Email Specials from October 2006

Friday 10/6/2006 ~ Jet and Falsetto


It was cool to see some guitar bands on TV this week. Not that I have anything against lip-syncing, hand-waving, holding-up-their-pants, monotone-rapping, drum-machine-using,other-people's-music-sampling dance acts. There's certainly a need for them in the world. But as a music fan, I enjoy seeing people playing musical instruments... especially guitars!

On Tuesday night I saw two rockin' bands: Jet (on Jay Leno) and The Killers (on Jimmy Kimmel). They were similar four-piece rock bands... the primary difference being that the lead singer in Jet could actually sing. (Well, Jet also had a better lead guitarist and a better bass player... but other than that, they were very similar.)

Jet, however, used something I've never seen before. The lead singer had a dual mic stand... a single base, leading to a Y-split near the top, with two different microphones mounted side by side. On this particular song he sang in falsetto during the verses into the mic on the left, and then used an AC-DC-like screaming voice in the choruses into the mic on the right. I'm not sure why. They were different models... I think both were made by Sennheiser. I know that different mics have different frequency responses, so perhaps he felt that one mic was better suited to his soft falsetto voice, and the other was better to scream into. Or maybe it's his way to circumvent counting on the soundman to ride the levels. Before the song started he could have said, "This mic- loud! Other mic- not as loud!" I've worked with some distracted soundmen myself. The moving-back-and-forth-between-two-microphones approach looks a bit odd, but it would be practical.


Speaking of falsetto, to me there are good falsetto songs and bad ones. Here's a sampling: (Sorry these songs are all so old... you have to consider the source.)

* Most Annoying Falsetto: Lou Christie "Lightning Strikes"
I've never understood why he sang like that. Runner-up: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. Again, I ask, what's up? "Sherry"? "Big Girls Don't Cry"? Fingernails on a blackboard.

* Falsetto That I Didn't Like When I Was Young, But Now Appreciate It As Part Of The Intricate Layered Harmony Structure: Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys
When I first heard the Beach Boys I was still too spooked by Lou Christie. But Brian really knew how to build and intertwine harmony lines. The high voice is an important part of it all.

* Best Falsetto Slide Into Regular Voice In Two Seconds: The end of "Ticket To Ride" by The Beatles.
A surprise twist on the last line of the chorus and a great way to end the song.

* Probably Not Falsetto, Just His Regular Voice: Neil Young
His voice just comes out that way when he sings.

* The Best-Ever Use Of Falsetto: Prince "Kiss"
Now THAT'S how to use falsetto!


See you soon,


PS: We can order a dual mic holder for you if you wanna give it a try.

PPS: We do have this cool little mini-music stand that clips on your mic stand, perfect for holding "cheat sheets."

PPPS: And, of course, we have mics in stock, too.

PPPPS: Saturday October 28, 2006 The Rex 8PM
"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14"
A Pittsburgh Halloween Tradition
Music, fun, and cheezy props!
Tickets available now!

PPPPPS: Customer web site:
The Saw Doctors

Friday 10/13/2006 ~ "The Girl Can't Help It"


I was switching through 200 TV channels in the middle of the night this week and came across a funny old film, filled with vintage rock & roll appearances and, of course, vintage guitars.

It was from 1956 and called "The Girl Can't Help It."

In the movie, Edmond O'Brien stars as a gangster who wants his girlfriend to become a famous singer. The girlfriend, played by Jayne Mansfield, apparently can't sing... which is a problem until the gangster discovers rock & roll. He figures that ANYONE can sing rock & roll.

The plot is as thin as Jayne Mansfield's waist. (Which I'm guessing was around 15 inches.) However, the musical appearances are as big and powerful as Jayne Mansfield's northern regions. (Which must have utilized a state-of-the-art internal support superstructure, since gravity was definitely being defied.)

Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, and other 1950s stars randomly perform in the movie and although they're all lip-syncing, it's very cool to see the instruments.

As in every picture I've ever seen of him, Eddie Cochran plays his modified Gretsch 6120 (the model later made even more famous by Brian Setzer in the Stray Cats). In the 1950s the Gretsch 6120 came stock with DeArmond pickups. Eddie replaced his neck pickup with a Gibson P-90, which was bigger (and blacker) than the DeArmond, and against the orange color of the guitar it was a very noticeable change. I imagine that Gretsch wasn't thrilled about it. On the other hand, that P-90 is Gibson's main exposure in this movie. The only other Gibson product in the entire film is the violin shaped Gibson EB-1 used by Little Richard's bass player. And considering the lack of success of the EB-1, I doubt that many viewers even recognized that it was a Gibson product. But they did have Eddie Cochran's P-90 goin' for them!

(Beatles connection: Eddie Cochran's biggest hit was 1958's "Summertime Blues," which was redone in 1968 by the super-loud wall-of-Marshalls band Blue Cheer, and in 1970 by The Who. But in "The Girl Can't Help It," Eddie sings his 1956 hit "20 Flight Rock," which features a whole lotta fast lyrics. "20 Flight Rock" was the song Paul McCartney sang on July 6, 1957, the day he met John Lennon. The naturally cynical Lennon was impressed with McCartney's mastery of both the music and the complicated lyrics. They became fast friends and, as you may have heard, had some success in the music industry.)

A Gretsch guitar is also prominently featured in Gene Vincent's appearance. Performing his hit "Be Bop A Lula," Gene plays what appears to be an Epiphone archtop, while his lead guitarist rocks out on a very attractive orange Gretsch 6022 "Rancher" acoustic. (You can't miss a 6022... it's a jumbo sized flattop with a triangular shaped soundhole and a big "G" brand on the face.)

