It’s off-the-wall, larger than life, and more than a bit audacious.
At the south end of Petaluma Boulevard, a huge mural depicts a large, greenish space alien, zapping a hapless man holding a guitar. Unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary, the mural – adorning the exterior of Petaluma’s newest guitar store - definitely grabs your attention.
That’s the whole point of the alien, and of Silly Strings Guitar Store.
A family run music shop focused primarily on heavy metal musicians and their big, bold instruments, the brand new business is the passion project of owners Billy and Sarina Garoutte. While other music stores in the area only dabble in niche heavy metal brands, Silly Strings has fully embraced “metal-heads” and their specific rock-and-roll needs.
The day I visited Silly Strings and was greeted by the Garouttes - an exercise in dichotomy, as Billy stands over 6 feet tall and Sarina barely pushes 5 feet - the two were sitting just inside the door, in a nicely decorated hang-out area, chatting with friends from out of town. The topic was an upcoming, in-store appearance by Gary Holt, the lead songwriter and guitarist for Bay Area metal band Exodus, and international act Slayer. Billy Garoutte has known Holt for years, and enlisted him to come and present a free guitar clinic at Silly Strings on January 14.
When asked what fans can expect at the event, Holt said, “The secrets of life, the truth about aliens, and how to print your own money. We may even play a little guitar too, as we solve world hunger and balance the national budget through better riffage.”
Please note: I cannot personally guarantee the accuracy of Holt’s statements. But it does sound like a blast.
During my visit, a live performance by Judas Priest emanates from a large television screen. Billy and Sarina’s son K.K., a recent high school graduate, mans the cash register as Billy, Sarina and I chat. Sarina explains that after the death of her father, the family was looking for a change.
Then iving in San Leandro, Sarina was an interior decorator - which explains the chic interior of the store - as well as a Human Resources developer. Billy worked in construction. Both had grown weary of the daily grind, and the East Bay, and they started looking for new digs.
“We were looking around the Bay Area for a place where we could start something new,” Sarina explains. “A friend mentioned that Petaluma has a great music scene, and we had never even really heard of it!”
But after visiting Petaluma and looking around, they fell in love with the town, and last May, they moved here. Facing those iconic questions of what do to in the second act of their lives, Sarina knew it might have something to do with guitars, and one day, she flat out asked Billy the question.
“Do you want to open a guitar shop?”
The rest is history.
Silly Strings opened to the public on what is pretty much the most “heavy metal” day of the year - Halloween. Nearly two months later, the biggest challenge has been in letting Sonoma County know that Silly Strings is open for business, and ready to assist with all heavy metal needs.
Hence the eye catching mural of the alien on the wall of their building, conspicuously facing the street. Even before that alien landed, though, Silly Strings had already popped up on the radar of lifelong Petaluman “Clee,” the lead guitarist for local metal band Hellbender.
Clee loves the shop.
“Silly Strings has reasonable pricing on instruments that aren’t garbage,” he says, amicably. “They also have everything that other music stores in the area don’t have.”
That’s something the take serious pride in.
“A lot of stores get scared about stocking or trying to sell obscure, funky shaped guitars,” says Sarina. “But Billy knows these guitars, and how to sell them.”
Indeed, two whole walls at Silly Strings are adorned with some of the chunkiest, strangest looking guitars one can expect to see in real life. Sarina explains that she and Billy have a great relationship with Jackson guitars, a subsidiary of Fender.
She points out a large guitar on the wall. It’s the Dean Stealth, an all natural wood guitar that resembles a comic book style star missing a pointy edge, likely due to too much hard rocking.
“That’s a guitar that our rep brought to us before anyone else,” she says.
“There were only 100 of these made!” Billy adds.
The two also point out a truly slick looking, off-white guitar amp and head, with the letters “EVH” welded front and center. And yes, that stands for Eddie Van Halen.
“This is the EVH EL 34 50 Watt Head,” Sarina says. “We were the first in California to get these.”
Silly Strings - named as a play on Sarina and Billy’s names - is a fun shop to poke around in. Billy looks forward to having the place become a community gathering spot. He points out the large refrigerator, and shimmering new espresso machine.
“We want people going to a gig to stop in for a cup of coffee, or just to hang out, play some instruments, and warm up,” he says, adding that he also hopes to launch “Silly Strings Presents” type concerts, as well as initiating a kind of “School of Rock” class for burgeoning metal-headed kids.
They also aren’t afraid to find some wiggle room with their prices.
“We may lose a little with competitive pricing,” Sarina says, “but we gain a customer in the end.”