Two minutes after meeting Rio Stika you’ll want to be his friend. Rio makes guitars and some of the impressive and beautifully constructed instruments behind the display window are in fact Rio Stika originals. Rio also runs the best acoustic only guitar shop in the state of Utah.
Great Salt Lake Guitar sits in an old hardware building on the west block of center street in Provo. In addition to building and selling guitars the business also repairs them. “My dad was the original owner of the shop. He was nearly killed on a crab fishing boat in Alaska and came back to Utah. While he was recuperating he started building dulcimers. That’s where it all started,” Stika says. Great Salt Lake Guitar opened its doors in 1979 in a shop off the old Springville highway.
In September of 1988 the shop moved to it’s current location in downtown Provo. The building originally house the Steven Bee hardware store built in 1908. Great Salt Lake Guitar is only the second business to operate out of the location.
“The thing about a family business is that when you’re grounded it means your down in the shop working and I was a bit of a hellion growing up so I was always down here working.” Rio started working on smaller projects when he was 11 and at the age of 18 he built his first guitar. “My first guitar was the only guitar that was a collaboration between me and my dad. With that guitar he taught me how to achieve the sound that he did. The sound that he was after turned out to be way different than the sound that I’m after. Both of our guitars are very loud and powerful with long sustain but my dad went for a much brighter sound and I go for a much warmer sound. Having that foundation of knowledge gave me experience that would’ve taken me 15 years to achieve on my own.”
Rio says that growing up it was always assumed that he would one day take over the shop but at one point Rio took off for a few years to become a wilderness guide. “If you only do one thing your whole life even if you really enjoy it there will come a point where you’re going to question if that’s actually what you wanted to do or if it was just the path of least resistance, and at a certain point I just felt like I should come back here and run the shop.” In 2009 Rio quit his wilderness guide job, came back and told his dad that he needed to buy the shop from him. “It started getting really difficult to have my dad as my boss and my dad. At the time my dad said he wasn’t ready to sell the shop.” Persistence on Rio’s part and an understanding from his dad lead to Rio taking over the retail side of the shop in 2010. Rio’s dad continued building guitars. In 2011 the Stika family discovered that Ken, Rio’s dad, had cancer. He passed away in July of 2012.
“It was good that we had gotten everything with the shop settled before the cancer. It let us focus on other things as a family during that time.”
These day’s Rio says business and life is good. “I have my son Elliott with me a lot down here. He’s only two so we really just spend a lot of time rough housing when there are no customers around. He has his own little guitar that he will work on while I’m doing repairs for customers. Having my son with me down here and running the shop is a ridiculous amount of fun.
The Great Salt Lake Guitar Co. Located at 362 W. Center Street. Provo, Ut. 84601.