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Beat of a different strummer. Counterculture at home in little shop of rockers

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WHEN U.S. News & World Report did a story on child prodigies in January, Mac Randall, a 15-year-old composer and electric guitar player, told them that if the magazine wanted a picture of him looking really at home, the photographer should catch him at the Cambridge Music Center. For a lot of musicians, that's how it is with this second-story shop, the musical equivalent of the town barbershop.

In its own way, the vintage electric guitar store of Dennis Keller and Wendell Post seamlessly combines the '60s ethic of its ex-hippie owners and the '80s musical savvy of its clientele. Their shop bridges the 20-year gap: Younger customers who weren't even born when Jimi Hendrix died come in searching for an old Stratocaster that just might give them his searing, psychedelic sound; older patrons who were strumming along at Woodstock in '69 want to see the latest Gibson model.

With its rows of shiny, colorful electric guitars - Stratocasters, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, and Tokais, some with the well-worn patina and belt-buckle-scratched backs of much-loved and used instruments - the store gives a glimpse of life played to a definite backbeat.

All guitars are free to handle; even the few ``antiques'' behind the glass case are readily available for playing. ``We don't want anyone to be intimidated here,'' says Mr. Keller, a one-time hippie who has made good in the 1980s. ``We get the guitars out from the glass case for people only because once somebody mistakenly put one in wrong and it fell.''

``I know it sounds funny, but I still hold true to some of the ideals of that time,'' says Keller, who seems not so much a throwback to the '60s as a stray curveball that landed two decades later with ideals still intact. ``You know - question authority, treat each person like a human being, regardless of their social status - I still believe in that.''

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