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Paying Tribute to Matt McCabe, Longtime Saratoga Guitar Owner and Two-Term Finance Commissioner

Locals, including McCabe's son and the former mayor of Saratoga, leave touching tributes to Saratoga's 'guitar hero.'

Matt McCabe, who ran Saratoga Guitar for more than 25 years and served as Saratoga’s finance commissioner for two terms, was one of the city’s most beloved small business owners. (Jacob Veitch)

The year was 1993, and I had just spent a decent chunk of my bar mitzvah money on my first electric guitar—a lipstick red Fender Stratocaster Squire. Back then, you had to have your mom or dad drive you to The Only Guitar Shop in Clifton Park (where I bought the guitar) or Drome Sound in Albany to try out the latest models, and let me tell you, that was about as uncool as it got.

The following June, though, Matt McCabe, who was this every-dad type of guy, opened Saratoga Guitar on Caroline Street in Saratoga Springs, and suddenly, local guitarists didn’t have to leave town to worship at a six-string altar. It wasn’t just any old shop; Matt treated everyone that came through his front door the same way—like an old friend. He had this good-natured way about him, the type you just wanted to be around.

While I never did end up buying a second axe from Matt, in my early punk years, I sawed down countless picks on vigorous downstrokes and bought loads of replacements from him, got my Strat set up there a number of times and “test drove” more than my fair share of hardware. Matt would always oblige; he was just what the guitarists of Saratoga needed and deserved, and we all miss him greatly. 

Saratoga lost Matt, who also served for two terms as the city’s commissioner of finance in the early aughts, on January 12, and we asked some of his family and friends to pay tribute to him.

“My father cared deeply about the community. As a small business owner, he felt that he was meant to strengthen the community and provide opportunities for the people
in it. He took a personal interest in the success of his employees and loved to support local causes. It’s been good to see just how many lives he was able to touch during his time in Saratoga.

—Charlie McCabe, Matt’s eldest son

“Matt McCabe was a model citizen of Saratoga Springs, a real community leader in multiple ways: as a businessman, as a musician and as an elected official. He was the kind of person who made Saratoga Springs the vibrant, successful city that it is. His death is a great loss to the community, but he will be remembered by all who knew him for his energy, dedication and commitment to public service.” 

—Kenneth Klotz, former mayor of Saratoga, who served with McCabe 

“Matt knew everybody, and everybody loved him. He operated from a place of public service in everything that he did. Every small or large gesture was about making the world a little bit better through music. He just gave and gave and gave.” 

—Sarah Craig, executive director of Caffè Lena

“Matt did everything in a quiet way. He was a gentle giant. Every time there was a benefit in town, he donated a guitar. He probably gave away hundreds of guitars. He was one of the good ones. They’re few and far between. He wasn’t big about blabbing about all the good that he did, he just went out and did it.” 

—Rick Bolton, longtime Saratoga musician and music organizer

“He really played a huge part in this community and the music scene. When my daughter was born a couple years ago, Matt gave me a guitar—one of the nicest guitars I’ve ever played. That’s my main instrument, the one I play every day.” 

—Alex Grandy, former manager at Saratoga Guitar 

“All musical journeys in Saratoga Springs led to Matt McCabe and Saratoga Guitar in one way or another. Purely foundational!” 

—Garland Nelson, lead singer of Soul Session and owner at Soul Session Edu-tainment

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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