It seems like yesterday that the House of Guitars was mesmerizing us with kaleidoscopic, homegrown commercials. This year, HOG celebrates 50 years of business—50 years of doing its own thing. Here, Armand Schaubroeck (one of the three Schaubroeck brothers who started this Rochester institution) talks about then and now.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Irondequoit.
Do you have any siblings?
I have three—two brothers and a sister. Bruce, Blaine and Byrle.
Does your sister work at the House of Guitars, too?
Yeah, she works up at the front building. (Bruce and Blaine also work there.)
Where did the idea of the House of Guitars come from?
Well, we started in a house. In the basement of my mother’s house, so we were calling it the House of Guitars back then cuz we were in the basement.
You opened in 1964?
Yeah. It was good timing because the Beatles just came to America in ’64. I used to take Trailways buses to Syracuse cuz there was a German guy there. He owned a distributor, Halifax Music. He was the only one in the country that could get the Paul McCartney violin Beatle bass, and he might bring in 25 for the whole country. And I’d go down there on a Trailways bus and buy 12 of the 25 and bring ’em back to Rochester and sell ’em right away, you know? I’d just have cash in my jeans.
And this was all while you were still in the basement?
Yeah, in the basement.
So the Beatles, is that what you think ...
With the Beatles, each one had an identity. Ringo for drums, Paul McCartney for the bass, and then George Harrison for the guitar. We looked at all the instruments they played and everything, and we got their instruments. We started getting Vox Teardrops like the Stones would ... like Brian Jones was playing.
What’s your most valued possession in the store, for sale or not?
There are so many up front. Vintage guitars—original handmade D’Angelicos. D’Angelico passed away. I mean, he actually made that guitar [pointing]. ... He made a real powerful guitar that would cut through the horns and stuff. They had mics, but they didn’t have pickups, so you’d have to hear it with the horns blaring, the trumpets, the trombones and everything. For an acoustic guitar, it was very loud. The whole top part of the House of Guitars, they’re all vintage from the ’50s and ’60s. The national bands that come in are all puffy, and all of a sudden they see them [vintage guitars], and they start acting like little kids.
What are some of your more famous patrons?
Ozzy Osbourne was here three times.
First time was with Randy Rhoads, and the second time Motley Crue was back here, against the wall, and Ozzy was on the front stage. Carmine Appice, Ozzy’s drummer, was teaching drums upstairs for a master class, and the place had barricades around all our buildings. Bon Jovi did three in-stores. Aerosmith was here a couple times. We had Waylon Jennings’ son. We have Waylon Jennings up there [points to a picture], but his son signed underneath his father so that was kinda cool.
What about your commercials? How did that all happen?
In the early days in the ’60s, we had a hip pad we crashed at all the time. And all of a sudden next to us, a guy came from England. He worked with 16mm, and he was here to show Kodak what to do with film, how to shoot it and everything. He shot our early commercials and then, at the time, not even the car dealers were doing their own [commercials]. They thought we were giving ... messages to the public, to the hippies and stuff. ... They thought everything meant something. Actually, we were just amateurs. We had a few beers and had a good time and tried to sell ourselves.
Are there any other little-known facts about the House of Guitars?
I dunno, I have to look around [laughs]. Son House used to play in our coffeehouse [The Black Candle] in Charlotte, and he used to shop for guitars here. He goes back to the late ’20s. They call him the man who taught Robert Johnson. He’s really well-respected. The White Stripes keeps doing those songs.
Do you find vinyl is making a comeback?
Oh yeah, the kids are buying a lot of vinyl.
How do you think you’ve been able to survive in the business this long?
We don’t know any different [laughs]. We were very happy even when we weren’t making it. You know we couldn’t afford insurance for the stores, and we were sleeping behind the amps in sleeping bags and, you know, we were lucky. We’d skip eating a lot of times because we couldn’t afford it.
So it was more for the love of it.
Yeah, we felt we’d make it sometime. But we were already happy about the whole thing, you know? We were totally satisfied. Just the freedom and everything.
Do you still work here every day?