Friday 9/2/2005 ~ Bending the
index card signs
I walked into a music store in
1965... It was in South Hills Village, at the time the largest
indoor mall in Pennsylvania... I believe the store was called
"Mazzari's" and since it was 1965 they mainly sold
pianos... But in the back they had electric guitars! Unfortunately,
they never had prices on the guitars... And it was frustrating
to look at cool instruments and not know if they were a hundred
dollars or a million dollars. Even though I was only twelve,
I swore to myself that if I ever had my own music store I would
have the prices on every guitar in big black letters...
And so, for the last twenty-six
years, I've been writing prices in black marker on index cards
and putting them on instruments here at Pittsburgh Guitars.
(Now that it's 2005, I suppose
I could be printing those on a laser printer... But we didn't
have that kind of technology in 1979 when I opened the place,
and now it just wouldn't seem right to go all formal and everything...)
(Besides, the marker fumes are the closest I've come to doing
So, every day I put on my glasses
(a recent addition to the process...) and make index card signs.
Most of our customers (like you,
for example) have no trouble removing the card, playing a guitar
and replacing the card. For the past quarter century, though,
there is one occurrence I see almost daily. Someone will play
a guitar, and, when finished, have difficulty trying to re-insert
the index card between the strings. After they first slide the
card between the strings and the fingerboard and it falls to
the ground, they realize that the card needs to go under some
strings and over others, to stay in place. Their method of doing
this is to crease and fold the card in an attempt to fish it
between the strings. While this method is eventually successful,
and I certainly appreciate the effort involved, it does make
the historically significant card look all wrinkly. (Wow, I can't
believe my email spell-check accepts "wrinkly"!! Who
would have guessed THAT'S a real word?)
What these folks don't realize
is that by merely grabbing the "D" string and pulling
it out slightly, you can easily slide the index card behind it.
Then you let go of the string, and in one second everything is
back in place, in perfect condition.
Sometimes I'll talk to the aforementioned
customer, and explain how the aforementioned events relate to
life and the Big Picture. There is a natural tendency to think
that since the strings are hard steel and the card is flimsy
cardboard, that the card must bend to resolve the situation.
However, the string bends easily and, due to its inherent strength,
snaps back in place easily. If the card is bent, it tends to
stay bent. When you think about it, this also applies to real
life and interpersonal relations. In some situations it's better
for the stronger person to bend. (Here at Pittsburgh Guitars
we offer music AND philosophy...)
There's another thing that has
happened many times over the years... and just yesterday I wondered
if it, too, has a philosophical parallel. Perhaps you can help.
We hang guitars by the headstock, so occasionally when a guitar
is re-hung the low "E" string tuner is bumped putting
it slightly out of tune. I have often seen someone strum a chord;
realize that there is a tuning issue; and start to re-tune the
entire guitar. Rather than examining the over-all situation and
merely re-tuning the low "E" they will tune the other
five strings to the "E." Like the bending-of-the-index-card,
it's unnecessary extra effort. Now, how can I, Dr. Carl Hartley,
PhD, seller-of-guitars and dispensor-of-wisdom, relate this to
Speaking of low "E"s...
this week's special is on really low "E"s: Bass Strings.
See you soon,
Friday 9/9/2005 ~ Hofner switches
Guitar manufacturers make design
changes for a variety of reasons. "Improving the product"
is one motivation, but there are often other factors at work.
For example, when the giant corporation
CBS bought Fender in 1965, one of their marketing advisors felt
that the "Fender" logo on the guitars was too hard
to read from a distance. So the subtle, artsy decal (now affectionately
known as the "spaghetti logo") was replaced with a
larger, gold-outlined-in-black decal. When that still didn't
stand out enough, it was later changed to big black solid letters.
By 1967 you could read the Fender logo from outer space.
Another example is Hofner's 1981
change from white slider switches to skinny black ones on their
basses. In this case, Hofner simply ran out of the switches they'd
been using since 1960, and bought different ones.
I remember, back in 2000, I stopped
at the Hofner booth at the NAMM show. They had just released
their new 1962 Reissue
Beatle Bass. I talked to Rob, sales rep for Boosey &
Hawkes, the company that owned Hofner at the time. He asked if
I sold the basses at Pittsburgh Guitars. I explained that I stopped
in the early 1980s because I didn't like the new switches. (They
worked fine... I just didn't like the way they looked...) He
said, "Oh, you should see them now! We've re-released the
bass exactly as it was in 1962!" I looked at the bass, and
they had done a nice job of capturing the look and feel of the
original `62 basses... AND they changed the switches back to
the original white color.
The only problem was that the
new switches were 3/16" high and the originals were 1/32"
shorter than that. I pointed this out to Rob and he said, "Really?"
He then insisted that I come to the back of the booth to meet
someone. Sitting in a high-backed chair in the curtained-off
backroom of the Hofner booth, amidst the swirling smoke of his
cigarette, staring at me through his monocle, was Klaus from
the factory. "Zo, zee switches are too beeg, are they?"
Despite the switch issue, I've
always been a big Hofner fan. When I showed Rob and Klaus the
Pittsburgh Guitars collection (here
are some of them) we all became friends. Pittsburgh Guitars
has since become one of the biggest Hofner dealers in the USA.
Last month, Rob and Klaus bought
Hofner. Boosey & Hawkes, known as The Music Group since 2003,
is a large school band instrument company and Hofner was a tiny
part of their corporate structure. They were never really able
to give it personalized attention that it deserved. Rob and Klaus
love this small German company with one factory and a handful
of employees, so they raised the financing to buy it away from
the big guys. The whole situation is just the opposite from that
A few weeks ago, Rob called and
said, "Thanks for all of your help and support, Carl. What
can I do to repay you?" I said, "Every week I do an
email special. Give me a great price on something that I can
pass along to my customers..." He said, "How about
this: Boosey & Hawkes wanted to market an imported solid
body six-string and I have a few left. I'll sell `em to you cheap!"
I said, "OK!!"
So, this week's special is the
Hofner Colorama Custom. It is a double-cutaway, red mahogony
solid body, with two German-made Hofner humbucking pickups. It's
a beautiful, light-weight guitar, with low action and sounds
See you soon,
PS: Years ago, another friend
of mine, early vintage guitar dealer and generally wacky guy,
Gil Southworth, thought that the pre-CBS Fender decal looked
like it was written with spaghetti, so he started to refer to
those as "spaghetti logo" guitars. The term has since
become commonplace and is now accepted worldwide as referring
to the pre-CBS era decals.
PPS: Customer Web Site:
Friday 9/16/2005 ~ Subtlety
A friend of mine from California
stopped in to say hello this week. His name is John Golden and he does CD and record mastering.
I met him in Los Angeles many years ago when he did the mastering
for an album by my band, The Flashcats. You may have heard of some
of the other bands he's worked with: Heart, Green Day, Primus,
Sonic Youth, etc. He has an interesting job because it primarily
involves subtlety. If he does his job correctly you won't be
able to tell what he did... and yet the record will sound better.
It's fascinating that the difference
between "good" and "great" often lies in
subtle details. When John "masters" a CD he adds a
touch of EQ or a touch of compression or whatever other fine-tuning
it takes to bring the recording to life, and make it sound big-time.
It's almost magical.
This difference between "good"
and "great" happens everyday. For example, I've seen
a hundred bands play "All My Loving" and only twice
have I heard drummers who captured the feel of Ringo's playing
in that song. At first glance it sounds straight forward, but
if you really listen, he's driving the song with the high-hat
cymbals and bass drum while slightly laying behind the beat on
the snare. Ringo was a pro at that style and it added a unique
feel to many of The Beatles' fast rockin' songs.
Another example of subtle artistry:
Whenever I need a poster for a show (like this year's Halloween
show "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 13" on Sunday,
October 30th, at The Rex) I design the poster exactly the way
I think it should be... and then I give it to Greg Matecko. Greg
is a professional graphic artist. He takes my attempt at design
and changes a little thing here and a little thing there and
suddenly it looks great!
Or let's say you're at home on
the couch with your girlfriend or boyfriend... You could turn
to them and say, "Hey, do you wanna get it on?" *OR*
you could turn to them and say, "Hey, do you wanna get it
on?" and then wink. See the subtle difference?
Speaking of subtle changes, here's
something you can do for your guitar: add Straplocks. No one
will notice the difference, but your guitar will be much more
secure. It's always painful when your guitar falls off your strap...
