Keeping the legacy of Salem’s storied vintage guitar store alive

It was the late 60s and two North Salem High School kids were hanging out in a farmhouse on State Street east of Cordon Road. John Martin’s parents, Roy and Rose, happened to have in their home a 1955 Gibson ES-225 that they bought brand new in California years before moving to Oregon. Tim Knight, the iconic Guitar Castle founder, award-winning local artist, and art director with the Boys & Girls Club, played that guitar. Little did Tim know, but his friend John’s future son (grandson of Roy and Rose), would receive that guitar as a gift for graduating from college, and ultimately end up buying Guitar Castle 50 years later.

John and Tim were good friends who walked together at graduation from high school, and then each went their own way. Tim went to Portland. John stayed in Salem and welcomed his son, Justin, into the world on his 19th birthday in September 1969. Tim eventually returned to Salem and both he and John went on to own very successful Salem businesses — Zephyr Engineering and Guitar Castle.

1955 GIBSON ES-225




Tim Knight opened Guitar Castle in 1988. He went on to build a legendary vintage guitar store that has thrived, survived, and remained a constant in Salem over the past 33 years. Through trying times, economic downturns, changes in musical tastes, big box corporate stores, and a pandemic, Salem’s vintage guitar store has always been here. It has served the community for years and has given individuals the ability to express themselves through music. Frank Black of the Pixies, John Doe & Exene Cervenka from X, Pat Smear & Dave Grohl, Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth, John Lee Hooker, Dave Amato, Neil Geraldo, Mike Ness, Tom Waits, John Fahey, and many other amazing musicians have been through “The Castle” doors over the years. In a Statesman Journal article, Tim was once asked what the best thing about owning a guitar store was. He replied, “The fun part is the people I meet, whether it’s a rock star or a person from Salem/Keizer, I’ve met some incredible people.”

Justin Martin graduated from McKay High School and then went on to spend four years playing professional baseball in the California Angels minor league system. As Justin’s website bio says, “the lure of fame and making millions of dollars in the major leagues couldn’t overcome his desire to work in government”. He went on to graduate from Chemeketa, Western Oregon, and Harvard University. Justin started lobbying for The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in 1997. In 2004, he started his own government relations firm, Perseverance Strategies, and still represents The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, as well as the City of Salem, the Oregon Tribal Gaming Alliance, the Oregon Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, OSBA, and the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments, and others.

Justin, now a 26-year veteran lobbyist who has owned his own government relations firm for nearly two decades, started buying guitars from Guitar Castle back in 1995 when the shop was located on Court Street. He and Tim became great friends over the years, and as Justin’s collection grew, so did the conversations about how to ensure that Guitar Castle would continue to thrive. In August 2020, Tim decided the time was right to sell the store to Justin and began mapping out the next 33 years of Guitar Castle. First, they infused the store with new inventory, second, they made a move to 237 High Street NE and relaunched it in August of 2021.

When asked about how the business is going, Justin said “As we come out of the pandemic, we are very encouraged by the support of our local customer base. Our community continues to support our store and is more than willing to buy local. We are very encouraged by the new location, new inventory, and steady online sales, which ultimately allow us some breathing room to keep the focus on our brick-and-mortar store. My goal is to keep the legacy of Guitar Castle alive for years to come.”