Just after the turn of the new year, San Antonio lost one of its most beloved caretakers of musical instruments. On Jan. 5, at home among family members, Mike “Mickey” Acosta succumbed at age 81 to complications from dementia.
Over a 40-year, self-directed career, Acosta brought the precision of a machinist and the humility of a repairman to his work at Acosta Music Co., the shop he ran at several locations on Bandera Road.
“His humility was such a standout, because there were so many things he did for so many people,” said Belinda O’Connor, Acosta’s youngest daughter. “He touched so many people’s lives in his own way.”
O’Connor said wherever the family went, whether out in San Antonio or traveling to other cities such as Atlanta, Knoxville, or Miami, people would recognize Acosta and stop to say hello. Many musicians travel frequently, and those who found her father for repair work often stuck with him, waiting to have their instruments worked on until they came through San Antonio.
O’Connor’s recognition of her father’s skills is shared by Todd Cambio, a guitar technician in Madison, Wisconsin, who discovered Acosta through the historical legacy of Acosta’s renowned musical family.
Cambio was hired to make a copy of renowned San Antonio Tejano singer Lydia Mendoza’s original 12-string guitar, and through research he discovered that it had been made by Acosta’s grandfather Guadalupe, who with sons Miguel and Luis and daughter Sylvia ran the original Acosta Music store and workshop downtown, which Cambio called “the epicenter of Mexican American music in San Antonio.”
Though Mike Acosta went on to establish a separate legacy in the world of San Antonio music, he maintained his family’s history by preserving archives and guitars made by his grandfather and father, one of which Cambio painstakingly restored before returning it to the family.
As two skilled guitar technicians, Cambio and Acosta maintained a collegial friendship over the last several years of Acosta’s life. Cambio learned that early in his career, Acosta had traveled to the Gibson guitar factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to become a certified technician, which helped him start his own music repair business in 1974. Acosta had also taught himself how to work on brass and woodwind instruments, and briefly played drums.
Acosta had started as a U.S. Marine Reserve machinist at Kelly Air Force Base during the Vietnam War, making parts for C-5 cargo planes. He then went to work for various music companies, including C. Bruno and J.L. Caldwell Music, before opening his own shop. He maintained his skills as a machinist, however, and was called back to Kelly for several years even as he kept the music business running with the help of family members.
His skills set him apart from other instrument repairers, Cambio said. “Because Mike was a master machinist, he had tolerances that allowed him to dial things in, in a way that few people can.”
O’Connor said as a preschooler, she worked in the shop alongside her father, removing guitar strings to be replaced, even removing frets, a task that requires particular attention and dexterity. Her father kept a watchful and encouraging eye, she said, sounding proud that a man with such demanding standards allowed her to work with him.
She said one of his mantras was “if you want it done right, do it yourself,” mainly because he had to repair so many musical instruments that had received earlier botched repair attempts. He’d work meticulously to undo the inadvertent damage, then begin the needed repairs from scratch.
Musician and fellow instrument technician John Michael Ramirez worked with Acosta at Caldwell Music, and knew him for his entire 40-year career as a guitar repairman. He said Acosta “was in the elite group, as far as the repair guys go,” and though Ramirez works for Guitar Tex, he had Acosta maintain his instruments, readying them for the many paying gigs he’d perform as a bass guitarist with the Jeffrey Charles country band.
“Everybody that he serviced, those instruments performed at the top-notch level that the instrument was capable of performing at,” Ramirez said. “When you can pull your guitar out and know that it’s right, that gives you a sense of confidence as you go on stage. … He served the community so well.”
Though he worked in service of musicians, Acosta recognized the hard life many artists led, scrabbling for money between paying gigs. He not only encouraged his three kids to go to college – with “no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” said O’Connor – he paid their way through Texas A&M University. She studied horticulture and went on to work in the pharmaceutical industry, while her elder sister Bernice Acosta Hinnant studied English and became a reading specialist and school administer, and Michael, the eldest, studied engineering and worked for the Texas Department of Transportation.
Acosta worked hard to support his family, Ramirez said, often working eight-hour shifts at Kelly, then putting in four hours at the music shop afterward.
Acosta’s youngest sibling, Yolanda Heinz, can attest to her brother’s work ethic, having often babysat his kids while he worked long hours. Nevertheless, he was attentive to his wife, Olga, and “he was always just helpful,” Heinz said, O’Connor and son Michael adding that their father helped many others in the neighborhood, though he rarely spoke of it.
Acosta is survived by his wife, Olga, and children Belinda O’Connor, Bernice Acosta Hinnant, and Michael R. Acosta, his siblings Sylvia Ramirez, Guadalupe “Sonny” Acosta, Louis Acosta, Santiago “Jimmy” Acosta, Cynthia Acosta, and Yolanda Heinz, and numerous nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. His sister, Irma Acosta Miller, died Tuesday from complications of COVID-19.
When Heinz’s granddaughter Mia learned that Acosta had died, she summed up the feelings of the family. “She says, ‘he was a good man,’” Heinz said. “Yes, he was. He was a very good man.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, awaiting Olga Acosta’s recovery from COVID-19.