"It's like a retail museum of music," says Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen of the mazelike former grange, stacked to the rafters with more than 11,000 guitars priced from $60 to $50,000. "If you want a hard-to-find guitar," says Schaubroeck, 53, "we can hand it to you in six or seven different colors." Despite the rock relics on display—Jimi Hendrix's pants, a shirt of John Lennon's—the House of Guitars is no sterile shrine. In 1964, Schaubroeck—on parole following a juvenile conviction for burglary—set out to create a hands-on emporium. "Other music stores were sort of run like jewelry stores, and the guitars were in glass cases," he says. "We would just give the kids guitars and let them plug them right in." Now his clientele includes Metallica, who once dropped by for an after-hours shopping spree. "They brought the beer," says Schaubroeck, who sells $7 million worth of equipment a year.
The son of a hospitalized World War II veteran and a factory-worker mother, Schaubroeck began selling guitars out of the family basement with his two younger brothers after 18 months in reform school. Later, they lived in their storefronts while jamming in a band called Armand Schaubroeck Steals. They moved the HOG to its permanent home in 1972. Armand and brother Bruce now employ a staff of 20, including two of Armand's four children with wife Linda. "It's not really work to us," he says. "We don't know any different."