At Guitars Not Guns, the message is simple – and heart-felt

At Guitars Not Guns, the message is simple – and heart-felt

At Guitars Not Guns, the message is simple – and heart-felt
Graduates from previous 8-week courses work with an instructor focused on advancing their abilities. Students learn from nine roaming instructors led by Brooks Lundy. Guitars Not Guns equips each student with an acoustic guitar, strap and case.

Dave Hughes The Beat of Diablo bannerCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (May 16, 2024) — I’ve heard of Guitars Not Guns for years, however, I’ve personally never really understood the specifics of the work they do, nor seen them in action.

The mission statement prominently featured on their website seems to reinforce what I had assumed: “We provide guitars and lessons to foster children and at-risk youth in a classroom setting with qualified teachers as an alternative to violence.”

To see what this looks like at the local level, I dropped in on a classroom earlier this month at the Concord Library. The class I observed was in its fourth session of the eight-week course, and the kids were clearly excited to build on the knowledge and skills they had acquired over the prior month.

Nine roaming instructors guided the roughly 20 children aged 8 to 16. Five of the teachers serve on the board of Guitars Not Guns Contra Costa County.

‘Driven to do this from our hearts’

“We’re all volunteers. We’re driven to do this from our hearts,” explains president/director Barbara Gorin.

She is quick to point out how learning guitar helps children to condition a sense of structure, worth and responsibility.

“When these kids learn how to play guitar, they’ll find they’re better at their schoolwork and they’re more disciplined. We tell them they gotta take care of their guitars, they gotta practice, they gotta come to the classes – those are the three things we expect of them.”

Guitars Not Guns equips each student with an acoustic guitar, strap and case. Individuals donate most of the guitars, while the group purchases others at discounted rates using money from various fundraising efforts.

“Our biggest fundraiser is at Vinnie’s Bar and Grill the Saturday after Thanksgiving,” Gorin notes.

‘Teaching showmanship’

Halfway into the eight-week course, the students I observed were already comfortable with five major chords, three of which they employed on this day to learn a popular Bob Marley song. Led by VP Brooks Lundy, the class strummed along to a slowed-down rhythm of the iconic worry-free anthem “Three Little Birds.”

A seasoned rock ’n’ roller himself, Lundy added his own twist to teach the kids some showmanship.

“OK, you guys, listen up. On this last A chord right here, I want you all to strum as hard and as fast as you can, and keep going, and then – junt! – one last quick one. And then, very important, you mute your strings.”

A small arm raises meekly from the front row.

“Um … how come … I mean, why do we have to mute the strings?” asks one of the younger students.

“So you can hear the applause,” assures Lundy.

The kids look at one another with wide eyes and big smiles as the instructor seizes their moment of enthusiasm. “OK, you guys ready to do this? From the top, here we go.”

Rockstar finish

Young rockers putting their heart into the big rock and roll finish their instructor asked for.

We were then treated to the slowest version of the reggae classic that I’ve ever heard, with the newly added rockstar finish that had the instructors, students and those of us watching all erupt into applause. The kids were loving it. Everyone was.

“I was impressed by the dedication of the instructors and the focused intent of the students trying to master these skills,“ shares Concord City Councilmember Laura Nakamura, who had attended the previous week.

“There’s no single word to express my admiration for the Guitars Not Guns organization,“ Nakamura says. “Children need mentors and creative outlets so that they are better equipped to face life’s challenges.”

While the organization aims its efforts at foster children and at-risk youth, all kids interested in learning guitar are welcome to enroll in the free course. Graduation for the current class is open to the public at 6:30 p.m. June 3 at the library.

To learn more about how to help keep this community effort going, Guitars Not Guns encourages readers to follow them at

Read more Beat of Diablo columns.

Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes

Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at