Email Specials from March 2006

Fri 3/3/2006 ~ "You Are My Sunshine"


I found myself humming a song as I was folding my socks yesterday. (Well, actually, I was taking them out of the dryer in a big clump and throwing them in a drawer...) (I mean, they're just socks... It's not like they're sheets...) (OK, OK, I don't fold the sheets either...) (Hey, I fold the towels, though! `Cause that's the only way to get them to fit in the bathroom closet...)


Getting back to the song, it was "You Are My Sunshine," by Governor Jimmie Davis. I know that's a strange choice for a head-banging rocker like myself... but my Mother used to sing it to me when I was a baby, and every now and then I find it popping into my head... (Note: if you're going to sing to your baby, pick something good, because 50 years from now they'll be stuck with it.)


As I was humming along with my subconscious it occurred to me that although "You Are My Sunshine" sounds like a happy-go-lucky song, it really isn't. My Mother generally repeated the chorus, which sounds nice:


You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You'll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away


Occasionally she'd sing the first verse:


The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
And I hung my head and cried



But she never got to the next verse, where the song takes a nasty turn:


I'll always love you and make you happy
If you will only say the same
But if you leave me to love another
You'll regret it all some day



Finally the song gets plain depressing:


You told me once dear, you really loved me
And no one else dear, could come between
But now you've left me and love another
You have shattered all my dreams



All of this made me wonder about other songs that sound happy but are really sad. I guess "Help" by The Beatles falls into that category. It certainly has a bright up-tempo feel, but I recall reading that when John Lennon wrote it it was slower... and he seriously meant "Help me."


Hey, I just thought of a giant group of songs that fall into this category: Any sad song played on a banjo! After all, no matter what the topic, it's just gonna sound happy on a banjo!


Let's have a banjo email special! As you may know, we have the biggest banjo selection of any store around! In fact, considering Pittsburgh is often thought of as a "blues town," you're probably wondering why we sell so many banjos... Well, we keep them in stock because they just make me happy! This is your chance! You can't feel sad or depressed if there's a banjo nearby!


See you soon,


PS: I wonder if any other famous songs were written by politicians? Although, I seem to remember that, though Governor Jimmie Davis wrote a lot of other songs, he BOUGHT "You Are My Sunshine" from the original writer...

PPS: New in the store this week:
* The Gretsch Country Gentleman 12-String that I mentioned last week is here. It sounds wonderful!
* We just got a batch of new Hofner electric-acoustics that look and sound great!
* The new Fender 60th Anniversary stuff is starting to arrive. Seventeen boxes of Fender just just showed up today. Give us a call to find out if we have the new silver Strat. (We'll have the boxes open by this afternoon.)

PPPS: I'll bet someone somewhere played the blues on a banjo...

PPPPS: Customer web site:

Fri 3/10/2006 ~ TV Commercial


I was on the set of a TV commercial yesterday. It was for Duquesne Light and featured a 12-year-old kid playing guitar in his bedroom. The experience was quite interesting.

First of all, it took twenty people four hours to shoot a scene that will eventually only last five seconds within a thirty second commercial. (I'll bet there's a mathematical equation in that sentence somewhere...)

Second of all, they were using a new High Definition camera. Wow, was it sharp! And I don't mean "sharp" as in: "Man, you look sharp in those chinos!" I mean "sharp" as in: "I sure don't wanna look at someone and see every pore in their face!" In this case, the kid was young and he looked fine. But when High Definition becomes standard I'm not certain we'll want to see older people, like our favorite movie stars, in that much detail. The High Definition images seem even sharper than real life. The close-ups are gonna be scary on the big screen...

(Sometimes it doesn't bother me that my eyesight isn't as good as when I was younger. I think most of my friends look better slightly out of focus!)

The director told me that they were going to take this footage, put it in their editing computer and make it look like the entire scene was in a bubble. I didn't quite understand... but I think it's gonna be artsy.

Also, the production company had a big truck full of stands and lighting equipment... which I thought was really cool. But during a break, one of the lighting guys told me about these new LCD lights that are becoming available. They are tiny, inexpensive and super bright. (It's the same technology that's used in a couple of billboards around town.) He said that two days ago they were filming a scene, and he was holding one of these up with one hand, and he could feel himself becoming obsolete...

But, the other side of this story: The guitar the kid used in the commercial was a Fender Stratocaster, an instrument that has barely changed since it was invented in 1954. And the song he was playing along to was Led Zeppelin's "Communication Breakdown," a recording that has not changed at all since 1968.

So... The video cameras are getting better... maybe too good... Computer editing has more and more exotic potential... And lighting technology will be changing rapidly, soon... But despite scientific advances all around us, the Fender Stratocaster, with it's 52 year-old design, is still the king of electric guitars. And Rock & Roll... well, I believe it's here to stay.


