Tom Terling is living his life pretty much the way he wants. The only strings attached are the ones on the guitars.
On weekdays, Mr. Terling is the sole employee at Hanks Vintage Guitars in West Way Shoppes along Steubenville Pike in Robinson. On nights and weekends, he takes the stage in various venues around Canonsburg and Washington.
Tonight he will playing at Downey's House, right there in West Way Shoppes, next to Midas Mufflers.
"I went to college to study something else entirely different," said Mr. Terling, 59, of Canonsburg. "But I was always playing guitar in junior high, high school, college, and I finally made a choice to keep on doing it. I was having a good time, and I was able to eke out a living."
Playing music gave him the freedom to pick up one day and head to Florida, where he spent more than a decade mixing his own songs with samples of classic rock and beach music. He picked up some regular gigs in pubs and hotel bars, and though he never made a lot of money, he made a lot of friends.
"They pay me, I show up with my guitar," he said. "I prefer my three-piece band, but I do a lot of work as a solo. Washington has a lot of clubs and bars, so there's plenty of work. And I still have friends in the Keys, so I'll go down there every once in a while and play. I travel a little bit and I get to do my passion as work. And I'm still having a good time, you know?"
Family obligations brought him back to Western Pennsylvania about 12 years ago. He was still making ends meet as a guitar player in 2010, when a friend from high school asked him to help with the guitar place he was opening.
The owner -- who appreciates his privacy -- put together a collection of vintage guitars and amplifiers that practically any music fan could appreciate, but only a few could afford.
"His main thing is vintage Gibsons and a lot of Fender amps," Mr. Terling said. "Most of the guitars are from the '50s and '60s. He doesn't do a lot of refurbishing. He looks for stuff that is clean, minty. He's really a stickler for all the original parts and original knobs. If something has to be replaced, the part still has to come from the period-correct era.
"I call it a museum. And I'm the curator. It's a guitar player's place, and I'm essentially the baby-sitter of all these nice instruments."
Mr. Terling said that while the shop exhibits guitars mounted on the walls as works of art, he's more of a down-to-earth guitar player. To him, he said, they're "working tools."
"If you're a real guitar player, you have a passion for the instrument and admire the quality of the workmanship that goes into one," he said. "But guitar players, in general, they're not going to buy a vintage collectible guitar. To them it's eye candy."
Strumming out songs by Santana, Jeff Beck and Hendrix has served Mr. Terling just fine.
With a few of his own songs mixed into the set, he's able to entertain a crowd just fine.
"I grew up with what they now call classic rock," he said. "There's still an audience for that. Even the young people embrace it. It's timeless music. Anyone of any age group is going to respond to Led Zeppelin the first time they hear it."
You can hear it tonight at 9:30 at Downey's House, 6080 Steubenville Pike. There is no cover.
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"Show Me Your Tattoo" -- Tom Terling
If you have a suggestion for something to do some evening, let us know about it and we'll see if we can get some of our friends to join you. Contact Dan Majors at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1456.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/