Email Specials from August 2004

Fri 8/6/2004


A few weeks ago my brother Ed told me that his 12 year-old son wanted to play drums. Since drums are my main instrument, Ed asked if I could help out. I went to Drum World, in Castle Shannon, and picked out a Pearl set and the kid loves them. It was an easy choice, because if you hit a drum and it makes a noise, then, success, it's a drum. This set isn't exactly from High-Qualityville... I'm sure that the hardware won't last 20 years (or ten)... but everyone's happy.

(Aside: When I was in high school my Mother took me to Art's Drum Shop, above Lomakin's, on Liberty Avenue, downtown. She bought me a new Ludwig set, that I still have. I haven't used it lately, but I've been using the high-hat and cymbal stands for 25 years! They work as well today as the day we bought them. It's one of those "they-made-stuff-better-in-the-old-days" things...) (And when I say, "we bought them" I mean, "She bought them.") (Good old Mom!) (And good old Ludwig!)

Anyway, though Ed's kid's hardware probably won't last until he's celebrating his 25th Anniversary, the set was decent enough to get him started. He's formed a little band with his friends and he's becoming a much more self-assured person. (Lesson: music = good for you)

So OK, the drums make noise, and the kid is encouraged. Why do I mention this? Because there are some fields in life where you can start out super "cheap." A super cheap computer could inspire a young kid to choose computers as a possible career. I don't play keyboards, but I imagine a super cheap keyboard could still get you started.

BUT last week a guy came into the store with an Esteban guitar.

You may have seen Esteban on TV. He wears all-black, with a black hat and sunglasses. He has long fingernails and is mysterious. Sometimes he has his own infomercials. Sometimes he's on Home Shopping Network. He sits on a stool and plays and sells his Esteban "all-wood", "handmade" guitar, for three easy payments of $59. (I'm guessing on the price.) He can clearly play guitar (although when they cut to a video, he's using his nylon string rather than the steel string that he's selling...)

Now, I'm all for encouraging people to play the guitar, and that's what the E man is doing. But I would hate to think that a potential future-guitar player would attempt to play something that has high action and won't tune... and then be so discouraged that they'd give up. The aforementioned guy asked if we could set-up his Esteban, but it was such a P.O.S. that we couldn't do anything to help it. We suggested that he should try to get his money back.

Don't get me wrong, it's fine to start with a cheap guitar. But please go to a guitar store (it doesn't have to be us...) and get a decent instrument. If you recall my last email, things have come a long way in inexpensive musical instrument manufacturing. These days any reputable guitar store can sell you a guitar for under $150 that plays great. One that won't hold you back from getting started on the instrument. And won't hurt your fingers, or more importantly, break your spirit.


I'm glad that at 2AM someone who never thought about learning guitar might stumble upon an infomercial and say "I want to be like that mysterious man!" If you meet one of these people, please encourage them to go to an actual guitar store. I thank you. And they'll thank you.

Right now we have a good selection of both new and used acoustic guitars in the $125 to $150 range. This week's email special coupon is good for $25 off any acoustic guitar in the store. (Just think, on a $125 guitar, that's 20% off!) (Of course, on a $150 guitar it's only 16.66% off... but hey, that's still a lot!)


See you soon,


PS: If you want to use your $25 off coupon on a much more expensive guitar, we just got a new Martin 000-28EC Eric Clapton and a super beautiful Martin D-41.

PPS: As long as I'm mentioning new arrivals, we're happy to have received one of the first new Gretsch `57 Duo Jet Specials. It's exactly like the one George played in the early Beatle days.

PPPS: Thanks to everyone for helping us celebrate our 25th Anniversary! The show at The Rex was great. (The video will be ready in a week or so.) Congratulations to Robert Rodriguez who was the grand prize winner in our Guitar Give-Away Contest!

PPPPS: This week's ticket give-away contest:
We have tickets to Huey Lewis & The News, THIS Sunday, August 8th, at the tent at Station Square (The Chevrolet Amphitheatre). To win them, answer this question: What big lawsuit was Huey Lewis involved in, and why? (Hint: He won. It WAS a rip-off.) First five correct answers win a pair of tickets.

Fri 8/13/2004


Last week's 25th Anniversary Party at the Rex was a blast!

The highlights for me were the folks who played on stage for the first time ever. I was so proud of them. It's so easy to let worry and nervousness overtake you, and hold you back from life. The fear of rejection (or, in this case, the fear of playing the wrong chord) is a powerful force... but as with most worries, the power of this fear is all in your head. So you have to say to yourself, "Who's in charge here? Is it me... or is it me?" You can't let you hold you back from doing something that You want to do. Life's too short to let you do that to you. You're more important to you than that.