See you soon,


PS: Lots of folks wrote in about last week's email. Apparently "You Are My Sunshine" was sung by a lot of mothers to a lot of babies. It is a really cute song... for the first verse. And, in answer to my question last week, Yes, folks have played the blues on the banjo!

PPS: New this week: More "Hello Kitty" Strats! Some really nice Hofner acoustics with pickups!! The new Gretsch G5120, similar to a Gretsch G6120 but 1/3 the price!!!

PPPS: Customer Web Site:

Fri 3/17/2006 ~ Neco Case, Tenor Banjos, Tenor Guitars


This week someone wrote to ask about a girl guitarist, Neco Case, who they saw on Jay Leno. Neco plays a four string, skinny neck, Gibson electric guitar... and the emailer asked that question I hear so often: "What the heck is that?" I replied, as I do so often, "It all started back in the 1800s..."

Of course, I'm kidding. It really started around 1769.... That's the earliest record of banjo-usage in the US of A. (Although, we probably weren't the "US of A" then...) (Just "A", I guess...)

The banjo is considered by many people to be the only true American instrument, and throughout the 1800s the banjo became more and more popular. (One explanation for this trend: The TV hadn't been invented yet... So, it was like, "Well, Martha, do you want to sit here in our log cabin and read a book by candlelight, or do you wanna go down to the meetin' hall and watch a guy play the banjo?")

As more folks took up the banjo it evolved technologically... frets were added in the mid 1850s, and steel strings instead of gut strings came into use in 1857. By 1900 there were 200 companies making banjos in the USA (yeah! then "US" fer sure...). The S.S. Stewart Company alone made over 25,000 banjos between 1878 and 1904. That's a lot when you consider there were only 26,000 people in the country then!

(I should mention that Christian Frederick Martin had been making guitars, our favorite instrument, since 1833. Orville Gibson started his shop in 1894. But the guitar simply didn't capture the public's interest like the banjo.)

In 1900, banjos had 5 strings and were typically played finger-style. But in 1907, much to the annoyance of their parents, the kids started playing new, wild styles of music, like "jazz" and "the tango." And the kids wanted to be loud! In order to do more power-chord strumming, (picture Pete Townsend's great grandfather...), they removed the short 5th string from their banjos and started using a pick. And, to make it easier for more potential players, the new four string banjos were tuned CGDA, similar to a mandolin or a violin. This radical new model was called the Tenor Banjo, and when "ragtime" music hit in 1908 the Tenor Banjo quickly became more popular than the 5-string.

It's hard now to imagine a time when the banjo was more popular than the guitar, but that was certainly the case in the early 1900s. And it lasted until the mid-1920s. By 1927, though, the times they were a changin' and it became obvious that interest in the banjo was fading fast. That year both Gibson and Martin decided to offer a guitar alternative for the Tenor Banjo player: the Tenor Guitar.

Here's a picture of a 1931 Martin C-1T.

And here's a picture of a 1932 Gibson T-00.

I'm not sure what company manufactured this one. In the old days, guitar instructors, music schools and even individual stores would have instruments made with their name on them. This may have been made by the Harmony Company.

Even as late as the 1950s manufacturers offered Tenor Guitars. Right now, in the back of the store, we have our Gretsch guitar collection on display. Here's a 1955 Gretsch Tenor Duo Jet that John pulled out of the display case:

By the 1960's, Tenor Guitars were not big sellers, but Gibson would custom-make any guitar from their line as a Tenor model. Here's a 1961 Gibson ES-150 as the Tenor ETS-150.

Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates owns a very rare ES-330 Tenor, the ETS-330.

Here's Neco Case, mentioned back in paragraph one. She plays a Gibson SG Tenor.


Nowadays, Tenor Banjo players are few and far between, and Tenor Guitar players even rarer. But the Tenor Guitar is a really cool, jangly instrument. If you ever see one, give it a try. None of the ones pictured here are for sale, but if you're in the neighborhood stop in and we'll show you the three tenor chords we know.


See you soon,


PS: Customer web site:
Waking Matthew

Fri 3/24/2006 ~ Stephen Colbert Plays Guitar


Last night at 11:30 I turned on one of my favorite shows, The Colbert Report. (Actually, I didn't even have to switch channels, since I had just watched one of my other favorite shows, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.) Stephen Colbert's show is a bit inconsistent... some shows are so-so... but some are really funny... and some are brilliant. Considering it's mostly a one-man show and is on four nights a week, taken in it's entirety it's quite impressive.

