Email Specials from January 2005

Fri 1/7/2005 ~ Silvertone/Danelectro

 

A band from Chicago was in the store yesterday... I didn't get their name, but they're playing in town somewhere tonight. We get a lot of on-the-road-band-in-a-van groups passing through. They always have that combination look of excitement and fatigue. It seems like it would be a lot of fun... driving across the country with your friends, seeing new cities, new people, new dimly lit bars... Sure, it would be a bit of a drag when the van broke down in the middle of Wisconsin, but if you were young and had "youthful enthusiasm" goin' for you, you could deal with the highs and lows. I'm kinda sorry I never did that. Eventually you get old and semi-responsible, and you have to semi-settle down...

Anyway, these guys were very nice. One of them said that on the way to Pittsburgh he purchased a Harmony guitar that said "Silvertone" on it. He asked when Sears bought Harmony, and if that was before or after they bought Danelectro.

Since he was the aforementioned "young" (i.e. half as old as me) he didn't remember the glory days of Sears. I explained that Sears never owned Harmony or Danelectro. Back in the good ol' days, Sears liked to sell things with their own brands on them. Most of the appliances were "Kenmore." The musical instruments were marked "Silvertone." But there was never a Silvertone factory. Sears contracted with various guitar manufacturers to have instruments made for them. The guitars were made by the regular manufacturers, side by side with their normal models, and labeled "Silvertone." In many instances, especially with Harmony, the guitars were exactly the same except for the headstock logo. (Danelectro generally used a different headstock shape for the Silvertones. The bodies, pickups, and electronics were the regular Danelectro.)

So when you're looking at an old guitar, don't be turned off by the Silvertone name. It could be a quality American-made guitar, manufactured by Harmony, or Danelectro, or even Kay. I have a Danelectro/Silvertone leaning against the wall in my living room, and I strum it now and then when I'm watching TV. It has low action and plays as well today as it did when it was made in 1963.

 

I remember we bought our first distortion box from Sears. Back then it was called a "Fuzz Box." And that's pretty much how it sounded... a harsh, raspy fuzz. There was no subtlety about it! When you turned it on, you were playing "Satisfaction"!

 

Today's distortion boxes have a much greater range, and are much more sonically friendly. Our email special is the OD-3 by Boss.

 

See You Soon,
Carl

 

PS: Speaking of distortions, we just got the new Digitech Eric Clapton Limited Edition Artist Series Pedal. They modeled his sound from "Crossroads," "Sunshine Of Your Love," "Badge," "Lay Down Sally," and "Layla," and put them all in a pedal. We haven't even plugged it in yet, but it seems like a wacky concept!

PPS: Although Danelectro offered many of its regular guitars and amps as Silvertones, they did make one model exclusively for Sears: the wonderful amp-in-case model. The amp was built right in the case! There were two versions: a black sparkle, one-pickup guitar with a three tube amp; and a red sparkle, two pickup guitar with a four tube amp. (The fourth tube was for vibrato.) The amp/case never sounded very good, but the guitars were, and are, great. In my 25 years with Pittsburgh Guitars I've never come across one of these guitars with any major problems. The necks are always straight and the pickups always work. It's amazing.

PPPS: It's interesting that the old Sears concept is the opposite of today's situation with WalMart. In the 1950s and 60s, Sears found good, solid American products, and put their name on them. Today, WalMart sells known, name brands, but insists that the name-brand companies make their products as cheaply as possible in China. So you get a name that you recognize, at the lowest possible quality/price level.... Hmmmmmmm...

PPPPS: Customer Web Site:
The Vault

Fri 1/14/2005 ~ "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"

 

The other day, for some strange reason, I woke up at 7AM! And there were people outside, getting on buses and driving around and doing stuff! I turned on the TV and it seems that there are these "morning shows" with people talking and giving interviews and standing outside holding up signs and everything!

One guy, on one of the shows, was reviewing new electronic products. When he held up the new, less-expensive Apple iPod, he said, "And it holds 1000 songs." The extremely short-haired host said, "1000?" And the guy said, "Well, not if they're all 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida'."

