Hock and roll

Treasure troves of used gear

Hock-and-roll pawn broker Moris Adato at CashCo in City Heights
  • Hock-and-roll pawn broker Moris Adato at CashCo in City Heights

A songwriter looking for material could do worse than to work in a pawn shop.


4502 University Avenue #103, City Heights

Moris Adato, the general manager of CashCo pawn shop in City Heights, hears the type of stories that make for classic country or blues songs every day on the job.

“A lot of my guys will tell these hard-luck stories. Normal day-to-day stuff, where a guy gets a flat tire and all he’s got is an extra guitar he can pawn for a couple hundred bucks,” Adato told the Reader. “Or maybe the gigs haven’t been strong, so they’re getting rid of the old equipment.”

Record stores sell the hits or what’s hip, but pawn shops can shine a light on what is really going on in the music world.

North Park Pawn

3104 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park

Victor Gorse of North Park Pawn on El Cajon Boulevard estimates that musical equipment makes up about 25 percent of sales at his shop. Of course, guitars are the top-selling item — “Everyone wants a guitar, not everybody wants a keyboard” — but Gorse says recording equipment is really hot right now.

“Everybody wants to record their songs or rap — or whatever they call them,” Gorse says in a gruff Hungarian accent.

Although he believes he can sell anything for the right price, Gorse admits some items are harder to sell than others — like the accordion he just acquired.

“It only has buttons, not keys,” he says. “It’s something more common in Europe than here. Anyone with keyboard knowledge can play the kind with a keyboard. This one, you have to start again.”

Gorse is still trying to determine the price for the instrument, which he admits might be in his shop for a while.

“One sold on eBay for $1000, but this one has more wear-and-tear,” he says.

Royal Pawn is a treasure trove of used gear.

Royal Pawn is a treasure trove of used gear.

Royal Pawn

3033 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park

Matt Smith of Royal Pawn, also on El Cajon Boulevard, says finding the right price for an instrument is crucial to staying in the business because a store can hold only so much product.

“We try and put instruments at a good price from the git-go, but if it’s sitting for a while, we have to reevaluate, make sure we have a fair price,” he said. “We want things to sell.”

Adato says that pawn shops tend to be most popular with beginning musicians and the working professionals.

“New guys will pick up a used guitar for $250, rather than buying a new one for $500,” he said. “For veterans, picking up a classic guitar for half the price is always a wonderful thing.”

Smith admits selling to musicians can be a blessing and a curse at times.

“We’ve definitely had some good musicians come in here and lay down some chops,” he says. “We also get guys who just want to mess around with the guitars and you sometimes wish they wouldn’t play around as long as they do,” he adds with a laugh.

All of the pawn-shop owners believe the success of the History Channel show Pawn Stars has helped shine a positive light on the industry, but Adato admits it’s a double-edged sword.

“It’s shown that we’re not thieves — we report everything to police and we don’t rip people off,” he says. “But we don’t have the expert we can call up to check out if a Les Paul is real or not.”

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