So these guys and gals overcame their fear, went up on stage, and played! And it was tons of fun. We had a rockin' house band to back them up. Some folks just played rhythm, some sang, a couple even took a solo. Several people told me that we should do it on a regular basis.... maybe we should.

Since everyone only did one or two songs, it reminded me of the bus tours that Dick Clark used to do with his "Caravan Of Stars" in the `60s. Eight or ten acts would perform a couple of songs each at one two-hour show. So, for your $1.50 ticket you could see lots of your favorite stars at one time. (And let's face it, even though they're tired of playing it, when you go to see your favorite star you want to hear their latest hit.)

Speaking of Dick Clark and the `60s, last Saturday I went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It's very very impressive. You should go there sometime. In addition to really cool costumes, posters, films, and lots of memorabilia, it's worth the trip just to see the guitars. There must be 100 guitars on display, and unlike most of the Hard Rock Cafe stuff, these are the ones actually used by the stars. Like the Flying V used by Wally Bryson in The Rasberries, and the Guild Starfire Bass that Jack Cassidy heavily modified in The Jefferson Airplane, and the Les Paul Sunburst that Duane Allman used, and... Well, you get the idea. So go there. And plan on spending a lot of time... three hours at least... `cause there's a lot to see. I half expected to see the cryogenically frozen head of Jim Morrison (hey, Ted Williams and Walt Disney did it...)

Speaking of cryogenically frozen, this week's email special is Dean Markley Blue Steel Strings. These are the strings that they freeze as they're making them...with the theory that it strengthens the string and makes them last longer. You be the judge...


See you soon,


PS: This week's ticket give-away:
We have tickets to THIS SUNDAY'S Byran Adams Show at the Station Square Tent. A pair of tickets go to the first 5 people who write back. Note: You'll have to come to the store today, Friday, or tomorrow, Saturday, to pick `em up. Hours: 11AM - 5PM Showtime: 7:30PM, Sunday, August 15, Chevrolet Amphitheater, Station Square Note #2: Yes, it's "Bryan" not "Ryan."

PPS: Customer web site:
The Beatrips!

Fri 8/20/2004


Nat Daniels wasn't a guitar player... However, he was clever. He felt he could make a durable, good-sounding, yet inexpensive, guitar. And he did. And he sold a hundred thousand guitars, under both his brand, Danelectro, and through Sears & Roebuck under the Silvertone brand. The pickups he designed and manufactured had a distinctive sound on his guitars (example: Jimmy Page on Led Zepplin's "Kashmir") and a very distinctive sound on his basses (example: John Entwistle's bass solo in of The Who's "My Generation"). In 1956 Nat decided to take his bright and punchy sounding bass one step further and he added two more strings (a high "B" and high "E"). The high "E" was tuned the same as a low "E" on a regular guitar. This allowed for some interesting bass solo options: higher and easier to hear than on a normal bass, and lower and thicker sounding than on a guitar. (Example: the solo on George Jones' "The Race Is On.")

As is usually the case in the business world, it wasn't long before the big companies caught on, and in 1961 Fender debuted their six-string bass, the Bass VI.

All of this ran through my mind last night as I was scanning the TV channels and stumbled on an Elvis movie. Elvis was a race car driver, or a surfer, or a priest or something, and naturally at one point there was a big song and dance number. The very attractive crowd, led by Ann Margaret, danced up a storm, backed by a generic house-band pretending to play (in much the same was Elvis was pretending to act.) Faced with watching Ann Margaret dance, or watching the house-band, I, of course, focused in on the instruments. It was an all-Fender band. The lead player had a beautiful, late `50s, sunburst maple neck Strat. The rhythm player had an equally beautiful, sunburst Coronado II. The bass player had a super-cool pre-CBS Charcoal Frost P-Bass. And the fourth guy, doing the same dance steps as the rest of the band, yet not exactly sure of his role musically... was playing chords on a Bass VI!! And not just a Bass VI, but a custom color, Sea Foam Green Bass VI. I was impressed. I wished someone was there with me, on my living room couch at 1 AM, so I could say, "Hey, look that guy's pretending to play rhythm guitar on a really rare custom color Fender six-string bass!"

In honor of Elvis and the unknown Bass VI player, this week's email special is on basses. Last week's "$25 Dollar Off" coupon was a big hit, so I'm continuing the concept, and elaborating, on basses!


See you soon,


PS: The Bass VI was not particularly successful. It didn't have a lot of low end, and didn't have the bright bite of a Danelectro six-string bass.

PPS: The highest profile use of a Bass VI was in the Let It Be movie. In 1968 Fender sent The Beatles a whole pile of new stuff. George Harrison played a Bass VI on the song "Let It Be" while Paul played piano. John used it on "Hey Jude" while Paul was again on piano.