Last night I was even more impressed because he opened the show playing guitar! Admittedly, it was a simple song ("This Land Is Your Land") with simple chords... but he obviously can play. And even though I already thought he was a bright and funny guy, I now have an even higher opinion of him. Finding out that someone you thought you knew also plays guitar is a pleasant and impressive surprise.

Suppose, for example, you were having a business meeting this morning with a long-time co-worker; and there, in the boardroom, perhaps from a party the night before, someone inadvertently left a guitar. And suppose your co-worker casually picked up the guitar and started to play. Wouldn't you think, "Hmmm, I now have even more respect for this person... After all, they not only have the skills and ability to do their regular job well, they also have a secret musical talent. They play guitar. They are even MORE of a human being!"

I never realized it before, but being able to play guitar is like having your kitchen remodeled... Just as a newer kitchen adds value to your house, playing guitar adds value to YOU.

Since you're on the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special List, you probably already play guitar. Don't forget to casually use this ability in a non-musical situation. Surprising someone with this unexpected specialized expertise will make them appreciate you even more!

And take a moment today to encourage someone else to play. Maybe not the guy in the next cubicle... `cause you don't want the boss to see him hosting a sing-along at the company picnic and then he'd get the promotion instead of you... But maybe a younger brother or sister, or one of your kids. After all, years from now when they grow up to be an astronaut and they're on the Tonight Show talking about walking on Mars, think how much MORE impressed the audience will be when it turns out that they ALSO play guitar!


See you soon,


PS: Last week I mentioned that the Tenor Guitar was developed so that Tenor Banjo players could pick up the guitar. I didn't mention how the guitar was tuned, but it's just like the Tenor Banjo: CGDA

PPPS: Speaking of the Comedy Central, did you see South Park this week? Wow!

PPPPS: Customer web site:
Robert McEntee!

Fri 3/31/2006 ~ Guitars I Wish I had Back


I've been working on the taxes... and one of the things I do is review all of the guitar sales for the year. When I check the list this time each year I invariably see a guitar or two (or three) (or five) that I wish I hadn't sold. Obviously I can't keep them all, but as I've said before, guitars have personalities (like people) and some feel really good (like some people). Some you just want to be around, and hold, and strum... (like....) So when you find a guitar you really like, it seems a shame to see it go.

Sure, over these many many (many) years, I've held on to a lot of guitars. (I was a bit shocked when I saw how many Tenor guitars...) (See the email special from 3/17...) (By the way, weren't the pictures cute?) (Mark refused to have his taken. Something about the camera stealing his soul...)

But, I still think back to the guitars I WISH I would have kept...

* There was a really cool sunburst 1977 Les Paul Deluxe that came through the store in 1982... It had the most weather checking I've ever seen on a guitar... the entire top was covered in finish cracks. The sunburst had yellowed nicely and the guitar looked like it had a million gigs on it. And it was stunningly beautiful! I still dream about it. I sold it to someone local, so it may still be in Pittsburgh.

* Then around 1990 I was in Nashville and bought a 1978 Telecaster with a bullet hole in it. (I don't know if it was the result of a really bad bar fight, or just a rehearsal gone wrong...) (Or maybe a relationship gone wrong...) It was a nice clean shot, smooth and round on the front, wide and splintered on the back, right through the wide part of the body behind the bridge. I figured it would be a fun conversation piece to have on the wall here, and it was. And someone bought it. I had considered keeping it, but it was that odd brown color that Fender was using in the late 1970s, and at the time I disliked the color. Since then I've grown fond of Fender's wackier colors, and that bullet-hole Tele was so neat... I sure wish I would have kept that guitar.

* Even this year there was a Martin D-35 that came though the store that had a magical feeling to it. I wanted to hold onto it, but I thought about it too long and someone bought it.

I guess the moral of this story is: if you find a guitar that speaks to you, one that makes you happy, one that you can relate to... you should keep it. (And the same applies to people, too!)


See you soon,


PS: Speaking of guitars from the past, 33 years ago I bought a Hofner Bass from Dave Rusnak for $100. Then a couple of years later I lent it to a friend of mine, Mitch Weissman, so he could use it to audition for the Beatlemania show on Broadway. Mitch very deservedly got the gig, and he used the bass for the entire Broadway run of the show. And my subsequent involvement procuring instruments for the Beatlemania show ultimately lead to the start of Pittsburgh Guitars. Here's more of the story.

Thinking back, I'm not sure if Mitch ever actually BOUGHT it from me...but years later, when the show closed, Mitch sold the bass. Well, YESTERDAY a guy came into the store with that exact bass! He's going to trade it in on a new Hofner Bass. And I'm gonna keep it this time.

PPS: This week's customer web site:
Slim Forsythe and the Parklane Drifters!

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