If you are a musician in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana IL, there is a strong chance that you’ve had the good fortune of meeting Dyke Corson. Corson has been a fixture of the local music community for multiple decades, having worked in music stores in town since 1973, and having played in bands locally since 1974. And, since 1996, Corson has been the Owner of his namesake music store: Corson Music.
“While I was managing Baldwin Music’s combo department in Champaign, I re-opened a different store, which was originally known as Ax-In-Hand, which then became 1st National Guitar Store,” Corson said. “That store had closed, but it had a loyal following, because it had been open since the late 1960s.Two years later, I moved the combo department of the Baldwin Music store I was managing to a new building, and that was the beginning of Corson Music.”
Originally, the store had four employees; now, between the two locations, Corson Music employs seven staff members: four full-time and three part-time. One of the prerequisites for all Corson Music employees—including Corson’s two oldest children, both of whom worked at the store for a period of time—is that they’re working musicians.
“I like to think we are a player’s store,” Corson said. “All my employees play in groups or give lessons, so we like to call it a ‘music store owned and operated by working musicians.’”
He continued, “That said, we also have good teachers and students coming and going all the time. So, we make sure to have the largest selection of guitars in town under $200 to cover all the bases for quality, affordable instruments for musicians of all levels.”
Although all his employees are professional musicians, Corson makes sure they never talk down to those who might be new to music making, and they’re always open to a customer’s personal taste. “Everyone has preferences on gear and what they like to sell, for sure,” Corson explained. “And giving good, honest advice about value in a product is important.”
Most of the instrument selling these days is done out of the Champaign store. The Urbana store is accessories only, and it handles all the stringed instrument rentals for Community Center for the Arts, a music school that is now leasing the lion’s share of the space in the building. Meanwhile, the Champaign store sells guitars, amps, PA gear and DJ equipment.
Keeping up with current products at that location is something that has been important to Corson from day one. One of the biggest lessons he has learned over the years, in fact, is to keep his inventory in check and not to let the store grow too fast.
“Growing my inventory too fast was a big problem for me and, today, it’s even harder to know the right mix of gear that folks will want to buy locally,” Corson admitted. “Fast-moving technology makes new offerings obsolete in as few as six months. You don’t want to get caught with a bunch of product gone bad.”
The Champaign store is also home to a private lesson program, PA rentals, an in-house tech who handles repairs on both guitars and electronics, and an active concert production and installation business that helps Corson Music stand out from its competitors.
71 E. University Ave.
Champaign IL 61820
Phone: (217) 352-1477
Mon – Fri: 10am – 6pm
Sat: 10am – 5pm
202 W. Main
Urbana IL 61801
Phone: (217) 367-3898
Mon – Thurs: 10am – 6pm
Fri – Sat: 10am – 5pm
Dyke Corson – Owner
“We are the only local store that wants to come out to a church or a school and take care of their needs and problems,” Corson stated. “It’s very rewarding for me to be able to help.” He continued, “The install business is thriving and, really, it’s making it possible still to have the retail sales of guitars and other instruments.”
Corson Music’s efforts to differentiate itself go beyond offering the services that other music stores are seemingly unwilling to offer. Corson makes sure that his stores are an integral part of their community, sponsoring a local originals night in conjunction with C-U Bands and Fans where it provides PA and runs sound to showcase locals who write their own material. Corson also aims to be a resource for musicians on a larger scale, using Twitter and Facebook “not only to post our products and services,” Corson said, “but also to post useful tips and tricks, as well as interesting stories about playing, instruments and how to make your band succeed.”
Expanding the focus beyond just music sales is important because, as Corson noted, “Things were much different back when I ventured out on my own than they are today. Internet competition is tough, especially when your local tax is nine percent.”
In the face of growing competition from the Internet, which Corson calls “a race to the bottom,” his business offers price matching and makes sure customers are aware of that fact.
“Recently, we introduced a return policy, as well, which it seems you have to do these days,” Corson remarked. “We have a Pro Player’s Club with a discount card and incentives. We try to do in-store clinics and on-the-spot quick repairs, as well.”
But, at the end of the day, the main thing you can count on from Corson Music is great customer service. According to Corson, “The Golden Rule is my philosophy, and it’s always been my goal for my staff and myself: Treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.” He continued, “I try my best to get back to everyone who calls, and I’m grateful for the calls and requests for help that we receive daily. Keeping up with all the service calls and installs is my priority these days,”
Corson concluded by adding, “It’s hard to get the new, young crowd of shoppers to appreciate good customer service. But, we’ll keep trying.”