pursued mainly during nights and weekends, can now be pursued full time. Previously, he was a partner with the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company, spending time in Asia and Latin America.
    “The passion and energy have always been there,” Mr. Merrill said. “Our travels and work overseas have allowed me to benefit from study and collaboration with some of the best instructors and players in the world. To be able to dedicate myself now to helping others learn, play, and record their music is a lifelong dream come true.”
    With this in mind, the Guitar Studio of East Hampton has three areas of focus: instruction; recording and mixing, and sales of select guitars, for some of which Mr. Merrill is Long Island’s exclusive dealer.
    “I’ve been surprised at how many inquiries we’ve had related to teaching,” he said. “I have students 9 and 12 years old at one end, and others who are well advanced but want to keep striving for the next level. We’re introducing folks to classical and flamenco guitar, as well as pop, rock, folk, and jazz. It’s fun seeing students try out different styles.” Mr. Merrill, who has recorded two of his own CDs, intends to hold student performances and recitals on-site, starting in the warmer months.
    Though he has been recording music for over 20 years, he feels particularly indebted to Berklee College of Music, the renowned Boston school, where he has benefited from taking the yearlong Professional Music Production program. “Berklee has clearly helped broaden and deepen my knowledge of audio technology and recording-mixing skills,” he said. “The instructors there include some of the best in the industry, and the Berklee Music Network is an invaluable ongoing resource.”
    Related to its second objective of recording and mixing, the Guitar Studio is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and gear that rival what is found in top commercial studios. Even the high-powered audio computer, from MusicXPC of Toronto, is specialized for music recording and production.
    “We’ve also had a number of inquiries related to recording from the Latin community, perhaps because I lived and worked in Latin America for five years, speak Spanish fluently, and am known for having a cultural affinity,” Mr. Merrill said. “Again, there seems to be a pent-up demand, partly because of language constraints, and partly from not being connected in the right circles. I’m very interested in helping. And Latin music is not that far from some of the Spanish classical and flamenco guitar music that I was trained in.”
    The Guitar Studio’s third objective — making guitars available to students and others — is, he said, a byproduct of the studio’s other goals. Available models range from high-end classical guitars to custom-made McPherson acoustic-electric guitars to the fast-growing and in some cases more student-appropriate Cordoba line, several of which come in youth-friendly half and three-quarter sizes.
    Mr. Merrill has also reached out to local schools. “We’re exploring the idea of supplementing some of their instruction, or finding ways to provide another outlet for kids that have a continuing interest beyond what they are able to pursue in school,” he said. “It would be nice to see that take off, because it furthers the objective of enhancing guitar playing and interest in the community, which is ultimately what we’re all about.”
    With the studio established and lesson and recording schedules filling, the nascent business is ready for increased activity as the influx of summer residents approaches. “While we’ve lived in East Hampton year round in the past,” Mr. Merrill said, “and considered this for a long time to be our home, it’s great to be here full time again, and to be able to dedicate the coming years to guitar musicianship and enjoyment.”