I laughed. First of all, the electronic-reviewer wasn't even born when that record was released. Secondly, I was amused that in 2005 they were referencing a 37-year-old song from my childhood, AND referencing it as if it was assumed that the viewers knew it was really long! ("In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was a 17-minute song, from an album of the same name, recorded by a band called Iron Butterfly. It had a great drum solo, a mysterious keyboard solo, lots of wild guitar sounds, and took up the entire side of the LP... back when albums had two sides.) ("LP"s were large plastic platters with grooves. A "needle" would bounce through the grooves, and its bounce would replicate the sound of the recording.)

Oddly enough, just last week I dug out my copy of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" to hang on the wall at my house. I decided to hang album covers with cool guitars on them. The picture on the front shows Iron Butterfly playing live on a big stage. The guitarist and bass player are both using Mosrites. And behind them is a wall of Vox Super Beatle Amps and old Marshalls. It's wonderful! (Other great covers: "Kiss Alive" with Paul Stanley playing a 1963 one-pickup Gibson Firebird and Gene Simmons with a Gibson Grabber! Also: "Too Much Too Soon" by The New York Dolls. Johnny Thunders has a `57 Les Paul Special and Sylvain Sylvain is playing a `56 Les Paul Custom with single coil pickups.)

It's such a shame that CDs are so small. You can't get any really cool guitar pictures with your music anymore. (And with the downloaded music on your iPod you don't get any pictures at all...)

In fact, the only place to get a sense of what the big, LP-pictures were like is on music books. This week's email special is on any song book (or instructional book) in the store. Buy two, and the second one is half-price.

 

See You Soon,
Carl

 

PS: The 17 minute version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was also edited down to 3 minutes and released as a very successful, million-selling 45. ("45"s were smaller, faster-spinning plastic platters, with a bigger hole, and only one song per side. Some of them came with pictures sleeves, too.)

PPS: Customer web site:
The Bumps

Fri 1/21/2005 ~ Fire = good / dry guitar = bad

 

Last night, after a romantic dinner, I spent some time staring at the candle on the table. Fire sure is fascinating. And what a debt we owe to that caveman, Grog McFireson, for inventing it!

I've never been quite sure how it works. It's some sort of self-perpetuating chemical reaction that gives off both heat and light. Can you imagine how dangerous life must have been when a lit fire was the main source of light in the house? Imagine getting up early for work in the winter, and having to light a candle just to find your way out of bed? Or coming home late at night and lighting a candle just to get enough light to find the TV remote...

And using it for heat? Well, it's fun when you've had a few glasses of wine and you're cupping your hands around a candle to feel the warmth... but I don't think I'd want to use it as my main heat source.

Speaking of heat, this is the time of year to start to worry about excessive dryness in your home and in your guitar. If little sparks come off your hand when you touch your girlfriend, you could be in love, but you could also have dry air in your house. If your hair stands up when you comb it, you may be in an `80s metal band, or you could have static electricity issues. That's another sign of dry air.

Don't let the wood in your guitar dry out. If the neck starts to shrink (from dryness), the frets (which won't shrink) will feel like they're sticking out on the edges. If you feel sharp frets, you need to get a guitar humidifier. Dry wood can also cause cracks in the face of your acoustic guitar, and affect the action.

For the safety of your guitar (and continued playing enjoyment for you!) this week's special is guitar humidifiers. And we're featuring the new Planet Waves Humidifier by D`Addario.

 

See you Soon,
Carl

 

PS: Customer web site:
The Borderless Puzzle

Fri 1/28/2005 ~ NAMM 2005 report & Mosrite reissues

 

I was in sunny California last weekend for the NAMM Show. Here's my report:

1) Fender is coming out with tons of new stuff, in all price ranges. There's an Eric Johnson Strat, a `50s Reissue Esquire, a small amp with built-in drum and bass tracks to play along with, some really cool Squier stuff, and lots of new guitar and bass models. We ordered everything. About 30 pieces will be here on Monday, the rest will show up throughout February and March.

2) Danelectro is back in business and will be shipping the new, improved, two-pickup, single-cutaway U2 in a couple of months. We ordered 12. (In a variety of designer colors.)

