Email Specials from August 2005

Friday 8/5/2005 ~ New from Fender, Martin, Gretsch, & Hofner


It's been a hot week here at Pittsburgh Guitars. Just when the outside temperature was reaching a stifling 94 degrees, we got in 62 boxes of Fender, Gretsch and Martin Guitars, plus a pile of Fender amps...

However, thanks to our dedicated, heat-resistant staff and lots of refreshing iced tea from O'Leary's across the street, we were able to get everything into the store, unboxed, and either on the wall or in our already overcrowded basement.

You see, two weeks ago Mark and John the new guy, went to the summer NAMM show. I've mentioned NAMM before... It's the twice-a-year trade show for musical instrument merchants and manufacturers. Well, sometimes the companies display new products that they have in stock, ready to go, and sometimes they'll take orders for things that are only in prototype stage...

This week, when we all should have been sitting by the pool with a margarita, we got the guitars and amps that Mark and John (the new guy) just ordered, PLUS stuff that I ordered back at January's NAMM show... Here's a brief list:


New from Fender:
-The Eric Johnson Strat
Personally designed by that wacky Eric Johnson, a wonderful guitar. Top reviews in every guitar magazine this month. Called the best production Strat Fender has ever made. Custom shop features without the Custom Shop price.
-The "Big Block" Strat and the "Big Block" Tele
Metal mirror pickguards, block inlays, different pickup configuations.
-The Tweed Blues Deluxe and Tweed Blues DeVille amps
Vintage tone and a vintage look
-The Quilted Maple Top Jazz Bass 24
A beautiful quilted top, Seymour Duncan active pickups and 24 frets


New from Martin, two new Limited Edition Artist Signature Guitars:
-The Roger McGuinn HD-7 Seven-String (with octave "G")
Sounds like a six string...sounds like a twelve string!
-The Steve Miller 000C Pegasus Cutaway
A great sounding, small, shorter scale electric/acoustic guitar. Flies like an eagle.
Here are pictures:


New from Hofner:
-The Black Club Bass
We have one of only three currently available in the US. It's a beautiful all-black bass, with gold hardware. A super rare bass, direct from Germany.
Here's a picture:


Plus, now in stock from Gretsch:
-The `62 Reissue Country Gentleman
-The `62 Reissue Tennessean
-The `57 Reissue Duo Jet Special
- And, it's not a reissue, but we just got a really cool red Duo Jet, the Jet Firebird.


Plus, we're restocked on all of the regular stuff. We have almost every guitar Fender makes; and 44 different Martin models. Plus, we currently have the best selection of used stuff that we've had in months: three SGs, four Epi LPs, two or three Gibson LPs, an electric sitar, four Teles, a mess o' Strats, five used Martins, etc. etc.


Fortunately, in our attempt to get an infinite amount of guitars in a finite space, our new Super Summer Clearance Sale section in the middle of the store is doing really well, helping to clear out some of last year's models. I've even just added the relatively new Danelectro 56 Pro guitars to the clearance sale section. I know they've only been out for six months and they're very nice guitars...but they really don't do anything for me emotionally... we have a couple left...


Hey, sorry this was so commercial. I really like guitars... and it's exciting to have so many cool ones here. I promise next week I'll get more esoteric...


See You Soon,

PS: Customer Web Site:
David Poe

Friday 8/12/2005 ~ Duke Kramer & Gretsch


Have you ever met someone and had an instant rapport? Twenty three years ago an elderly gentleman walked into my store. (Definition of "elderly" : when you are under 30 and they are over 50.) He said he was driving across the state and had some Gretsch parts for sale. He was funny and friendly and just one of those people who is naturally happy. His name was Duke Kramer. We chatted for hours that day, and became friends.

Duke started to work for Gretsch in 1935 when he was 19. At the time they were primarily a drum manufacturer, but distributed a full line of instruments. He was with them when they introduced the first 20" bass drum, so drummers could fit their bass drum in NYC cabs. He was with them when they seriously entered the guitar manufacturing arena, competing with Gibson and Epiphone with archtop jazz guitars... He was there in the early 1950s when they went electric. He enjoyed the success of their two-tone guitars in the late 1950s; and he saw orders for the Country Gentleman increase tenfold when George Harrison played one on Ed Sullivan. He stayed with company, even after Fred Gretsch Jr. retired, and sold out to The Baldwin Piano company in 1967... and he watched as Baldwin drove the company into bankruptcy in the late 1970s.

By the 1980s Gretsch was gone, and Duke ended up with lots of parts. Since he enjoyed his days as a travelling salesman, he decided that rather than retire, he'd visit small stores, sell some parts, and meet people. That's what brought him to Pittsburgh Guitars.


We kept in touch. As a fan of Gretsch guitars, and a dealer in used ones, I bought lots of parts from him. And we spent time on the phone talking about the mini-detail changes they made over the years. He thought they made the best sounding guitar ever... But he couldn't believe that I cared that in 1964 they changed the little felt pieces under the mute knobs from red to black.


A few years later, in 1987, Fred Gretsch Jr's nephew, also named Fred Gretsch, bought his name back. He immediately hired Duke as a consultant. I met with Duke at one of the NAMM shows and he showed me prototypes and blueprints for the soon-to-be-reintroduced Gretsch guitars. I was disappointed that they were going to be made in Japan, but Duke explained that they simply couldn't afford to make them here. He valued my opinion, so I added my two cents worth about historic accuracy, the shape of the body, the position of the knobs, etc. By 1989 the new Gretsch was up an running again. Duke worked for them AND continued his parts supply company.

In the mid 1990s I visited Duke and his wife, Fritzi, at their home in Cincinnati and interviewed him for hours about the old days of the guitar biz. He had tons of stories. For example, he told me that in the 1950s he always bought Cadillacs, because when he drove Gretsch guitars around to music shops he often had to travel on dirt roads, and the Caddy was good in the mud. He told me that it was nice to see George Harrison use a Gretsch guitar on Ed Sullivan, but Fred Gretsch Jr wasn't really excited by it. Fred Jr. was a Jazz fan and a Country fan, and didn't really think the Rock & Roll thing had any staying power. He told me that they actually had a branding iron to burn the big "G" into the front of the 6120s. (That's the model made famous by Brian Setzer. Now it's all done by computer.)

Someday I'm going to listen to those hours and hours of interview tapes and write everything down.


I don't know why some people are naturally happy. But Duke was. He had a smile on his face every time I talked to him. I know he loved his job with Gretsch and he was proud of the product. The first time around he worked for the company for 50 years! With Fred Gretsch, the nephew, he worked for another ten... until Fender took over the line.

Duke passed away this week... He was 88. He was a good guy. I'm gonna miss him.


See You Soon,


PS: Can you imagine working for the same company for 50 years? That sounds like something that would happen at Pittsburgh Guitars!

PPS: Customer Web Site:
The Yards

Friday 8/19/2005 ~ Beach Boys & old amps


Last night I saw a really cool old film of The Beach Boys live in concert. The show was from March 14, 1964.

Of course, the first thing that caught my eye was the equipment. They all had great looking white, pre-CBS Fender guitars, with matching white Fender amps. (Naturally, they were pre-CBS pieces, since CBS didn't buy Fender until 1965.) Al Jardine, on rhythm guitar, had a fabulous rosewood-fingerboard white Strat, and even on the black & white film you could see the greenish tint to the pickguard. Carl Wilson played lead on a white Jaguar. And Brian, looking nervous, but not quite crazy yet, had a white P-Bass.

Carl's amp was a 1963 white Dual Showman, with the light colored grill cloth and two fifteen inch speakers. Al had a similar colored white 1963 Bandmaster speaker cabinet, but he must have liked his older head, since he had a 1961-62 white tolex with dark grill cloth Bandmaster head on the cabinet. Since neither of their amps had built-in reverb, Carl had a late-1963 white external reverb unit and Al had a early-1963 brown one.

Brian played through an Ampeg B-15. The Ampeg might not have kept up with the Fender amps on-stage volume-wise, but in the early 1960s it was THE amp to use in the studio. Brian no doubt chose it because it sounded so much better than the only comparable Fender amp, the Bassman.


After I enjoyed the vintage-ness of their stuff, my mind drifted back to that era in general. This concert was post Beatles-on-Ed-Sullivan... but only by five weeks. The Beach Boys still had their matching-striped-shirts-with-greased-back-hair look. And in 1964, hair was a major dividing issue with the youth of America. It's hard, now, to imagine the impact of the `64 British musical invasion. If you were just over a certain age, and already had an interest in cars, for example, you were a Beach Boys fan. If you were slightly younger, and had never heard of "surfing," for example, you were a Beatles fan. And I don't think there was much cross-over. From my perspective at the time, you were either (a) open to the new exciting music and styles from England, or (b) Fonzie.

The division was a shame, actually. I didn't get a chance to appreciate the intricate harmonies of the Beach Boys until much much later, probably not until late 1965! Looking back now, I love watching this concert film. They were quite impressive.


Our email special is on the one thing that WASN'T on-stage with the 1964 Beach Boys, a guitar stand.


See you soon,


PS: One reason it was hard for a Pittsburgher to relate to The Beach Boys: Their first four singles: "Surfin'", "Surfin' Safari", "Surfin' USA" and "Surfer Girl".

PPS: Another reason for my early Beach Boys hesitation: I was never a big fan of the high-falsetto voice used by Brian Wilson and other guys like Frankie Valli in the Four Seasons... Now that I think about it, it's actually kind of ironic that the Fonzie-types regularly questioned the masculinity of anyone with slightly longer hair, yet their favorite bands featured guys singing really high. Hmmmm. I never put that together until now....

PPPS: In the mid-`60s, real-life Fonzies weren't as friendly as the "Happy Days"-guy.

PPS: Customer Web Site:
The Murphy Hypothesis

Friday 8/26/2005 ~ The Rolling Stones leave out the bass in the first verse


Editor's Note: Yesterday a friend of mine, Paul Buriak, told me about a study that was done concerning historical references made in classrooms by teachers. Apparently a booklet is being published for teachers, listing historical events that the current generation doesn't comprehend. For example, according to this study, most high school students won't understand a reference to "Watergate."

This was of interest to me because it has crossed my mind that occasional email special references may be too dated for some of our customers. Please forgive me for any confusing references I sometimes make about my childhood and the music and bands therein.




So.... I was getting my hair cut this morning, and in the background, on the radio, I heard a song from my childhood.

It was by a band that was very popular back then, called The Rolling Stones.

The song was "H. Tonk Women." (Wow! When I typed in the real title for the song, the first word, "H----y," lit up red, like a dirty word!! I changed it to "H" because many of the folks on this list get it at work and spam filters block mail with potentially bad words... I guess there's NO chance of me telling you what I was doing before I got my hair cut!)

Anyway, I always liked "H.T. Women" because (in addition to the really cool cowbell intro) (and really cool drumming by Charlie Watts) (and really cool open-tuning guitar-playing by Keith Richards) the bass DOESN'T PLAY during the verses. Good ol' Bill Wyman only comes in on the chorus. It's such a nice effect. It opens up the song, adds some feeling, and makes the choruses sound even more powerful.

These days whenever I see a contemporary "rock" band on Letterman or Conan or during the 15-minutes-a-day that MTV plays music, it seems that both guitar players and the bass player are ALL playing the same thing. That approach leaves no room for dynamics. If the guitarist is playing GGGGGGCCCCC the bass player shouldn't be playing GGGGGGCCCCC. It's an attempt to create a wall of sound, but it often results in a wall of mush.

I don't mean to say that the bass player should lay out during the entire verse, the way Bill W did in HTW... But, like people, songs need to breathe. Before a song can rock out it needs to pull the listener in. Sometimes it's important to know when NOT to play.

That's what was going through my mind during the haircut...

Oh yeah: and if there are two guitars in a band, there's no reason that they should both be playing exactly the same thing. I'll never forget those words my grandmother told me: "Carl, there are lots of ways to play a "G" chord. Learn them!"


See you soon,


PS: Speaking of the past, just in this week: The New Reissue "Fender Blender" pedal! Every bit as nasty as it was in 1968!!

PPS: Customer Web Site:

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