By Roly Meza
Ace Pepper is a timeless man who has dug his roots in San Marcos and planted himself a modest music store which blossoms fruit to the hungry musicians of the town. Let me take out all the literary vomit and say it simply…this man is a musician’s best friend. From old attorneys coming in with thousand-dollar guitars to young enthusiasts looking to pick up their first musical instrument, Pepper talks to you like a person and more importantly like a harmonious friend. If you need anything related to music or just want to talk shop, stop by JAMS in the heart of San Marcos at 118 S L B J Dr, San Marcos, TX 78666 and look for Pepper!
I had the laid-back pleasure of getting to sit with Pepper and find out what set him on his path, how JAMS came to be, what exactly the shop offers and of course – music.
Ace grew up in the ’70s in Plano, TX. His first influences of music came from the likes of ZZ Top, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. He recalls those were the songs that were constantly playing on the radio and thought, “I grew up thinking that’s what the guitar sounded like. Later on, I learned that was blues music, but at the time growing up, I just thought that’s what rock and roll music sounded like.” It didn’t take long for him to find a beat-up guitar and start playing at the age of 13.
He then enrolled in his local school’s music class and started to tune in. He found a knack for it and playing guitar came easy for him. I suppose that’s what happens when you truly love something out of pure sincerity. As most guitar stories go, things changed for Ace when he got an electric guitar.
“I got a slightly less crappy but still very crappy electric guitar,” Pepper said. “By then I was hanging out with some guys that my mom didn’t like after school, like you do! They started to teach me about using gauged strings how to string the guitar correctly and started playing Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top tunes. Once I figured out how to play tunes that I actually liked, I was hooked man. I didn’t want to do anything else. That’s how I got set on the path.”
There’s a love ballad behind JAMS music, and it started in junior high. Pepper actually dated his wife Jess in junior high, lost touch with her for 10 years and reconnected with her in Austin. Through the ’80s, Pepper lived in Austin and was making the rounds as a guitar player and overall musician getting gigs in all facets of music. Around ’85, after rekindling his love with Jess, things started to point towards San Marcos.
“She had gone to school in San Marcos at Texas State,” Pepper said. “She wanted to move back to San Marcos and finish her degree. So, she talked me into moving to San Marcos and we met a bunch of really cool people, fell in love with the town, bought a house and stayed.”
Most good stories usually tend to be driven by love, and Pepper has a heck of a lot of good stories to tell. “The short version, my old lady talked me into moving to San Marcos, we fell in love with the town, bought a house and stayed.” Pepper said as he took a sip out of his Dr. Pepper.
JAMS music came to fruition in 2018, and the name is an acronym for Jess and Ace Music Store. Or as Pepper likes to joke, “Just Another Music Store.” Although, it doesn’t take long to see that it isn’t just another music store due to its authentic charm. It has shifted locations, out toughed the pandemic, and eventually found its haven in downtown San Marcos. When asked about the shop. it’s clear to see that Pepper is passionate about its reputation. So, what’s the business model to keep a music store functioning?
“I’ll tell you the same thing that your business professor will tell you in college man: the secret to making a living is, diversify skill set,” Pepper said. “If I would have had to make a living as a guitar player, I would have starved to death a long time ago.” With this mentality, he was able to teach himself and learn through years of experience how to do an array of things in the music world. This transitioned well into offering and helping the local musicians of San Marcos while sustaining himself.
“The business model is that it’s a repair shop mostly, consignments, and accessories because time has taught us, that this is what the town will support,” Pepper said. “San Marcos will not support a guitar center with 100 guitars for you to browse through for an hour and a half.”
With that being said, there’s a number of things that musicians of the area ought to know when visiting JAMS music. Most of the guitars seen in the shop are guitars that people like you or me are looking to sell. Instead of going through the tedious task of uploading it on craigslist, Facebook market, or just reaching out to friends of friends, one can simply come to JAMS music. It goes like this, “People bring in their instrument, they name the price, and the shop takes a percentage. If somebody makes me an offer less than the seller is asking, then I contact the seller. The seller then has the option to say yes, no or counteroffer. It’s an outlet for your stuff. Like we like to say around here, so make sure you get this in your article, more people are going to see it in my shop than in your living room,” Pepper said with a chuckle. And he’s right! It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Many have asked or come in looking for lessons but unfortunately JAMS doesn’t offer any. However, Pepper has no issue in pointing you in the right direction and hooking you up with numbers to reach out to. He even has a promotion going on for students attending Texas State with a well-kept stock of beautiful Jasmine entry level guitars for under 200 bucks. He encourages people to learn, and he’ll happily impart whatever knowledge he can on advice and repairs.
“That’s one of the things I’m big on here man,” Pepper said. “Yes, I restring guitars, yes, I charge money for it, but if somebody has a few minutes to hang out, I’m happy to hang and teach them how to do it. If they don’t need my help next time, I’m happy for that. Mission accomplished!”
Of course, there are things that can’t be easily taught or done. One of those is a specialty that Ace has practiced for over 20 years. He hand builds custom guitar amplifiers that require an immense amount of work and skill. He emphasizes multiple times throughout our conversation, “Again, they take a long time, they’re obscenely expensive, but they last forever man!” What more can you ask from one man?
If you have instruments that you’re trying to sell, come to JAMS. If you have questions about lessons or want to get your first instrument but don’t know where to start, come to JAMS. If you want to change your guitar strings, get a tune up on an instrument, and maybe even learn a thing or two on how to do it yourself, come to JAMS. If you’re looking to buy accessories for your instrument or interested in upgrading to a custom power amp, come to JAMS. If you want to learn where there’s upcoming jam sessions, open mics, or just want to talk music, come to JAMS. Most importantly, if you want to support your local music store, shop at JAMS. If you want to know more but don’t want to sweat the walk, visit acepepper.com or check out his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SanMarcosJams/.
Cheers and salute thee Texas Dr. Pepper himself!
Written by: Preethi Mangadu