Hawking rock at Briz, rehearsing it at Reverb

Specialty pawnshop and rental studio caters to music market

Matt Brislawn has a head for business, or rather, is a head for business.

His pawnshop, Briz Loan and Guitar, looks nothing like the typical pawnshop. Briz only sells musical instruments, and has the look and feel of any music store. The only difference is that all the merchandise is second-hand. It’s the only shop of its kind in Vancouver. Additionally, Brislawn has launched another music-focused venture he hopes will resonate with the community. Reverb Rehearsal Studio, located at 1700 Lincoln Ave. in downtown Vancouver, offers eight secure rehearsal rooms, ranging from 10 by 12 feet to 15 by 20 feet. Each room can be rented for $300 per month. Reverb opened for business on Sept. 12. This, as well, is the only one of its kind in Vancouver.

Brislawn said he got the idea for the rehearsal space in the early 1990s when he patronized such facilities in Seattle. He says he has a list of 15 people interested in renting space at Reverb.

"If I can just get one-third of those guys to commit, I’ll be doing all right," said Brislawn.

He moved from gigging musician to businessman when he opened the pawnshop on Washington Street downtown 11 years ago. He and his friends, as well as his employees, are musicians, so no doubt Brislawn recognized the niche. Most club musicians have pawned a guitar or other instrument at least once, and have certainly browsed the pawnshops for deals on rare gems.

Brislawn pointed out that late blues musician Frank Edwards once said of what makes a good guitar, "If it ain’t been in a pawnshop, it can’t play the blues."

The musical pawn culture creates an interesting collection of merchandise. The shop sells amplifiers, keyboards, guitar strings, sound equipment and drums. Guitars, as the name suggests, make up the showcase merchandise. The product line ranges from the cheap to the other-wordly. This is because guitars – particularly vintage guitars – appreciate in value in a wonderful way. And a good pawnshop is a great place to find guitars that borderline on mystical. In the shop currently is a 1968 Gibson Les Paul, for example, with a price tag exceeding $1,700. Brislawn said in over a decade in the business, he still runs into surprises in the way of vintage instruments.

"A few years ago I sold a 1954 (Fender) Broadcaster to Joe Walsh’s guitarist for $6,000," he said. "Now the thing’s worth double that."

Another boon to Briz’ business may be the trend among corporate executives moonlighting as rock stars. According to Brislawn, this trend may be making its way to Vancouver.

"We’ve had some Baby Boomer guys coming through here buying some pretty nice guitars," he said. "We had a guy buy a nice older Stratocaster for the investment, and also to play around the house."

As an added bonus, and again unlike typical pawnshops, Briz also offers guitar lessons through a private instructor. With the pawnshop, the instructor and now the rehearsal studio, it is safe to say that Brislawn is building a notable empire for home-grown music here in Vancouver.

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