A musical legacy

Empire Music owner Joe Ravita is celebrating 20 years at his store, located at 719 Washington Road.

In Mt. Lebanon, the name Ravita is synonymous with music.

Joe Ravita was a teenager when he started working in his dad’s store in 1994. When Ravita’s Music closed in the early 2000s, after 18 years, Ravita opened Empire Music in the same location. He’s now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Since its inception, Empire Music has grown from an 800-square-foot store to a 7,000-square-foot location offering Fender, Gibson, Martin and Taylor, the four most iconic guitar brands.

A lot has changed since Joe entered the industry. More instruments are made from sustainable woods, as exotic woods, such as rosewood and Sitka Spruce, are getting harder to source. The focus is more narrow now, with more specialty stores springing up and fewer face-to-face interactions.

Walk into Empire Music and you’ll see several employees sitting in front of computer terminals, chatting with customers from all over the country. In fact, internet sales now make up 95 percent of Empire’s business. The store ships anywhere from 70 to 100 guitars each month. “It’s still cool to meet customers in the store,” Ravita said. “We still like that part of it.”

When retail stores were forced to shut down at the height of COVID, Ravita invested in more video equipment to increase the quality of content on Empire’s YouTube channel and social media sites. As COVID lingered, the store continued to push out additional video content. “We’re still reaping the benefits of those decisions now,” he said.

Ravita says Empire has a national reputation among  guitar players.  “We carry the most elite brands and we’ve essentially reached the highest tier with every one of those brands,” Ravita pointed out. “If Fender releases a special model and only 50 are made, we have it.”

The most expensive guitar Ravita has ever sold was a $100,000 1931 Martin guitar, one of 31 made. In any given year, Empire sells one or two $50,000 guitars.  Most are in the $4,000 to $10,000 range, with the most affordable guitar costing $199. Every guitar sold receives a full head-to-toe adjustment. “We inspect and adjust to make it right, regardless of how much you spend,” Ravita said.

In addition to selling and repairing guitars, Empire Music also teaches how to play them. About a third of Empire Music’s students are adults 25 and older. A novel program called Strum Together allows parents and kids to take lessons together.

Empire Music, 719 Washington Road, is open Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Photo: John Schisler