Your foot, your guitar's neck, no good can come from that!
See you soon,
PS: Hey, last week's Hofner-guitar-for-$139
was a fun email special. We sold a bunch of them and everyone
is happy! As I'm typing this we only have one left. I'll try
to get some other good deals like that...
PPS: I asked John Golden what
the most difficult part of his job was and he said projects that
come to him overly compressed. He said "Compression is like
reverb. You can always add it later, but if you use too much
during the recording there's no taking it off!"
PPPS: Another drummer that I've
always liked: Steve Jordan. He was the original drummer on the
David Letterman Show and the first drummer for the Blues Brothers.
Listen to the first Blues Brothers album "A Briefcase Full
Of Blues" to hear some *fabulous* drumming. (He was gone
before they filmed the movie, so he's only on that first LP.)
PPPPS: Speaking of "Night
Of The Singing Dead, Part 13" on Sunday, October 30th,
at The Rex... Next Wednesday, September 21st, we're going to
show a video of last year's show "Night Of The Singing Dead,
Part 12 - Election Fright Coverage" at The Rex. It will
be a free showing on their big screen at 7PM. It's just for fun
and hopefully it will inspire us to come up with some wacky stuff
for this year's show. Stop over and have a drink.
PPPPS: Customer Web Site:
Friday 9/23/2005 ~ "Original"
Telecaster, free advice
Every day we get phone calls
and emails from people asking what things are worth. Generally,
these folks are not regular customers, but rather someone who's
buying or selling something on ebay. We try to be helpful, but
it's simply not possible to make a judgement call on something
that you don't have in front of you.
For example, last week a guy
emailed me about a 1972 Telecaster. His first email: "What's
a `72 Tele worth?" My reply: "Its value depends on
its originality. We'd have to see it." His reply: "It's
in great shape, it's been under my bed for twenty years."
My reply: "We'd have to see it." His reply: "It
looks all original. What's it worth?" As you can see, this
gets frustrating. After all, I was wasting valuable time that
could have been spent ordering email watch replicas. Eventually
I convinced him to bring it in...
The serial number indicated that
it WAS from 1972. However... the machine heads had been changed
(Schallers), the pickups had been changed (Seymour Duncans) , the pickguard had been
changed (single-ply black), the volume potentiometer had been
changed (we didn't even have to look under the control panel...
it was a push-pull pot...) and on top of all of that, it had
a Bigsby added! And, as I'm sure you know, on a Tele the bridge
pickup is mounted on a big bridge plate, which won't work with
a Bigsby. So you have to change out the entire bridge plate.
On this guitar someone plugged all of the holes from the original
bridge, and then drilled new ones for the new bridge... all in
addition to drilling holes in the face of the guitar to attach
The Tele guy was confused. He
bought the guitar in 1985 and he never changed a thing. How could
this guitar not be original? Hmmmmm... Well, first we explained
that 1985 - 1972 = 13 years... Then we pointed out that in the
late 1970s this wasn't a "vintage" guitar. It was a
"used" guitar and it was commonplace for people to
He took it away. It will probably
be on ebay next week. I'm not quite sure if he believed us, so
it will be interesting to see how it's listed...
Ebay is fun to watch, but it's
amazing how much wrong info is on there. So if you're buying
something, be careful. Of course we want you to shop HERE first...
but I realize that, despite how many guitars we have crammed
into this store, we can't have every guitar. So if you're looking
for, let's say, a 1977 Gibson RD Artist, I understand that you
might turn to the world of ebay. Just keep in mind that if it
says "all-original" and it appears to have a Kahler
Hey, if you do buy a `77 RD Artist
on ebay, we won't be able to help you with the fact that it weighs
16 pounds, but we can help you clean some of that crud off of
it. This week's special: Fender/Meguiar's Instrument Care Kit.
Polish & Conditioner, Mist & Wipe Finish Enhancer, and
Swirl & Haze Remover all in one package. Shine and restore
the beauty of your guitar's finish.
See you soon,
PS: One of our regular customers
was is the store when the above mentioned Tele arrived. After
Tele-man left, the regular customer said he didn't think we that
we should be giving free information to folks that aren't customers
and don't plan to be. He said that you can't just call a lawyer
or a doctor and ask for free advice. He said that we have studied
this field for more than twenty-five years and examined thousands
of instruments to gain the expertise that we have, and that people
should not expect that expertise for free. What do you think?
