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Guitar Museum owner strums through life

Chris Ambadjes, Founder of the New Hyde Park

Chris Ambadjes, Founder of the New Hyde Park American Guitar Museum, performs an impromptu show with the help of one of his favorite guitars, the 1922 Gibson Style O Artist. (Jan. 19, 2011) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Twenty years ago, Chris X. Ambadjes closed his music shop in Flushing to pursue a dream. With his vast collection of antique and unique guitars in tow, he ventured east and opened the American Guitar Museum in New Hyde Park.

Situated in a 1920 farmhouse, the museum begins on the porch where you will see Guy Lombardo's music stand from Jones Beach along with guitars made out of a tortoise shell and a hubcap. The walls are plastered with framed articles from various magazines and newspapers as well as photos of Ambadjes with famous musicians like Gregg Allman, Peter Frampton and George Benson.

Upon entering the main exhibit room, you are instantly taken aback at the massive display before you. Over 70 guitars fill the room from various countries, some dating back as far as 1861.

"We pack 'em in tight," says Ambadjes as he stands in front of an 11-foot, 6-inch Les Paul model in the center of the room. "We rotate the instruments because we don't have the room to put everything out at one time."

Ambadjes takes visitors on a tour through the museum, where they can see rare gems like a Colt Peacemaker, which is guitar shaped like a pistol. "They only made two of them," he explains. "Joe Walsh from the Eagles has the other one."

CREAM OF THE CROP

The crown jewels of the museum are D'Angelico guitars, with values reaching into the hundreds of thousands. According to Ambadjes, his 1946 D'Angelico New Yorker is "the most luxurious acoustic guitar on the face of the earth." His D'Angelico Excel was used in the wedding scene of "The Godfather" movie and to record the soundtrack for the film. And then there's "The Baby" -- D'Angelico's one-of-a-kind miniature blonde jazz ukulele made in 1932. "We have collectors coming from all over the world to see this guy," Ambadjes says.

There's an entire section of the museum dedicated to guitar legend Les Paul. Hanging on the back wall is a 1979 Gibson Les Paul specially engraved saying, "To Chris, Keep on pickin'! Les Paul." Next to it is a 1961 Les Paul Special in addition to one of Paul's homemade picks.

"Les was a friend. I used to go to his house and play until 4 o'clock in the morning," Ambadjes says. "He was quite a character."

A significant amount of maintenance is involved in keeping each instrument in prime condition, including polishing and monitoring the humidity of the room. "You have to play them," Ambadjes says. "The more you play them, the better they maintain their sound. It keeps the wood vibrating so it doesn't stiffen up."

GUITAR DOCTOR

Known as the "Guitar Doctor," Ambadjes, 58, runs a repair shop in the back of the house where he restores and repairs guitars of all types.

"Chris has a total respect for craftsmanship," says musician/ teacher Joe Carbone, who recently loaned Ambadjes his double-cut- away D'Aquisto Americus, worth $20,000, to be displayed in the museum. "My guitars are like my children, and he takes care of them. He has an impeccable reputation in the industry."

Despite constant offers, Ambadjes refuses to sell any piece of his collection. In fact, he recently added to it by acquiring a 1922 Gibson Style O Artist, something he's been trying to find for more than 20 years.

"All this stuff is the real deal," Ambadjes says. "These are precious one-of-a-kinds. It's a big calling for us to have them here."

THE AMERICAN GUITAR MUSEUM

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, 1810 New Hyde Park Rd., New Hyde Park

INFO 516-488-5000, americanguitarmuseum.com

ADMISSION Free

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