Email Specials from January 2006

Monday 1/9/2006 ~ CBGBs


Hey, I hope you're having a happy 2006 so far!

Sorry this is coming on Monday, instead of last Friday. We were doing inventory all of last week (there are a LOT of picks to count!) and by the time I finished the email below, it was already after closing time... However, it's workin' out OK, because after the usual rambling, when I started typing the "PPPPS," I had this idea for a "Half-Off Island".... so I stayed late on Friday and created it. Then, while doing that, I realized that if I lowered a few more prices I could also make a "$199 Island" so I came in early today (Monday) to do that... (Although now I have to go to the end and add a "PPPPPS" to mention THAT...)

So, anyway, this is late, but it inspired me to create two "Sale" islands... for YOU, my favorite customer. Get your 2006 off to an even better start with a new guitar!


For Christmas I got the new book about CBGBs. (Of course, you SHOULD already know this, but if you don't: CBGBs is an historically important, musically significant, seedy, dark, dirty New York City bar that was the starting place for bands like Television, The Ramones, Blondie, The Talking Heads, and many more.)

The book is page after page of photos and 90% are stage shots, so it's lots of fun. There are guitars on every page! (Naturally, there are also several photos of the legendary CBGB bathrooms. They were supposed to be the worst in the country... but when The Frampton Brothers played CBGBs in the 1990s, they reported that Pittsburgh's Electric Banana may really hold the record.)

The most interesting parts of the book to me are the early years, the formative years, 1974-1975. A new style of American music was developing, and poor, hungry, struggling young musicians were offering an alternative to the mainstream music of the day, i.e. Disco. And their stage gear looked poor and struggling, too. I've seen early CBGB photos before, so I expected the Silvertone guitars and Lafayette amps... but I was surprised to see the number of short scale basses. The book's first picture of The Ramones shows them holding a Fender Musicmaster Bass. An early Television photo features a Danelectro short scale. And before she got her Hofner, Tina in The Talking Heads is shown playing a short scale Fender Mustang Bass. I suspect that these basses were in use because in addition to being slightly easier to play, they were also cheaper to buy.


See you soon,


PS: A good friend of mine, Billy O'Connor, was one of those struggling young musicians during the first days of CBGBs... After answering an ad that Chris Stein placed in The Village Voice, Billy, Chris and Debbie Harry formed The Stilettos. (Eventually the name was changed to Blondie...) They were regulars at CBGBs and Billy has tons of stories about the early days... like making friends with the bikers who played pool in front of the stage... and watching The Ramones stop in mid-song to fight with each other... and carrying his drums home on the subway... One of my New Year's resolutions is to help Billy write a book about those days.

PPS: I'll try to get a picture of Billy from those times for next week. Meanwhile, here's a picture of Television with a couple of Danelectros.
(The Stilettos were also on the bill that night and those are Billy's drums.)

PPPS: CBGB = "Country, BlueGrass, Blues" Originally, the owner wanted those kinds of music. It didn't quite work out that way...

PPPPS: You know, looking at the email special above, I like the idea of the half off sale. In a few weeks it will be time to place our orders for 2006. And in order to compete with the giant chain stores (and you've probably noticed that our prices are even BETTER than the giant chain stores...) I have to order BIG to get the good deals! (Passed on to you, of course.) Since we'll need room for the big orders, let's have a sale on some things that are left over after Christmas... I'm going to change the center island to a "Half Off Island" until the end of January. I don't know what's going to be on there, but it will generally be inexpensive stuff by a company that I can't mention. Stop in and pick up an extra guitar to leave at your girlfriend or boyfriend's house. That way, when you're visiting, you can play that new song that you wrote about them!

PPPPPS: .....OK, it's now Monday morning, and I made "Half-Off Island" signs and everything... There are both electrics and acoustics on there... at their lowest prices ever. And I also lowered the price on five or six other guitars to make another sale area, the "$199 Island." (And I kinda like using the word "island." It reminds me of the ocean and a warm beach scene...) (Ah........................) (Mmmmmmm......) (Pass me that Strawberry Daiquiri and the sunscreen...)

Friday 1/13/2006 ~ 12-strings, the Fender Maverick & Custom


Last night I got an email from Holland. It was in English, which was a break, since I don't speak Hollandese. (Although I do like Hollandaise sauce...) (And I have driven through the Holland Tunnel...) (Holland is somewhere near Sweden, isn't it?) (Is Holland where they have the wooden shoes and the kid stopping the flood with his finger in the...?) (And is it near Amsterdam? People have suggested that I go to Amsterdam for vacation. I think it's because of those fine Amsterdamian museums...)

Anyway, Auke (yep, that's his name) wrote to say he was looking at a 1969 Fender Maverick, and he wondered why it had a sunburst front, but a black back.