But the COOLEST thing about this movie are the repeat appearances of early 1950s Fender Telecasters. There are almost three of them! A guitarist in Gene Vincent's band plays a Tele. The guitarist in The Treniers plays a Tele. And Little Richard's guitar player plays an Esquire. (A Tele with only one pickup.)

(Aside #2 (not Beatles related): Today The Treniers are not a household name, but they were an important part of the musical shift from late-1940s swing to early-1950s rock & roll. A self-contained band led by twins Cliff and Claude Trenier, they merged swing music and jump R&B into a highly entertaining stage act, and are considered by some to be one of the world's first rock & roll bands.)


Getting back to the Teles: In 1954 Leo Fender changed the pickguards on Telecasters from black to white. (Perhaps to match his newly released "Stratocaster" which also had a white pickguard.) For this reason, in the vintage guitar biz, Teles made prior to late 1954 are often referred to as "black `guard Teles." And even though "The Girl Can't Help It" was filmed in 1956, all of the Teles in the movie are pre-late-1954 black `guard ones. And I must say, they look fantastic! The blond finish with the black pickguard shows up well on film and stands out with a simple, yet distinctive, look. It's worth tracking down this movie just to see those Telecasters!

Here's a picture of a 1952 "black `guard Tele."

While we're at it, here's a picture of a new `52 Reissue Tele.


See you soon,


PS: Speaking of movies, we recently started filming some stuff for Here's an article in yesterday's Post-Gazette.

And here's the video they are referring to.

PPS: Did I mention this year's big Halloween extravaganza?
"Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14"
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The Rex Theater
8 PM

PPPS: Customer web site:
The Meridians

Friday 10/20/2006 ~ Sitcom Garage Bands


Earlier this week I was surfing TV channels while waiting for The Colbert Report, and I stumbled across a show called "According To Jim." I've never watched an entire episode of this series... not because I have anything against Jim Belushi... I loved him in... ah... er... wait, lemme think... well, whatever it was, he was great!... and his wife, Courtney Cox-Thorne-Birney-Smith... she was a wonderful lawyer when she worked for Cage, Fish and Associates.

Anyway, in this particular episode, Jim was in his garage, playing the blues and jamming with his friends. They had an entire band set up... drums, amps, etc... And I was happy to see it. They obviously weren't young kids trying to be the next big thing. They were regular guys, with regular jobs, who got together to play some songs and enjoy music. (I didn't watch the rest of the episode, but we can presume that Jim did something stupid, and made his wife mad, but in the end she forgave him, and everything worked out.)

Then this Wednesday someone called me to tell me about Ted Danson's new show. Apparently, he's a psychiatrist (or psychologist?) (which one was Bob Newhart?) and in this week's episode he formed a band with his old friends... and they called themselves "Pink Freud." Again, it made me happy.

You see, some of our customers are famous and tour the world and that's wonderful. But many Pittsburgh Guitars customers don't have a hit record. This week, these two shows helped emphasize the fact that having a hit record isn't the only reason to play guitar. Playing the guitar (or any other instrument) has multiple benefits. On a personal level, playing guitar exercises your brain, and your body. On an interpersonal level, playing music with your friends can be an enjoyable social event. A group of people, working together, combining their individual creative skills, to create a successful end product is emotionally and intellectually satisfying. And that's hard to find in the day-to-day workplace. Playing music will make you feel better about life. It's a wonderful and healthy hobby. Most importantly, playing music will keep you young!


Call some of your friends tonight. Make a point of getting together in someone's basement next week to play some songs. You won't regret it.


In fact, I'll tell you what... A few months ago we had a fun show at The Rex called the "Big Beatle Night." We organized a list of our customers and students, and we provided the amps and drums, and everyone played a Beatle song or two. Why don't we do it again, and YOU can play!! Hold on a minute, I'll call the Rex................................................................
OK, it's set for Saturday, November 25th, at 8 PM. Here's the plan: Put together a band. Even if it's only you and one other person. Learn a Beatle song or two. And we'll give you a stage. A big one. With lights. And a smoke machine. It'll be a blast! Even if you've never played in public before... do it... it doesn't matter if you make a mistake or two... it's all for the joy of music.


See you soon,


PS: We got great response from our latest video on youtube. It's
also posted on our site, if you want to check it out.

PPS: "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14"
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The Rex Theater
8 PM

PPPS: Customer web site:

10/27/06 ~ Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14



Sorry I don't have time to write an email special this week. I'm busy working on tomorrow's show, "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14."

Actually, the show is much like what I talked about last week... hanging out and playing music with your friends.

It all started a long, long time ago, when a group of us got together one evening to sing songs by dead rock stars. Over the years the show has gotten more and more elaborate... and now it's a big stage production with costumes, sound effects and cheezy props. (I'm a fan of cheezy props!)


On one hand, Night Of The Singing Dead is a massive, complicated show. On the other hand, it's still just a bunch of friends playing music. Some songs are rehearsed, some will be us winging it. Some props will work, some will fall apart. Rather than do the same show every year, we write something new, with the freshest dead celebrities. So even though this is the 14th year, it won't be a polished big-city show... it will be a bunch of friends having a good time. Stop by, you'll have a good time too!


This year's hosts: Larry Richert as Dracula and Steve Hansen as The Wolfman!

I'll have a real email special next week! Thanks for understanding!

See you soon,


Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 14
"A Scary Home Companion"
Saturday, October 28, 2006
The Rex Theater
8 PM

Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars