From Iceland — No Stairway To Heaven: Jamming With Reykjavík's Best Musical Instrument Shops

No Stairway To Heaven: Jamming With Reykjavík’s Best Musical Instrument Shops

No Stairway To Heaven: Jamming With Reykjavík’s Best Musical Instrument Shops

Published March 31, 2022

John Pearson
Photo by
Christine Wehrmeier

The heart of Reykjavík has a musical beat. In a city teeming with venues and gigs, pretty much anyone you meet who is remotely interesting will be in a band or three. But if you want to be next in the long line of members of GusGus, you’re going to need to know where to buy your kazoo. I dropped into four noteworthy music shops to sample their wares, and catch their vibe…

Hljóðfærahúsið

Síðumúli 20, 108 Reykjavík

This spacious showroom is probably the biggest instrument shop in the city, and can trace its roots back over a hundred years. Hljóðfærahúsið, (a terrifying Icelandic word at first sight, but it translates simply as “the musical instrument house”), is a consolidation of various historic instrument, sound and stage lighting businesses. Consequently it boasts a huge diversity of equipment—from stage smoke machines to pianos—including audio gear for podcasts, a growth area during the pandemic. Manager Jón Kjartan Ingólfsson and his staff are happy to help you find what you need, or just to chat about music.

I tried out: a MusicMan Stingray—God’s own bass guitar, and no debate. It growls like a horny tiger.

The capacious inside of Hljóðfærahúsið. Horny tiger not pictured..


HljóðX Rín 

Grensásvegur 12, 108 Reykjavík 

HljóðX Rín came about in 2011 when PA hire company HljóðX took over instrument shop Rín, and the current shop reflects that heritage by carrying a decent mix of rock ‘n’ roll instruments, amplifiers and general audio gear. Music shops often serve as social hubs for local musicians, a role recently made more important when the pandemic limited opportunities to meet up at gigs. During a chat over coffee at the shop counter with manager Ingvar Valgeirsson, I got a sense of that community as passing musicians dropped into HljóðX Rín to say “hi”. 

I tried out: a beautiful Dimavery MM-501 fretless bass. But where do you put your damn fingers when there are no metal bits to help you cheat?

A total confusion of fingering.


Tónastöðin

Skipholt 50d, 105 Reykjavík

Tónastöðin is the Reykjavík music shop that knows how to rock, but also knows which end of a cor anglais to blow into. This smart and expansive store houses a huge range of instrument types; several double basses sit on stands just begging to be played, and saxophones on the wall seduce you away from the more standard guitar and piano offerings. Tónastöðin also deals in sheet music and—like Hljóðfærahúsið—has recognised and embraced the burgeoning market in podcast production gear. There is a fantastic percussion room with a huge selection of fun stuff, including a sea drum which hospitable shop owner Andrés Helgason can coax into sounding exactly like the Atlantic surf rolling up an Icelandic pebble beach.

I tried out: one of the double basses. Easy! It’s like a fretless bass guitar, just held the other way up. Erm… right?

Making saxy time at Tónastöðin.


Sangitamiya

Grettisgata 7, 101 Reykjavík

This cosy little store, nestling in a corner house downtown, extends a truly global reach to gather its collection of instruments. The result is a multicultural mélange of acoustic musical objects, united by shop owner Eymundur Matthiasson’s belief that music is a powerful way to bring peace and joy into lives. The Sangitamiya stocklist is dizzying; from the simple and familiar, such as castanets, to obscurities such as the Mongolian morin-khuur. But what they don’t stock are the standard electrical instruments prevalent in the other three shops on this list, a policy which Sangitamiya uses to distinguish itself.

I tried out: a kalimba, or thumb piano. You’ve got to be pretty determined to make one of those sound unmusical. But I did try.

More world instruments than you could shake a rain stick at… that’s Sangitamiya.


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