“We have an awful lot of fun with buying, selling and appraising guitars,” says Bill Imperial, owner of the recently relocated Imperial Guitar & Soundworks at 2A Cherry Hill Road in New Paltz. “Doing the research on vintage guitars, finding out, ‘What is it really worth? We had one guy come in with an old guitar that he was expecting to get about $1,000 for, and we gave him $8,000 and still made a profit.”
The focus of the business is on new, used and vintage guitars and amplifiers — selling, buying, trading, repairing and appraising — and on “sound reinforcement,” which involves designing and creating sound systems for churches, schools and other public places. That aspect of the business involves working around whatever unique situation arises; Imperial remembers a time a few years back when they were asked to provide new speakers for a local school’s gymnasium. Those in charge were worried about damage to the new sound system from errant basketballs, so in doing the installation, cages were built around the speakers to protect them.
“We’re very customer satisfaction-oriented,” says Imperial. “We like to be warm and fuzzy; we like what we do. We’d rather spend the time to figure it out than to slough it off.”
Imperial Guitar & Soundwork’s last home was in Newburgh on Route 17K. Moving the business to New Paltz brings Imperial closer to home, and to his roots. His first venture — selling used guitars and amps as “Rainbow Music” in 1976 — found a home in New Paltz in 1978. That location, next door to where Gomen Kudasai restaurant is today, is just a stone’s throw from the current store located next door to True Value Hardware.
Imperial first moved the business to Poughkeepsie in search of a larger market, but after a few years there, split the business with a partner and opened in Newburgh as Imperial Guitar & Soundworks in 1992. Living in New Paltz, he says he came to feel that Ulster County had more of an emphasis on “shop local.” That was “very appealing,” he says, and with the Internet continuing to lure business away from local shops, it seemed a good time to come to an area that would appreciate hands-on service. He opened in the present location on March 10.
“A lot of my old customers have been coming in that knew the old store,” says Imperial. “They didn’t want to drive all the way down to Newburgh but live close enough to come here. And I’m starting to see new customers as the word gets out.”
Since moving from Newburgh, the business has been streamlined. The keyboard department was eliminated, “because that’s so online-oriented,” says Imperial, “and we shed our drum department because there’s a great drum shop at the other end of town. [CHBO Drums on Water Street] And we decided not to offer lessons because we’re not set up for the way that’s done these days, and there are other places to do that.”
The shop also offers rentals; band instruments to schools and amplifiers, on a per-show basis to local clubs or venues for a band that comes to town without their own equipment. “It might be cheaper for them to travel with their guitars and have the venue rent the backline,” Imperial explains. “So we do the guitar amps and the bass amps, and we used to do the drums, but now CHBO will be doing those.” The key thing in doing band instrument rental to schools, says Imperial, is having a good repairman. That’s important, he adds, because the instruments are guaranteed to work perfectly when they’re rented to the schools, and if a student takes an instrument out of alignment, they’ll put it back in playing condition at no cost.
All of the 100 or so instruments available for rental are out to schools in Newburgh at this time; due back in June, Imperial says. But depending on the community here, and what they’re looking for, he adds, they’re prepared to provide rentals for the next school year in September.
They also carry all of the series of instructional books that teachers use for their lessons, and a full complement of strings and accessories.
Imperial Guitar & Soundworks is located at 2A Cherry Hill Road in New Paltz, next door to True Value Hardware. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays by appointment only. More information is available at (845) 255-2555 or www.imperialguitar.com.