Email Specials from November 2005

Friday 11/4/2005 ~ Les Paul Junior


When we have a slow moment here at the store, we go on the internet to look at old guitars... because: (a) we like them, and (2) we want to keep up with what they're are selling for.

Some models are relatively stable in price. Vintage Gretsch guitars, for example, haven't significantly increased in value in the last 10 years. 1960s Vox guitars jumped in price years ago when Tom Petty was regularly using his Vox Phantom-12... but they haven't seen any increases in at least the last five years. (Although, with regard to the "value" of an old Vox, they weren't very good instruments in the first place...)

1950's Gibson Les Pauls, however, are another story. The humble little 1955 Les Paul Junior, which hovered in the $450 range for most of the 1990s, now sells for a shocking $4000! It's surprising... but it shouldn't be. The Les Paul Junior may be a bare-bones guitar, but like any 50s Gibson, the quality is excellent and the sound is wonderful. And famous folks from Green Day to Keith Urban are using them on stage.

In 1955 the Junior sold for $120. So the new value, $4000, seems like a lot. As a matter of fact, it's a 3,333% increase. We were discussing that around the store the other day, when Betsy brought in something she found at her Dad's house: A Blue Shield Health Insurance price list for 1955.

Here are the 1955 prices.

The group rate was $1.10 a month! Here at Pittsburgh Guitars I'm currently paying over $400 a month per employee! That's an increase of 37,978%!!! I guess the current value of a `55 Les Paul Junior isn't all that impressive after all...

For this week's email special I looked around the store for something that has gone DOWN in price. The first thing that came to mind was tubular guitar stands. When they first came out, around 1977, they were over $30. With this week's special, they're only $7.95!


See You soon,


PS: The "Junior" in Les Paul Junior sometimes leads folks to think that it is a smaller, shorter scale guitar. It isn't. The more-expensive Les Paul Standard (which in `55 was called the "Les Paul Model") featured a mahogany body with a carved, arched maple cap, two single coil P-90 pickups, a pickup selector switch and two tone and two volume controls. The Les Paul Junior was the budget, beginner's model. It was just the flat mahogany part, without the carved maple top, and just had one P-90 and a tone and volume control. It was, and still is, a great guitar!!

PPS: With the Junior increasing 3,333% in value, you can just imagine what the Les Paul Standards are going for now!!

PPPS: Customer web site:
The Deliberate Strangers

Friday 11/11/2005 ~ Satellite Radio


You may have noticed that we're all happier here at the store. (Of course, we're happy in general... but lately even more so.) The source of our newfound enjoyment is: satellite radio.

One of the main reasons we're in the guitar biz is that we love music. (It's not just an infatuation... it's love.) Listening to regular broadcast radio stations play the same handful of songs over and over is fine... if the music is nothing but background noise. But if you listen for enjoyment (and love), regular radio is a drag. For example, I actually bought the "Who's Next" album when it was released in 1971, but now that I've heard WDVE play "Won't Get Fooled Again" 10,476 times, I want to find that LP and break it.

So, I signed us up for satellite radio, and it's fabulous! We picked Sirius, although the other satellite company, XM, is just as good. These two networks, Sirius and XM, offer hundreds of channels, and thousands and thousands of songs. (And if we're lucky, they've signed a deal with the Almighty to never play "Baba O'Reily.") Every day we hear a song that we haven't heard for years... or ever. Satellite radio has renewed our excitement about music, and reminds us of the thrill that music should add to our lives.

I heard an interesting song this week: Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips, Part 1." The hit, which I'm sure you'd recognize, was "Fingertips, Part 2." So it was really cool to hear the flip side, "Part 1", the first half of the song.

You see, Stevie Wonder used to finish his live show with a mostly instrumental song called "Fingertips." In 1963 his label, Motown/Tamla, recorded him at the Regal Theater in Chicago for an album called "Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius." That night, after the finale of the song, the MC called him back on stage for an instant encore, and Stevie rocked back into the tune. When it came time to release a 45, the entire "Fingertips" was too long to fit on one side, so the song was cut in half. The extended encore was so exciting that the second half of the song, "Fingertips, Part 2" became the hit.

Of course now, with CD technology, you don't have to cut your song in half. (Unless it's longer than 73 minutes, which I believe was the original length of "Won't Get Fooled Again.") But back in the stone age of 45s some good songs were released as Part 1 and Part 2. The first two that come to mind are The Isley Brothers "Shout" (side one ended right before the half-speed part: "Well, I want you to know...") and Ray Charles' "Baby What'd I Say" (side one ended right before the call-and-response part). I'm sure there were others...

In fact, for this week's special, if you are one of the first twelve people who can name another hit song that had to be split in half for the 45 release, you'll win a free guitar method book: "Progressive Guitar Method Book 2, Intermediate" ("A comprehensive lesson by lesson book covering the most important keys and scales, with special emphasis on runs, hammer-ons, syncopation and chord construction. Including a CD containing examples from the book.")


See you soon,


PS: "Fingertips, Part 2" contains my favorite off-mic ad-lib by a band member. The act following Stevie Wonder that evening was Mary Wells. As Stevie left the stage, Mary's bass player, Larry Moses, plugged in to prepare for her set. When Stevie was called back out and started into "Fingertips" again, Larry was caught by surprise and you can hear him frantically yelling in the background, "What key? What key?" Those comments add to the overall excitement and fun of the recording.

PPS: When "The 12 Year Old Genius" was released Stevie Wonder was still known as Little Stevie Wonder. He dropped the "Little" a couple of years later. (When he got big.)

PPPS: Other folks who changed their name: The Young Rascals ("Good Lovin'") became The Rascals...

PPPPS: Oh, and of course, Lil Bow Wow...

PPPPPS: Customer web site:

Friday 11/18/2005 ~ Guitars on the Country Music Awards


I really enjoyed the Country Music Awards show last Tuesday. Unlike the other 367 awards shows on TV each year, the CMA show is non-stop music. And even the "solo" artists appear with their entire band. In other words: lots of great instruments on stage.

I wasn't taking notes (I would have spilled my beer...), but here are some things I remember:

1) Of course there were some great Telecasters in use (including a really worn `50s one)... but I was impressed with how many folks were using Les Pauls.

2) I still haven't made up my mind about Big & Rich. (Their big hit last year was "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy.") The two lead singers have a distinctive harmony blend, and they use it in every song, so I give them credit for finding a sound and running with it. And they have a really rockin' band... The guitar player gets a great tone, with a nice edge but not too much distortion. (On the show he was using an American Series "Fat" Strat, which has a humbuck in the bridge position. Most of the time he uses a silver sparkle Gretsch Duo Jet.) Big & Rich's semi-crunchy guitar sound, merged with a banjo player, a fiddler, and a really powerful drummer, results in a unique blend of Country and Rock. (Not like when Garth Brooks tried to do that Billy Joel song a few years ago.) So I think I like them. I know I like their attitude.

3) There must have been twenty different bands on this show, with lots of different and interesting guitars... But the one thing they all had in common: a Fender Bass.

4) In the amp department, I was surprised with the number of Vox AC-30s. I guess it makes sense. The AC-30 is a "plug-in-and-go" amp. Just turn it on, crank it up, and you're ready! In fact, now that I think about it, many of the bands on David Letterman's show use AC-30s.

5) One guy who always impresses me is Keith Urban. In addition to being a charismatic lead singer, he is also a great guitarist. He's a big enough star that he could just stand there with an un-mic'd acoustic guitar (as many folks do)... but he plays ALL of the guitar parts in his songs while singing lead... And not just the middle-of-the-song solos, but all of the mid-line licks. And without looking down at his hands. Even if you don't like Country music, if you're a guitar player you'll be impressed by him.

6) You know, there are a lot of lead-singer/lead-guitar player Country guys. (Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, etc.) Are there that many in Rock & Roll? John Forgety, of course... And Chuck Berry...

7) Getting back to the Country Music Awards, what's up with Jon Bon Jovi? That guy turns up EVERYWHERE. Make a mental note: if you ever become famous, hire Bon Jovi's publicist.

8) Make another mental note: if you become famous, make sure there's someone in your entourage who will tell you when your outfit looks bad. Martina McBride generally looks great, but she was wearing one unattractive dress. I'm not into fashion (you know, being a guy and everything...) so when I notice that a dress is ugly, it must really be bad! BUT fortunately, I was quickly distracted by her bass player who was using an Ampeg B-15 amp!! Martina's wardrobe error faded in my mind, as I thought back to the late 1940s and Everett Hull...

Everett was an upright bass playing band leader in 1945, when his wife Gertrude told him that his bass wasn't loud enough. He cleverly rigged up a microphone-on-a-stick, which he mounted inside his upright bass, on the support peg that the bass stood on. He called it the "Ampeg" for "amplified-peg." Since the few amps that existed in the mid-1940s could not handle the low notes of a bass, he soon started his own amplifier manufacturing company. Hull's Ampeg Bassamp hit the market in 1948, three years before Leo Fender started working on his first bass amp. As the 1950's progressed, Hull's upright bass pickup was eclipsed by his successful line of amplifiers. In 1956 the Ampeg Bassamp Company became simply Ampeg, and in 1960 Hull introduced what would become known as the best sounding bass amp ever: The B-15 Portaflex. The B-15 set the standard for quality bass tone, and was THE bass amp to have. (It also had a really cool flip-top lid. The amp section was mounted on a panel that flipped upside down and fit into the speaker cabinet). As music in the late 1960s got louder and louder, the 25 watt B-15 was outpaced by more powerful amps in concert, but it was still so highly regarded for it's tone that it was a must for any recording studio. It was nice to see Martina McBride's bass player using one.

In honor of Everett Hull and bass playing in general, this week's email special will feature bass strings.


See you soon,


PS: I remembered this morning that I had a 1953 Ampeg Model 815 Bassamp in the attic. I dug it out and put it in the glass case in the back of the store with the old Fender and Gibson basses that are currently on display. Stop in if you'd like to see one darn old bass amp.

PPS: Thanks to the many many folks who entered last week's "Name-a-song-that-was-so-long-it-had-to-be-continued-as-Part2-on-the-flip-side-of-the-45-record" contest. A few of the many answers: Creedence Clearwater's "Susie Q", Don McLean's "American Pie", The Temptation's "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", and lots of songs by James Brown... It's nice to see that so many people remember 45s...

PPPS: I guess as a store proprietor I should mention that we sell Vox Ac-30s, Fender bass guitars, Fender "Fat" Strats, and we have a silver sparkle Gretsch Duo Jet. And we occasionally even get old Ampeg amps...

PPPPS: Customer web site:
Sonny Landreth

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