While His Guitar Gently Weeps…
 
Dale Rabiner Discovers a Second Career in His Music Shop
 
By Gretchen Keen
The walls of the renovated 1800s farmhouse display interesting items, such as sculptures and guitars. It’s a place that doesn’t appear, at first glance, to be the creation of a retired businessman, but looks can be deceiving.

Dale Rabiner, the owner of the DHR Music store in Montgomery, lights up when he gently removes a guitar from the wall. He can rattle off each instrument’s details — the history, maker and sound quality, down to the type of wood and decorative embellishments. Although he is enamored of the products, Rabiner hasn’t always made a living off guitars. Previously, he was in the investment business.

But the 57-year-old might never have become an investor if it wasn’t for a personal “fault” — he’s left-handed. When he decided to learn the guitar as a kid, he had to play upside-down. That proved detrimental at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Rabiner hoped to study jazz guitar.

The head of the department informed Rabiner that because of his “poor form,” the school of music would not be able to teach him how to play the instrument. Rabiner was told he could still study music arrangement, theory or composition, or learn to play right-handed. Rabiner thought it over and decided going along with this plan would be throwing away all his previous hard work, and instead majored in economics at the University of Cincinnati.

After graduation, Rabiner received his master’s degree in finance and completed a three-year post-graduate chartered financial analyst (CFA) program. He then signed on to work at Bartlett & Co., the oldest existing registered investment advisory firm in the country.

Rabiner decided to retire from the investment business in 2003 and spent some time selling guitars on the internet. In May 2009, he postponed his retirement and opened DHR Music to showcase his expanding passion for musical instruments. The store features customizable, hand-built guitars — including a wide assortment of left-handed guitars — all made in the United States.

Selling guitars might seem like a completely different field than investments, but Rabiner insists they’re both essentially markets for buying and selling. Unlike his old job, his new one allows for a more relaxed atmosphere and personal freedom.

“I hate wearing coats and ties. If I never wear them again, it would be too soon,” he says.

But the new business isn’t just about comfortable apparel. Rabiner gets to spend more time with his wife, J. Lee, who also works at the store, as well as his adult children and baby grandson. He and his wife also travel to places such as Miami, Dallas and Muscle Shoals, Ala., selling their wares at guitar shows. In his free time, Rabiner listens to a variety of musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney and John Coltrane.

Additionally, he owns an independent record label called J Curve Records. The label features jazz, Latin, blues and roots music.

Rabiner’s passion for music is one he sees not only in himself, but also in the rest of his generation. Like countless others, he first heard the Beatles in 1964 at age 13, and his life changed forever. Now that they are nearing retirement, he says people his age are having a resurgence of interest in music and art.

“For baby boomer guitarists … they’re going back to playing, enjoying it more because of all the uncertainty. No one knows where the economy’s going, or what the political situation is, but when you unpack that guitar and play it, you know what the sound is,” Rabiner observes. “You can kind of call it comfort food for the soul.”

While they used to be teenyboppers and hippies, baby boomers are now doctors, lawyers, business owners and retirees who frequent Rabiner’s store. Some of the clients are wealthy enough to afford DHR’s highest quality guitars, which can top $50,000. Many of these clients aren’t all that different than the ones Rabiner worked with in the investment business.

Like many people in his generation, Rabiner found a passion that has translated into a second act in life. Switching careers can provide not only financial support, but also a renewed sense of youth.

“We all like to think we’re 16, even though we’re not,” Rabiner remarks.