Finlay + Gage Musical Instruments Tunes Up in Maplewood

Sam Finlay of Finlay + Gage Musical Instruments (Donny Levit)

The story of Finlay + Gage begins with a terrible car accident.

Already an accomplished bass player, Sam Finlay left his native New York for college in Seattle. However, plans changed when he was seriously injured from the accident and needed to return home. Finlay and his father brought his badly damaged bass to David Gage String Instruments.

Finlay was no stranger to David Gage’s store. Frankly, the day before he’d left for college, Gage had offered him a job. “I had my trunk all packed for school. I told him I couldn’t do it,” recalls Finlay. “When I came back after the accident, I wasn’t in good shape. He told me that the guy he’d hired didn’t work out. And he asked me if I still wanted a job.”

Sweeping the floors

Finlay took that job at David Gage’s store. “I started out by sweeping the floors,” he says. Finlay, who had studied classical music and had performed as a professional jazz bassist, started to learn an entirely new skill set. “I learned how to build instruments. And someone needed to start organizing and selling.” The business became very successful, and Finlay was on his way to becoming a professional luthier – someone who builds and fixes stringed instruments.

Finlay and his family moved to South Orange five years ago. As he got to the know the community, he found himself helping out kids in the neighborhood by fixing their instruments. “My wife started to ask, ‘Are you going to charge them for that?’,” he recalls.

Years later, the two have become business partners. Finlay + Gage Musical Instruments officially opened on June 21. The store had its grand opening and ribbon cutting on September 16. “We work on anything that’s bowed and fretted,” Finlay says.

“This has become my happy place” 

Finlay + Gage is bright, minimalist and spotless. Finlay is curious, enthusiastic, and extremely articulate. And he believes that the new shop will provide a needed service for the area’s music community. “We want to rent and sell quality instruments, and also be able to repair them,” he says. “There are tons of talented musicians in this area.”

As Finlay provides a tour of the new space, he points out a long, narrow section which displays an elegant row of acoustic guitars. Beautiful artwork adorns the walls, which he later tells me are photos taken by his wife, artist Gabrielle Zola.

His workshop is located in the rear of the store where he’ll be building and repairing instruments. “This has become my happy place,” he says. “I used to not like anyone hanging over me while I was doing a bridge repair. But now I really like talking to kids about it.”

Finlay says that he’ll advise parents to rent instruments for their kids when they get started out. And if the child becomes serious about playing violin, the store offers a plan that allows those rental fees to go towards the purchase of the instrument.

Violin tattoos

Finlay + Gage also boasts a spacious recital room which has quickly become a home to local musicians. Finlay says he’s been donating the space for rehearsals. In addition, the store will also hold special events. He’s looking forward to their first movie night later this fall, which will be a collaboration with Matthew Smollon, founder and director of the SOMa Film Festival. “Matt was the one who found this space for the store,” Finlay adds.

“Sam has been very accommodating,” says Jennifer Hershfield, who is the elementary orchestra teacher for the South Orange Maplewood School District. “It’s convenient for families to come to him directly.”

Finlay points out an empty work desk in the front of the store. “That’s where our guitar tech [Jason Ferguson] likes to sit,” he says. “He’s one of the best in the business.”

At one point, Finlay picks up a ukulele to discuss tuning options. His left arm, sporting a violin tattoo, moves up and down the fretboard to play a few bar chords. Finlay is genuinely excited as he describes the instrument. “I don’t think I have the cynical view that others may have in the industry,” he says.

Finlay + Gage Musical Instruments is located at 1677 Springfield Avenue #19 in Maplewood.