San Benito County's first Guitars Not Guns class graduates Saturday, Sept. 9

On Saturday morning, Sept. 9, San Benito County’s first “Guitars Not Guns” class will graduate 20 students who completed the eight-week-long free guitar class series. The Monterey County chapter of Guitars Not Guns executive director Stephen Vagnini purchased 16 brand-new guitars with gear bags and instruction books as a singular gift of generosity to help start the program and shipped them to Hollister for youths who needed them to participate in the classes.

The classes were taught by: lead instructor, Bruce Gilsenan with assistance by Richard Primont, Zachary Freitas and Ramona Hill. All volunteered their time to teach the students how to tune the guitar and play basic chords that are common to popular songs in traditional modern western music.

Parents who responded to a survey about the class and 100 percent said they would recommend the class to friends or colleague. They all responded that it was excellent, and that it was well-organized with a friendly, helpful staff. Other written responses to the survey included:

  • For one, my son, who is very shy and homeschooled wanted to go! He has really enjoyed the entire process. The instructors are very patient and kind. Way to go GNG!
  • Fun, interactive instructors. The program was well coordinated and kept my girls enthusiastic about learning a new skill.
  • The teachers have patience. My son enjoyed every class.
  • Gives children an opportunity to learn how to play guitar and if they are interested they can keep growing by going to lessons and perform.

The free guitar classes were facilitated and supported by local leaders and other local nonprofit organizations. County Supervisors Jaime De La Cruz and Mark Medina donated $500 each from community-based allocated funds. Hollister City Councilman Ray Friend donated more than $200 to purchase Guitars Not Guns T-shirts from a local vendor, but more importantly represented the American Legion Post #069 by providing classroom space for the program.

The Community Foundation for San Benito County donated $500 to Guitars Not Guns Monterey County chapter to help offset the cost of the 16 guitars purchased for students in the class. And local music industry entrepreneur Scott McPhail and Kim Hurtado donated $500 which paid for a left-handed guitar for one student and digital guitar tuners used by all the students during the free summer music program. 

Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback received from parents and students about this guitar class program, a new chapter of Guitars Not Guns will be formed to serve San Benito County under the auspices of the national nonprofit organization in the near future. However, more planning and fundraising will need to be accomplished to advance and expand the program throughout the county as envisioned by the program administrators. To be successful and sustainable, the program will require the efforts of vetted and competent guitar teachers to volunteer their time to help make a positive difference in the lives of at-risk youths and other deserving kids in the community.

Future fundraising plans include low cost workshops and concerts featuring professional musicians meeting and mentoring students and then performing as a headline act with Guitars Not Guns students and other local bands/musicians gigging as an opening act for the benefit show.

If you are interested in learning more about Guitars Not Guns you may visit the national website: To express your interest as a parent or guardian of a student 8-18-years-old to participate in a free future free guitar class series, please email: Michael Smith at: