From Building Cars and Guitars to Fostering Community, Mike Longacre Is Living His Dream
- Written & photographed byKat Monk
After catching a glimpse of the vintage guitars from the window, Levi Kelley, a visitor from Nashville, patiently waited for Mike’s Guitar Parlor to open. Soon he was chilling on a vintage gold sofa and singing “One for the Road” while playing Jordan Ziff’s Martin D-23V guitar, named for the lead guitarist of American metal band Ratt. Owner Mike Longacre customized this guitar with a bone saddle and an Amulet acoustic pickup system.
Raised in the Mount Washington area of Los Angeles, Mike’s family owned and operated the “go-to auto shop” in the heart of Hollywood. At just 14, Mike started working on cars in the shop. By the time he could drive, he had built himself an early-’70s Chevy Nova—one he calls “light, loud and fast.”
Just as he was about to open his own auto shop in the South Bay, Mike was picked up to be a technician for a race car club driver from Manhattan Beach. “I have been building engines and working on cars for more than 40 years,” he explains. “My knowledge of suspensions, electricals and engines gave me the experience to transition well from hot rods to race cars.”
But after 35 years of standing behind wrenches, he opted to make a leap and pursue his passion for guitars. He opened Mike’s Guitar Parlor in 2014 in the heart of Hermosa, across the street from its current location on Pier Avenue. “At great expense, I created an environment that makes it comfortable, stylish and easy to find the instrument that inspires,” says Mike.
Offering new, used and customized guitars, Mike’s quality products and service have helped him build a loyal following. “I build it for you” is emblazoned on the wall just above the counter.
“My knowledge of guitar construction and materials gives me the tools to help my customer find just the right instrument that inspires,” he says. Mike will build and trick out guitars for his customers, adding accoutrements to improve and personalize the instrument’s sound.
In celebration of the 185th anniversary of Tiffany & Co., Mike embarked upon a custom-build collaboration—a year and a half in the making—to design and build an “it’s all in the details” unique guitar. In signature Tiffany blue, this one-of-a-kind electric guitar is infused with diamonds and sparkle and valued at $120,000.
During the pandemic, Mike also became a prolific songwriter and now boasts 50 songs in his portfolio. After discovering this newfound passion for songwriting, he beams while sharing the meaning behind his songs.
Then there’s the legendary Mike’s Church on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Parlor. For nearly a decade, Mike has hosted a community of guitar players, songwriters and the occasional banjo, stand-up bass and resident drummer. The crowd increased significantly since Mike moved his business to the historical Either/Or Bookstore location on the corner of Manhattan and Pier avenues.
With an opportunity to pull a famous, customized, acoustic instrument off the wall lined with Persian rugs, guitar lovers can hone their craft with a jam session. Note: If you are not on time for Mike’s Church, you will be forced to stand at the door.
“We call it ‘church’ for a reason; it’s a spiritual, connective, communal experience where music is the catalyst and the people performing and the audience become united in a deep and profound way,” shares Kevin Sousa, a local professional musician.
“Give it up for the Reverend Longacre,” another guitar player exclaims.
“This is like church but more irreverent,” says Mike.
One player at a time has an opportunity to perform a song while everyone else watches intently to try and play along. “Can we get a hallelujah?” shares an excited player. The crowd of guitar lovers includes customers, guitar students, walk-bys, just plain music lovers and fellow community musicians like Kevin, BJ Arnold and Antoinette Gil.
“Mike has created such a welcoming environment where musicians of all skill levels from beginners to professionals can come and try out new tunes or join in a group singalong,” adds Kevin.
With the wall bare, price tags hang as the crowd starts to play. It starts with carefully crafted original songs and eventually gives way to covers by a myriad of artists such as Tom Petty, Chris Stapleton, Stone Temple Pilots, Johnny Cash and The Wallflowers. If the music wasn’t enough, one player, Frank, rests on his guitar to tell the crowd a joke. Meanwhile a few players approach Mike to make payments for the guitar of their dreams.
“It’s amazing to see other performers building confidence over time,” says BJ. “When I get to go, it’s a fun environment to try new things while you know everyone is rooting for you!”
At the end of the two hours, Levi sums up his experience at the Parlor: “I don’t want to go back home—I want to move here as soon as I can.”