(I, personally, just like to talk about guitars...)
PPS: Go see The Motorpsychos at The Rex Theater, Saturday
(tomorrow, 9/24/05)! They're finalists in the 2005 Zippo Hot
Tour. They go on at 10PM sharp.
PPPS: Customer Web Site:
Butch Walker Fan Site
Friday 9/30/2005 ~ Pronunciations,
free advice part 2
On Monday a guy in a suit came
in, shopping for his son. He had a list, which we always like
because it makes things so simple.
He asked for a "kapp-o." We knew what he meant, of
course, since that is the most often wrongly-pronounced guitar
accessory. (For those of you who don't play guitar, the item:
capo is pronounced "kay-poe." It's used for a variety
of reasons... generally to allow you to do open string first
position chords in different keys.) (I use one to hold lyrics
to a music stand when we're rehearsing The Night Of The Singing Dead... This year's
show, #13, is Sunday October 30th at The Rex...)
It brought to mind other guitar
names that have questionable pronunciations. The brand name Takamine
sure looks like you'd pronounce it "tack-a-mine." It's
actually "tahk-a-mee-nee." (At least here in the States...
I'm not sure how they say it back in the homeland.)
On the radio this week I heard a DJ talking about a guitar give-away
contest. The contest started with "Win a Gibson Les Paul!"
And, of course, when you hear THAT you know what's coming next:
"by Epiphone." Except this DJ slowed down, looked at
it for a second, and pronounced it "eh-piff-a-non."
(He's probably a Fender guy...)
Going back twenty years, I remember
when Ovation first hit the scene we had two different customers
who kept calling it "o-vee-ay-shun." I'm not sure where
that came from...
Looking around the store now,
I see we have a brand new Fender model with a name that I have
no idea how to say. It's the new Fender Squier Esprit. I guess
it's "ess-pree." Maybe... Is it supposed to be French?
I don't know. It doesn't look French. Let's use that guitar as
this week's email special, so I don't have to sit here and be
confused. Hmmmmmm... But Fender won't let us advertise one of
their guitars at a price lower than the "minimum advertised
price (MAP)." (We can sell it for whatever we want, I just
can't advertise it here.....) OK... how `bout this: For the email
special you can buy this guitar for "X" off the List
Price of $666, where "X" is an English word, relating
to fractions, with a silent letter.
The Fender Squier Master Series
Esprit is a high quality double cutaway, two pickup, arched-top
solid-body with a glued-in neck. We have it available in Black
or Antique Sunburst. It has low smooth action and a Les Paul-ish
feel to it. With the "Master Series" Fender's goal
is to bring the "Squier" line up to the same quality
level as the regular "Fender" line.
See You Soon,
PS: Last week's email talked
about the wisdom, or lack thereof, in giving free guitar advice.
I mentioned a customer in the store telling us that we shouldn't
give out free information and appraisals. A lot of folks wrote
back. Here's an email from C.B.:
I certainly understand where your regular customer is coming
from; he has a valid point. There are two things that lead me
to disagree with him though. First, you wouldn't have the expertise
that you do without examining thousands of guitars. It's funny
because not two weeks ago I brought in my '78 Les Paul Standard,
purchased from Pittsburgh Guitars in the summer of 2000, to which
I (back in my younger and dumber days) added a top-mounted Bigsby
tremolo. Mark broke the bad news (which I pretty much expected),
that I had kind of killed the value. But the neat part is that
while I was more than ready to close the case and leave with
my shame he continued to inspect the guitar and talk Les Pauls
and Bigsbys and who played the one with the other at certain
points in rock history. Ten minutes later he gave the guitar
back and sincerely thanked me for bringing it in. Which leads
me to my second point: your parenthetical comment. (That doctors
and lawyers don't give free advice.) Most lawyers and doctors,
I would wager, have chosen their profession for various reasons,
enjoyment certainly being among them. But I'm sure that for many
of them it ranks lower than the paycheck. I'm not trying to knock
them, everyone has to make a living. But you guys really seem
to love what you do (and are pretty nice to boot), so its actually
worth more to you to see these instruments than to treat them
as a product or commodity. Gee, I want a job like that.
PPS: Customer Web Site: