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
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
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
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
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
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
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: