Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2003 | 8:55 a.m.
Chuck Berry. Peter Frampton. John Lennon. Rick Springfield. Pete Townshend. Stevie Ray Vaughn. Eddie Van Halen. Carl Wilson. Frank Zappa.
Some of the world's most well-known guitarists have been customers at Ed Roman Guitars.
Ringo Starr is scheduled to visit the Las Vegas store on Industrial Road next week to pick up a guitar he has on order.
"You know him as a drummer, but I'm sure he sits at home and plays guitar," the 53-year-old Roman said.
Starr is supposed to bring a friend with him Paul McCartney.
McCartney has not yet bought an instrument from "The World's Largest Guitar Store," but Roman says he's hoping to be able to do business with him.
"I have never dealt with Paul," said Roman, who has been building and selling guitars for 30 years. "But I did a deal with Lennon a couple of years before he died, some electric work."
Based on Roman's list of satisfied clients, there's no reason to believe McCartney won't join the club. Roman's craftsmen are currently building a guitar for Eric Clapton.
"There's no definite date when he's coming in," Roman said. "Somewhere around the end of the year. He's supposed to be in L.A. before New Year's."
Giving a tour of the 15,000-square-foot building, which holds more than 4,000 guitars, the New York native pointed out the celebrity connections.
"This one is for Blue Oyster Cult," Roman said.
"This one is for ZZ Top."
"This is a Jerry Garcia model. We made a Jerry Garcia model up until the time he died (1995)."
"We sold Rick Springfield all his guitars when he was with 'EFX.' "
"This one is going to Meatloaf."
"This is the Eric Clapton guitar from the '60s."
"We just delivered a guitar to Toby Keith a couple of weeks ago," Roman said. "He puts on an amazing show. I've only recently gotten into the country end of it."
A guitar endorsed by Gene Simmons of Kiss stands prominently in the middle of one of five showrooms. One that bears the name of Steve Vai (who performed with Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth, among others) hangs on a wall.
Most of the store's customers, famous or otherwise, are not from Vegas, Roman said.
"They're from all over the world," he said. "From Germany, South Africa -- I sell a lot to South Africans -- New Zealand, Australia, England. All parts of the United States. Plano, Texas, is a hot spot. Don't ask me why."
He pointed out that 31 stores in Las Vegas sell guitars, but added none of them has his voluminous inventory.
Jazz guitarist Robert Conti, who until recently performed at Ventano's restaurant in Green Valley, is an unabashed fan of Roman.
"Ed Roman has, without question, the finest selection of high-quality instruments in the world," he said. "You can find it all there. It's a one-stop shop."
Conti, a world-class musician, has his own customized eight-string guitar, manufactured by B.C. Rich, a guitar line sold by Roman.
Roman's sales staff is so busy, the store is only open to the public weekdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mornings are reserved for telephone sales and appointments.
Go West, guitar man
Roman moved most of his operation from New Fairfield, Conn., 18 months ago. About a dozen craftsmen who remained behind will soon be joining the staff in Las Vegas.
"When I was in Connecticut, I didn't sell a lot there," he said.
So he decided to move West, where there are tax advantages and a more central location.
"All my customers come to Vegas at one time or another," Roman said. "It's cheaper to fly here than anyplace else."
He says his store has become a destination location. Many customers come to Vegas specifically to visit the store. Some choose to get married in Las Vegas so they can check out the guitars on the same trip.
There certainly isn't a lack of inventory to survey. Roman builds 40 to 45 guitars a month, and at any given time there will be 150 to 200 on order.
And every guitar has a story.
One of his customers was John Entwistle, the Who bass guitarist who died in his sleep at the Hard Rock Hotel in June 2002. The night Entwistle died, Roman was to deliver a bass guitar to him.
The guitars in Roman's store generally run between $350 and $17,000, and can go as high as $39,000.
"A collector would buy a $17,000 guitar," Roman said. "Say, a person who would buy a $17,000 painting."
But high-profile entertainers don't worry about the cost.
"They usually don't pay anything," Roman said. "They usually get them for free, often through an endorsement deal."
A guitar played by Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham has a $12,500 price tag. A Buckingham-endorsed guitar next to it sells for $4,000.
"He never touched that one," Roman said.
It's not unusual for a performer to play a guitar with a brand name on it when, in fact, the instrument was made by someone else.
"I would say 80 to 85 percent of the performers playing guitars, the brand names on the guitars not are necessarily what the guitar is," Roman said.
These guitars are made by "ghost builders," manufacturers whose names don't appear on the product.
Along with manufacturing under his own name, Roman is one of those ghost builders, one of only half a dozen in the United States.
But his responsibilities don't end there. He's also national sales manager for five other companies, and serves as a broker, selling guitars on behalf of celebrities.
"Anytime Fleetwood Mac wants to sell one of their guitars, they go through me," Roman said. "Most of the time the musicians are given the stuff, so it would be tacky for them to sell it."
In addition to an inventory of handcrafted guitars, the store has guitars made by dozens of other manufacturers -- as well as 13 separate smaller companies owned by Roman.
The facility is bursting at the seams.
Roman says he hopes to move into a 30,000-square-foot facility south of the present location in the near future as soon as the paperwork is complete and the lawyers give him the OK. The site formerly housed Celebrity Auto Auction.
Before he turned to manufacturing customized guitars, Roman was in the motorcycle business.
"I built custom choppers for years," he said.
But his first love has always been music. He has performed in bands since age 14.
"I've been around music all my life," Roman said. "I think the reason I got into this business is that it has a lot to do with my getting to meet a lot of of the people I meet -- I'm hobnobbing with my heroes.
"That, and there is a need. Nobody does what I do."