Now I'm sure most of you know the reason for the black back, but for the couple of folks who don't, here's the explanation:

In 1961, Nat Daniel (who was always ahead of the game) introduced the world's first electric 12-string, The Danelectro Bellzouki. Three years later in 1964, Rickenbacker, recognizing the beauty of the 12-string's jangly, ringing sound, introduced their version, the 360/12. They promptly gave one to George Harrison. George promptly used it on twenty Beatle records. And the world promptly wanted electric 12s.

So, in 1965 both Gibson and Fender jumped on the multi-string bandwagon. Gibson added a longer headstock to the ES-335 and called it the ES-335-12 and Fender introduced the Fender XII. Here's a picture of the Fender XII.

Unfortunately, both were market failures. Gibson's ES-335-12 lasted from 1965 to 1971. Fender gave up even sooner, and they discontinued the Fender XII in mid-1969.

Then Fender did something interesting. Rather than throw out the unassembled bodies and necks they had left over from the run of Fender XIIs, they decided to re-shape the body, add a Mustang vibrato, put only six machine heads on the giant headstock, and re-release it as a six string. Most said "Fender Custom" on the headstock. A few, for some unknown reason, said "Fender Maverick."

Here they are.


So, the 1969 Fender Maverick and Fender Custom are the same guitar with different decals. These two, too, were unsuccessful in the marketplace... but then again they were only an attempt to use up extra bodies and necks anyway.

Here's a picture of a part of Punk history, the hand-customized Fender Custom that Karl Mullen used in the band Carsickness.


So, getting back to Auke and his question: The original Fender XII had strings-thru-the-body construction, like a Telecaster, so there were 12 holes through the back of the body. Since the Maverick/Custom uses a top-mounted Mustang vibrato, Fender had to plug those 12 holes, which they did with a large oval wooden plug. To successfully hide the plug in the back they had to paint the backs black. So all Fender Mavericks and Customs have black backs.

And that's what I wrote to Auke in Holland last night...


See you soon,


PS: You know, it's kinda cool to know that some guy in Holland, wherever it is, can sit at his computer, google "Custom/Mavericks," find Pittsburgh Guitars (it's the third listing in that search... the first two are for shoes...), and write to me here in Pittsburgh... and I would write back and explain that if he sees slight finish checking in an oval pattern on the back, that's OK. (I left that part out of the email above... I didn't want to go on tooooo long...) Now, half way around the world, he can decide if he wants to buy the guitar, and I helped. Ten years ago that type of interaction would not have happened. The internet, and guitars, can bring us all together! Imagine what a better, nicer place the world would be if everyone played guitar!

PPS: The "Half-Off Island" that I thought of in the middle of last week's email looks good! This week I even made signs! There are now five solid-top acoustics on there, at half-off the list price!

PPPS: Last week I mentioned our good friend Billy O'Connor. In 1973 Billy packed up his drums and moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. There, along with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, he formed a band called The Stilettos, which was later changed to Blondie. They did a lot of gigs at CBGBs in the Bowery, but generally had no money and no food.
Here's a picture of Debbie, Billy and Chris.

For more, check out Billy's new book, which we haven't started writing yet....

PPPPS: Customer web site:
The Crash Moderns!

Friday 1/20/2006 ~ Guitars on TV need a gig bag!


Last night I watched a show I TiVo'ed last week, called "Four Kings." It's on right before my new favorite show, "My Name Is Earl" and I figured I'd give it a try. "Four Kings" wouldn't be a bad show if they changed the writers... and the story line... and all of the characters... and the actors. It's really hard to believe this show is on the air. It features actors with little or no charisma, playing characters with little or no redeeming qualities. This episode tried to stress the "manly" importance of casual one-night-stands. It was intellectually insulting to pretty much everyone. And the most shocking part was the bedroom scene. In the corner... standing vertically, in a chair... in its case... was a dreadnought acoustic guitar... right next to the radiator! So much about this is wrong... just plain wrong.

First of all, the dry heat from that radiator would be bad for that guitar if it was all the way across the room. (And in a better sitcom.) But right up against the radiator? How could they? And then, to balance a guitar case vertically on a chair? What were they thinking?

Just this week a guy brought an acoustic guitar into the store for a broken-headstock repair. He said, "I've always kept it in the case." We said, "Did it fall over?" He said, "Well, even if it did, it was in the case..." We explained that hardshell cases are primarily designed to keep the guitar from getting bumped around. Hard cases prevent dents, and nicks, and they let you pile stuff on top of them. (Now, don't get carried away with that!) But if you drop a guitar, even in its case, from... let's say... "standing up in a chair"... bad things can happen.

When I opened this store, back in the last century, the only options were hard cases and chipboard cases. "Gig Bags" were occasionally available, but they were usually cheesy vinyl and offered little protection. Most modern-day Gig Bags, due perhaps to space-age technology, are nicely padded, have lots of pockets, and are much nicer than the Gig Bags of yesteryear. I used to think that a hard case was the only way to go. (In fact that's what I was thinking when I started to type this... ) And if you're loading your guitar in the back of a van with the amps and drums, a hard case is imperative. But if you're personally lifting your instrument in and out of the back seat of your car (or leaning it in the corner of your room) a nice Gig Bag will be easier to handle than the hardshell and will still keep your guitar safe.

Just don't stand it up on a chair. Like watching "Four Kings," that is just a bad idea.


See you soon,


PS: For the youngsters in the audience, a "chipboard" case is made of hard, layered cardboard. They actually work well. Unfortunately, they are relatively expensive to make, and relatively expensive to ship. (They're lightweight, but picture the size difference between a big carton of six dreadnought chipboard cases... and a small, thin box of six Gig Bags...) Only one company in the USA now makes chipboard cases, and the prices keep going up and up. For the sake of tradition I sold them here at Pittsburgh guitars as long as I could, and longer than most other stores. But they just aren't practical any more.

PPS: Starting next weekend and running through February 26, The City Theater will be presenting a rock musical called "Hearts Are Wild." It's about an average everyday guy, with an obsession for Elvis, who wakes up one morning to find a band in his room, ready to rock. They encourage him to follow his dream and become a singer. It sounds like fun, and we have a couple of tickets to give away. Write back if you're interested in going. We'll put the replies in a hat, and pull two on Monday night for some free tickets.

PPPS: Customer web site:
The Boogie Hustlers!

Friday 1/28/2006 ~ Little Richard "Keep A Knockin'"


As you know, we're happier here at the store now that we have satellite radio. Instead of the same 20 songs we used to hear on old-fashioned radio, we now get a thousand cool songs on a hundred different channels. One of my favorites is Sirius Channel 25, "The Underground Garage." They play rockin' rock & roll... old stuff like The Kinks, to new stuff like The Killers.

Yesterday I heard "Keep A Knockin'" by Little Richard. You have to like that song, for so many reasons:

* First of all: Little Richard. The guy was not holding back. His 'put-everything-you've got-into-this-song' attitude epitomizes rock & roll vocals.

* Little Richard's screaming vocals leads to my second favorite thing about "Keep A Knockin'": the distortion on the vocal mic. I don't know if the distortion is due to (a) an inexpensive microphone, (2) Little Richard singing too loud, too close, into a good microphone, or (iii) the recording engineer pushing things too far on the mixing board. But the result is an extra rawness in the recording, making it even more "rock & roll." Nowadays, you have to avoid overloading mics at all costs because digital distortion sounds like "gzrpyxzxzpyxzxpzx."

(I'll never forget the first time I heard overloaded vocals on a recording. It was in "Searchin'" by The Coasters. If you listen to early rock recordings you'll hear distorted vocals a lot. I'll bet it was generally not intentional. Rock & roll was young, and most studios weren't ready for it. And it wouldn't surprise me if some producers felt "well, this stuff won't last anyway...")

* The third cool thing about "Keep A Knockin'" is the drum intro, which was later "borrowed" by John Bonham for the intro to Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll." You may have heard it on a Cadillac commercial. (Charles Connor, Little Richard's drummer, should get a free Cadillac for that intro... but he probably won't...)

(Speaking of Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll," a friend of Scott's was the engineer on that session and he told us that they slowed the tape machine down at the end of the solo so Jimmy Page could record those rapid fire notes. It was similar to those recordings by the Chipmunks, only less Alvin and more Les Paul...)

This week special: The Boss RC-20XL Loop Station. In addition to recording loops up to 16 minutes long, this unit allows you to record guitar and vocal loops for practicing. PLUS, you can record phrases from a CD and slow them down without changing the pitch. So you could sample the solo from "Rock And Roll," slow it down the way Jimmy Page did when he recorded it, and still learn it in the right key. Then, the next time your band is playing out and someone asks if you know any Cadillac commercials, you can say, "Yeah!"

(I presume when Page did that solo in concert he played it at the same speed as the record... I'm not really sure, though. I tried to watch the Zeppelin movie "The Song Remains The Same" but I kept falling asleep during the band-member-rides-a-horse-through-a-meadow-of swirling-colors scene...)


See you soon,


PS: Last week I mentioned a musical that will be playing around the corner from our store at The City Theater. It's called "Hearts Are Wild" and it's about a businessman who wakes from a dream to find a rock band in his room. He decides to pursue his dream to become a rock singer. The show hasn't opened yet, so I haven't seen it, but it sounds like fun. I was able to get a few more sets of free tickets. Here's this week's contest: a free pair of tickets to the first three people who write to mention (a) a record with distortion on the vocal mic, or (b) an obviously borrowed drum fill or beat.

PPS: Customer web site:
Roomful of Blues!

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