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
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
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"
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
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
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,
Friday 8/12/2005 ~ Duke Kramer
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
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:
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
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
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: