At Lightning Joe's Guitar Heaven in A.G., it’s a family affair

I walk up the long flight of stairs in the 1904 building to my mandolin lesson in The Village in Arroyo Grande. Halfway up the stairs, I am greeted by a giant wizard with a staff and a crystal ball. At the top of the stairs is a big Haitian metal sculpture of a mermaid playing a guitar, several colorful tapestries and a mural with a real guitar handle sticking out.

I hear the soulful sounds of the mandolin played by my teacher, Jim Thurman, who also teaches guitar and banjo. Up here, guitar shows, clinics, workshops, student recitals and bluegrass jams are staged.

Joe and Marelene Daoust have owned Lightning Joe’s Guitar Heaven for 29 years, started in the back of the current space at the corner of East Branch and Bridge streets. They are now joined by their 25-year-old son, Joseph, who is the assistant manager. They also have a daughter in eighth grade, Savanna.

Bernardo’s Ice Cream (now Doc Burnstein’s) occupied the space before Lightning Joe’s, and prior to that it was a telephone switchboard and originally Bank of Arroyo Grande.

Joe started at the Nipomo Swap Meet selling musical instruments. Originally, he sold all kinds of musical instruments, but now he concentrates on fretted instruments, including guitars, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, dulcimers, bouzoukis and Middle Eastern instruments.

“Joe has really good instincts,” Marelene said, “so when Joe said, ‘Let’s open a store,’ I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”

She had been a waitress at McClintock’s for several years. Marelene had always worked with people, so she knew she could “pull it off,” being store manager.

“Joe doesn’t fear change,” she continued. “He really likes to jump right in, and it usually works out really well. We were really dedicated to making it a great guitar shop.”

How did they come up with the name? Joe was playing guitar in the SLO Motion Blues Band in the ’80’s. He played a long guitar solo to Peter Gunn and played really fast. The harmonica player gave everyone a nickname, and Joe became “Lightning Joe.” Later, they added “Guitar Heaven” because people would walk in, look around at all the hanging guitars and say, “This is guitar heaven.”

When son Joseph was a teen, he would get bored during the summer, so he asked, “What can I do around here?”

“I didn’t expect to fall in love with guitars, but it happened,” Joseph said. His parents gave him an electric guitar on his 13th birthday.

“Guitar and music are my passion,” he continued, it’s “a whole different language. It’s really fun to be a part of that,” to help when people come in. “People come here for our advice, since we live, breathe guitars ... we’re the experts.”

You can’t miss Lightning Joe’s when you walk in The Village. It’s the store with a giant Elvis out front. Upcoming is their 10th annual Halloween extravaganza.

“It’s a blast to set it up,” said Joe enthusiastically. It takes 30-40 hours, includes no “gory stuff,” but has lots of special effects. It takes place on Halloween.

Contact Lightning Joe’s at 481-3689 or go to the website at lightningjoes.com.

Gayle Cuddy’s column is special to The Tribune. She and Cynthia Lambert write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.