By Sherri Coner
An impressive inventory lines the walls at Frank’s Guitars.
But if you really want to know what makes the shop an icon, wave at the friendly guy behind the counter – the one with long gray hair and a beard – that guy is Frank Dean, the shop owner.
He’s a talker, especially when music is the subject.
Conversation is sprinkled with some of Dean’s best memories of his exciting career in music.
Pieces of his story are displayed in the store, such as singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris’ attire, a guitar signed by The Birds, a popular rock band from the 1960s, and a pocketknife which belonged to the late great Hank Williams.
Now in its 20th year, this downtown business is the musical soul of Franklin.
However, Dean barely noticed the milestone.
He’s a busy guy.
Along with managing the shop, he has organized Open Stage nights for 17 years at Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza on S. Main Street.
He is also never without a band.
A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock ‘n’ Roll
“My heart has always been in southern rock n’ roll,” Dean said of his band, Rural Country.
For several years, Dean has been the equivalent of Santa for the Boys & Girls Club of Franklin.
“He has donated instruments to the kids for years,” said Natalie Fellure, executive director.
Many of the kids Dean has provided with guitars would have never had one otherwise, according to Fellure.
Fellow musicians, music students, even Franklin’s Mayor Steve Barnett, frequently stop by the shop.
“With all of Frank’s touring experience, he has great stories to share,” said Les Tabling of Franklin who taught guitar lessons in the shop for five years.
Don’t assume this Harley-riding hippie is hardcore, though.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Learned by heart
Dean has a heart for kids of all ages.
Along with providing acoustic and electric guitars to the Boys & Girls Club of Franklin, Dean and fellow musician, longtime friend and instructor, Floyd Tucker, welcome all ages of music lovers for instruction.
Even young ones like Surabhi Vishwanatha, 10, of Center Grove, perform on stage at Open Mike nights.
“They are so encouraging. They help Surabhi stay self-motivated,” Ramya Vishwanatha said of her daughter’s musical experiences.
For Karter Harmon of Los Angeles, now 30, Frank’s Guitars provided even more than bass and acoustic guitar instruction.
“Frank gave me a place where I could safely be myself, be open about my ideas and opinions, and grow not only as a musician but also as a human being,” said Harmon, who became a student there when he was 14.
Harmon works as an ocean scientist.
But music is still a huge part of his life.
A lifetime of music
“I’ve produced many records over the past few years and regularly gig with various groups and as a solo artist,” Harmon said.
Strumming his beloved guitar, from one coast to the other, Dean sold his songs in Nashville, Tenn., shared concert lineups with legends like Merle Haggard and George Jones and wrote a Johnny Cash Tribute song entitled, “You Walked Tall.”
So how did this nonconforming, traveling musician end up in Franklin?
Actually, it was music that brought Frank to Franklin.
Two decades ago, he and his band were booked to entertain at The Willard, a popular eatery maybe a block away from where he had a mind-changing moment.
Before he took the stage, Dean took a stroll through downtown, saw a vacant space and very spontaneously rented it.
“We shook hands on it, never signed a paper or anything,” he said of the landlord.
A few days after making that instant, life-changing decision, Frank’s Guitars was official.
Ten years later, Dean bought the building.
The friendly guy who originally hails from West Virginia fell in love with Franklin and made it home.
“I never wanted the star thing,” he said. “I’ve had my time on stage. The guitar is my thing.”
Through thick and thin, Frank’s Guitars survived the devastating flood in 2008, months of downtown construction work which greatly impeded parking and business, as well as long stretches of time when Dean closed the doors to protect everyone from the dangers of Covid-19.
The spirit of the store, rooted in a passion for music and a magical essence of people-loving acceptance, never wavers.
Personally, Dean knows the depth of strength and direction that music provides.
Growing up in poverty, without much to dream about, his life was suddenly changed one evening in front of a black-and-white TV.
“Seeing the Beatles and then getting a guitar saved me,” Dean said. “I know it did.”
Frank’s Guitars, like Frank himself, is about a whole lot more than guitars, cases and strings.
A whole lot more.