From The Archive: 5 Questions: Brian Westfall of Rare Birds Musical Oddities

Brian_Westfall Rare Birds owner Brian Westfall | Photo credit: Dave Roth

“Rare Birds is a “musical oddities” shop based in Chicago that features hard-to-find and sometimes strange vintage instruments. Garage gem guitars, Pink 1980’s Casios, Circuit Bent Speak and Spells, “Old School” analog drum machines, Handmade African percussion, Souvenir Maracas that somebody’s Aunt brought back with her from her college trip to Mexico, Cowbells once owned by real cows, Synthesizers that look like alien cockpit control panels, vintage guitar pedals that are still begging to be stomped on, guitar and bass amps, accessories for the working musician and oh so much more await you at our shop. We fully encourage musical discovery at Rare Birds and we hope you’ll come in and get weird with us!”

1.What’s been keeping you up at night?
Nothing really. I suppose in my line of work, I hope that musicians continue to put stock in the value of tactile, mechanical and analog gear. The technology is so incredible these days that often there is little to no audible difference between the real thing and its digital emulation counterpart but often times there is quite a difference. Furthermore, there’s more to what equipment you use than just sound alone. It affects how you interact with a piece and how for instance, touching it and physically turning knobs makes you think about the music differently. The immediacy and feeling you get from tactile gear is important because creating music is all about emotion and feeling. If an analog piece of equipment gives you that and an emulator on your computer doesn’t than that has real value in my opinion. Also, so many of us stare at computers all day at our jobs. Sometimes it’s nice to have an escape from that. It’s not to say that hardware or a physical instrument is better or worse in all situations but it certainly is different and you will get different outcomes using it over software as a result.

An ever-evolving wall of great sounding and great playing vintage guitars. Come in and pull one down and make a new friend with one of these classic (or in some cases “oughta be a classic”) guitars.

2. What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or heard lately?
A friend of mine modified a 1980s Casio RZ-1 drum machine. What started as a really fun yet very 80s sounding drum machine now is capable of some truly twisted, clanging, blown-out timbres that would make even Trent Reznor smile.

The wall of Casios and other musical toys of yester-year. You’ll find Circuit Bent Speak and Spells, toy marimbas, Colorful maraca souvenirs from somebody’s long-ago vacation, Rare Casios from the 1980s, Omnichords and more. Stop by the shop and experience the lo-fi wall!

3. What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
Building this business is a ton of work and can sometimes be overwhelming and disheartening but seeing the build-up of regular customers coming in to check out what new, weird gear we’ve gotten in is incredibly satisfying. There seems to be a real love for beautiful and/or strange sounds that we’ve begun to foster at the shop and it gives our customers and us a commonality that may not be as present with a big box dealer or online behemoth.

We at Rare Birds pride ourselves on having some rad percussion instruments. From Toy Drums given to “Little Tommy” on Christmas morning 1962 to cowbells that once belonged to real cowbells, maracas, bongo drums, Congas that floated over from Cuba and more. Sure, we may not know how to play them all properly but maybe you do and even if you don’t, you’re likely to get inspired by them.

4. If you could add anyone, alive or dead to your team, who would it be?
That’s hard to say. I mean, I think Stanley Kubrick could probably make some mind-blowing demonstration videos of some of my gear but then again if I had Mozart demo playing my keyboards at the shop that would probably move some units for sure. I think I’ll compromise and say David Lynch. He loves sound, he’s a musician and I think I heard somewhere that he makes pretty awesome films.

The pedal and effects corner is where classic, old-school guitar effects meet, 1960s Reverb tanks, fancy-schmancy boutique pedals, Ebows and more.

5. When the movie of your life is made, what will it be called?
I think it will be called “A Rare Dude: A life just outside of music” and it will be about a minimally talented musician who adores and is constantly fascinated by sound and music, plays in some bands, makes some weird records but never really goes anywhere with it. So, one day he opens a small shop and fills it up with as much of the coolest, weirdest, most inspiring instruments that he can afford and then invites the world in to enjoy them as he sits back and revels in the sounds that float around his shop. It would probably be a short film.

Check out the website for more information and instruments for sale.