The shop was originally operated out of their shared duplex. Back then, it was profitable to drive around Houston looking for guitars, Wittrock said.
On one drive, Wittrock found a strikingly familiar red and blue explorer-shaped bass with P-style pickups at a pawn shop in East Houston. He purchased it, thinking it belonged to his friend, the late Dusty Hill, of ZZ Top.
Sure enough, the bass belonged to Hill. This led to the Texas Rangers tracking down the band’s stolen trailer—which broke down near Beaumont—to a ranch near the border, with the band’s colorful performance costumes, from Nudie Cohn, still inside, Wittrock said.
As the business grew, Rockin’ Robin moved to its South Shepherd Drive location in 1980. The owners spent over a month converting the space, which still has the bones of a previous life as a factory.
With an exterior emblazoned with all-caps phrases such as “WE BUY GUITARS,” the shop has served as a beacon for neophyte and expert musicians alike for decades. People seek out Rockin’ Robin, Wittrock said.
Acoustic guitars, banjos and ukuleles line the walls of the store’s acoustics room. Much of the store’s stock consists of orange-tagged items, or items that are used but look new and carry the value of age.
“Can we sell somebody something that’s as good or better at a price that’s the same or lower than any other store in America? And the answer is probably yes. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Wittrock said.
While Wittrock does some repairs himself, the shop has three fulltime repair specialists: two for guitars and one for amplifiers.
“We’ve got repairmen that can repair things most people wouldn’t even bother,” Wittrock said. “I can show you instruments we’ve restored that, from a financial standpoint, probably didn’t really merit it, but it was just [about] the challenge and just putting something else kind of cool out there, saving something.”
In a partnership with music teacher Shawn Parks, founder of Bojangles Music School, Rockin’ Robin hosts one-on-one classes at the Montrose shop and the school’s Heights location on Lilac Street.
Wittrock’s wife, Patricia Wittrock, does the accounting for Rockin’ Robin while their daughter, Liz Wittrock, has served as the store’s manager for the last decade.
Wittrock said he plays guitar every day, including Les Pauls, Strats, Korina and Collings guitars.
Rockin’ Robin has stood witness to over two years of roadwork on Shepherd Drive. Wittrock has sold items online during this time through the shop’s page on Reverb, a site for selling used and vintage instruments.
“The independents are dying. Everywhere across America, there are very few independent music stores,” Wittrock said. “And most of the guys who had them were guitar lovers, and they got into it because they love guitars, not because they hate people or because they love money. I could have made a hell of a lot more money just following almost any other path. I like what I do.”
3619 S. Shepherd Drive, Houston
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., closed on Sun.