3) Based on last year's sales, we are now one of the top Hofner dealers in the country. When I was a little kid watching Paul play his bass on Ed Sullivan I could never have imagined that in a mere 40 years I'd be a successful Hofner dealer. Of course, I could never have imagined being this old in general... We ordered more of the Beatle basses, some single-cutaway Club Basses, a few Jazz guitars, and their little electric travel guitar.

4) Gibson is continuing on their path of shutting out all small stores. As you probably know, Gibson has owned the Epiphone name since 1957. In recent years they have issued imported Epiphone models that exactly match the nearly unaffordable, higher grade Gibson models. We've had a lot of used Epiphones and they're a great value. Unfortunately, Gibson has now decided that you can no longer be an Epiphone dealer unless you are a complete, full-line Gibson dealer. And to renew a Gibson dealership you have to order something in the neighborhood of $150,000 worth of Gibson-owned brands (Steinberger guitars, Tobias basses, and maybe even Slingerland drums.) This prevents any small store from just carrying Epiphone guitars, which we think is a shame. Clearly Gibson wants to only deal with the super-chain stores, which is also a shame since many of them are evil. We're not an Epiphone dealer, so this new change doesn't impact us, but I feel bad for the small stores who have sold Gibson or Epiphone products for years and are now being forced out.

5) On a brighter note, I had a great time at the Martin dinner. Every year Martin throws a fancy (semi-drunken) shindig for it's bigger dealers (like us!). I got to hang out and talk with Roger McGuinn from The Byrds. He played "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Eight Miles High" on one of the more interesting guitars at NAMM, Martin's new Roger McGuinn 7-String. Roger is known for his 12-string sound, but he doesn't want to carry both a 12 and a 6 string on the road. So he and Martin designed a guitar with only a doubled "G" string! (On a normal 12-string the high "E" and "B" strings are merely doubled in unison. The first ringing 12-stringy sound doesn't really happen until you get to the "G" where you have a regular "G" and an octave "G".) On the low notes this new model sounds like a 6-string, but when you play the higher strings it sounds like a 12-string! I was impressed, so I ordered one. I'll let you know when it gets here. (Probably this summer...)

6) On an international note, I ran into Yuki and Noriyuki! Noriyuki Yusa, and his wife Yuki, used to be big vintage guitar dealers in Japan. I sold them a lot of guitars in the 1980s and 1990s. Then, suddenly, fifteen years ago they stopped coming to guitar shows. It turns out that Noriyuki decided to pursue his passion, Mosrite Guitars, and he spent ten years acquiring all of the worldwide rights to the name and patents.

(Mosrite was founded in the 1950s by Semie Moseley. After years of struggling, the brand became nationally successful in 1962 when Mosrite guitars were used by the famous instrumental group, The Ventures. (Their big hit: "Walk Don't Run") In 1968 Semie sold Mosrite to The Thomas Organ Company and things went immediately downhill. (This is a familiar story: If you recall, the Baldwin Piano company bought Gretsch in 1967 and ran it into bankruptcy.) By the late 1970s, Mosrite was mostly out of business and Mosrite guitars were out of fashion and cheap to buy. So they often ended up in the hands of struggling punk bands, like the Ramones and the B-52s. This led to a 1980s revival of interest in the brand. Unfortunately, it was too late for Semie Moseley... he was never able to successfully resurrect the company. He passed away in 1992.)

Anyway, it turns out that Noriyuki is the biggest Mosrite collector in the world (he has 300 of them!) and now he is remaking vintage reissue Mosrites in Japan, including a Johnny Ramone signature model. He and Yuki were thrilled to see me (they said "You rook the same!") and they took me out to dinner and we reminisced about the old days... at least as much as we could considering the language difference.

 

There's more from the trip... but I'll save it for some other time. One thing, though: It turns out Disneyland really is the happiest place on earth!

 

Since this email is so long, the email special this week will be the longest guitar cable we have, the 18' Fender Electro-Volt cable.

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

PS: NAMM = National Association of Music Merchants

PPS: Roger McGuinn's REAL name: Jim McGuinn

PPPS: Customer Web Site:
The Motorpsychos

Go to their CD Release Party this Saturday, Jan 29th, at the 31st Street Pub!!


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