PPPS: Second highest profile: Jack Bruce used one briefly in Cream. He even painted it psychedelic colors when Eric Clapton painted his SG.

PPPPS: Other innovative ideas by Nat Daniels: the neck-tilt adjustment, later used by Fender; the electric 12-string, later used by everybody, the first amp with built-in vibrato. the first shielded control cavity on an electric guitar, the amp-built-in-the-guitar-case.... (OK, they all weren't great ideas....)

PPPPPS: This week's ticket give-away. We have 3 pairs of tickets to Friday night's Donnie Iris concert at Station Square. A pair of tickets to the first three people who write back and tell me Donnie's first big hit.

PPPPPPS: This week's customer web site:
Science Fiction Idols

Fri 8/27/2004


Yesterday we bought a Washburn "Dimebag Darrell" guitar. (Dimebag was lead guitarist for the now-defunct band, Pantera. The nickname "Dimebag" no doubt refers to the bags of penny candy he used to buy for his aging grandmother...)

It got me thinkin' about other artist "signature" guitars... most of which were not particularly successful.

A great example was one made by Gretsch in 1967...

But first, of course, background!

In the 1940s Gretsch was located in Brooklyn, NY. And they made drums. Their drum customers in New York City complained that they were having trouble getting their 28" bass drums into taxi cabs. ("Huge" was the average size of a bass drum in those days. And, like today, people in NYC traveled primarily in taxis.) Gretsch responded with the first small, 20" bass drum, which quickly became the standard of the industry. Because of their success with drums Gretsch became heavily involved in the jazz musical community of the time. In the 1950s, they struck a deal with country player, Chet Atkins, to help design and market their electric guitar line. This put them in tight with the Nashville country music community. So, by the early 1960s, jazz and country were their bread and butter.

With that in mind: What were Gretsch's thoughts on February 9, 1964, when a 20 year old George Harrison showed up on Ed Sullivan, playing one of their guitars? "We really didn't think this rock and roll thing was going to last..." (Duke Kramer of Gretsch, to me, March 2002)

(Rickenbacker, meanwhile, rushed to The Beatles, giving George their new 12-string, which he immediately used in front of millions and millions of potential customers.)

By 1966 it was obvious that rock and roll did have some staying power, and Gretsch realized that they missed a big opportunity. So when they were approached by Screen Gems about a TV show... and four Beatle-ish kind of guys... and a Gretsch endorsement... they said "Yeah." ("Yeah. Yeah.")

The Monkees hit the big time fast. Their first single, "Last Train To Clarksville," was released in August 1966, and a Number One hit before the show even aired in September. Mike Nesmith used a beautiful, custom-made, natural Gretsch 12-string every week on the popular TV show. Gretsch quickly planned a Monkees model guitar. It made it to the stores in early 1967.

But, you know, even plans that look good on paper don't always work out... Gretsch guitars have always (even now) been expensive. A thirteen year old Monkees fan could afford a Monkees lunch box, but a professional guitar was a little out of allowance-range. And professional musicians weren't sure they wanted to be associated with a band that, by 1967, was suffering the backlash of "not playing their own instruments." (Even though that was, and is, standard in the music biz...)

Furthermore, by the summer of 1967, everything changed with the release of Sgt. Pepper. Music was getting heavier, more spiritual, more drug related, more and more away from the 1964 Beatles that The Monkees were emulating. "Light My Fire" (The Doors), "Somebody To Love" (Jefferson Airplane), "For What It's Worth" (Buffalo Springfield), are not songs you'd play with a guitar that says "The Monkees" on it.

So, like so many other "signature" guitars, the Gretsch Monkees model did not live up to expectations.

I think players would always rather buy a stock model... like the one used by their musical hero... rather than one that has the hero's name on it. We have sold many, many more Fender Mustangs, like the one used by Kurt Cobain, than the Fender Jagstang that has his name on it.

As a matter of fact, I have two Jagstangs left... so they'll be the email special this week. Unfortunately, because of Fender's "Minimum Advertised Price" policies, I can't tell you what the price is...give us a call...


See You Soon,


PS: It also didn't help that The Monkees model was nothing like the one Mike Nesmith played on the show. His was a 17" body, in natural, and a 12-string. The Monkees model was a 16" body, in red, and a 6-string.

PPS: My favorite Micky Dolenz (The Monkees' drummer/lead vocalist) quote: "The Monkees was not a band, it was a television show about a band. The Monkees has nothing to do with the Beatles. The Monkees has to do with Bonanza."

PPPS: This week's customer web site:
The Clarks!

HEY! Watch The Clarks on David Letterman on Tuesday night!!! (August 31st)

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