Friday 8/4/2006 ~ Myspace
You know, I try to stay in the
loop... but it's a busy life. There's all this buying guitars,
selling guitars, paying bills, answering email, ordering strings,
dealing with a strung-out landlord, paying more bills, answering
more email (it comes in all day long), making sure the web site
is up-to-date, paying taxes, dealing with Fender (this week they
said that our Gretsch web page, which looked spectacular, couldn't
say: "We have the following models in stock" so even
though I was one of the few dealers in the country who ordered
the super-cool Country Gentleman 12-String, I can't mention
that on our site...), withholding withholding tax, and... well,
you get the idea. Why, I hardly have any time to drink...
So, even though I'm fairly hip,
I'm still a bit behind, and only just this week I finally looked
at myspace.com. It turns out that there's about a billion people
John, the new guy, said we should
have a page. So here it is! Furthermore, you can set up your
page to play music as soon as the site starts. So five minutes
ago I said to John, "Why don't we have our customers' music
playing on our site? Each week we'll pick a song from a local
band and feature them!" For example, two great new CDs arrived
this week: Ford Thurston (an impressive collection of original
country tunes) and Jeff Bell (an eclectic journey to Zappaville).
This weekend we'll work on adding
music. We'll get your CD on soon!
Then John said, "You know,
we could also put some videos up on youtube.com and link to them
through our myspace page." And I said, "We could film
little guitar skits here at the store!" And Scott said,
So that's the plan. In addition
to our regular 53-page site, Pittsburgh Guitars, we will now have an abbreviated
version at myspace.com that will feature music by our
customers and mini-videos that we'll figure out later...
All we have to do is work this
into the schedule... I may have to get my drinking out of the
way before breakfast...
See you soon,
PS: Re: Paragraph 1, above
You probably already know this, but in case you're wondering,
Fender owns Gretsch.
PPS: It turns out that all of
my Vox Super Beatle amps work! (At least so far!) So we're gonna
have nothin' but Super Beatle amps on stage at next week's Big
Beatle show! Just bring your guitar! Next Saturday, August 12th!
PPPS: If you are a member of
myspace, feel free to add us as a friend, and leave a comment
on our page!
PPPPS: Customer web site:
Friday 8/11/2006 ~ Vox Super
It may be a little cooler out
there today, but it's still a tough day to be lifting Vox Super
Beatle cabinets... I just carried six of them into The Rex Theatre
and I'm worn out!
It all goes back to the mid-1960s...
and the rapid size increase of guitar amplifiers...
You see, nowadays guitar amps
are almost always mic'd through the P.A. system. Even small clubs
have a multi-channel P.A. and a soundman and everything gets
a microphone. And you can play a giant venue like the Post Gazette
Coca-Cola Star Lake (or whatever it's called now), with a 50
watt amp, because once it goes through the 10,000 watt P.A. everyone
will hear you!
But the idea of a small amp with
a big P.A. was a foreign concept back in the early 1960s. Guitar
amps were 20 watts... P.A. systems were 30 watts and only handled
the vocals... and everyone was happy. Guitarists were concerned
about their sound and didn't give much thought to the P.A. (OK,
I guess that part is still true today...)
As rock & roll got louder
and more powerful, guitarists wanted to sound louder and more
powerful. And the first thought was: bigger guitar amps! The
Beatles are a good example. They started out with small 15 and
20 watt Selmer and Fender amps. Then they moved to the most powerful
amp in England at the time, the 30 watt, two 12" speaker,
Vox AC-30. When they needed even more volume, Vox designed the
AC-50. The 50 watt AC-50 had a separate head and speaker cabinet,
and the cabinet had two 12" speakers and a high frequency
horn. As The Beatles prepared for their first tour of America,
Vox offered them the ultimate in power (for 1964), the 100 watt
Vox AC-100 Super DeLuxe. The AC-100 not only had twice the power
of the AC-50, the cabinet was twice the size, with four 12"
speakers, two horns, and a chrome swivel stand. It's one big,
Now, getting back to the Super
Beatle Amp... America is a big place, and we like to buy a lot
of stuff. When The Beatles appeared with Vox amps, the demand
from the USA alone was more than the small British Vox company
could handle. The only way that Vox could fill orders from the
USA was to arrange to have them made here, by an American company.
They set up a deal with the Thomas Organ Company in California
to manufacture a complete line of Vox amps. And since the president
of Vox felt that solid state technology was the way of the future,
he decided that the American-made Thomas Organ Voxes, unlike
the tube British amps, would all be solid state.
The Thomas Organ Vox amps mimicked
the British-made models. The USA-made amp that paralleled the
AC-100 was called the Super Beatle. It had the same size cabinet
and the same large chrome stand. (And was just as hard to lift!)
It was similar in power to the AC-100, but it had many more built-in
features, like reverb, tremolo, a mid-range boost and a distortion
circuit. Even from a distance you can easily tell the difference
between the two, because the sides of the head on the solid state
Super Beatle are slanted (it's a trapezoid), whereas the sides
of the head of a tube AC-100 are straight (it's a rectangle).
Oh, and another difference: you will almost never see a real
life AC-100. They were only made on a special order basis for
major touring acts.
However, if you WOULD like to
see an original AC-100, come the the Rex Theater this Saturday!
In addition to the aforementioned six Super Beatle amps (which
we will be playing through on stage), the Pittsburgh Guitars
Beatle instrument collection will be on display, featuring extremely
rare guitars, amps and drums... and an AC-100.
Sorry I got carried away here
with all the explainin'... I went to the Pittsburgh Guitars warehouse
to bring a few things to the show on Saturday, and was surprised
to see that we have so many Super Beatles. Then, I was even more
surprised when I tried to move them. So I thought I'd explain
that if I'm limping on Saturday it's `cause this stuff seems
a lot heavier now than it did when I bought it years ago. And
then, when I tried to describe how big they are, one thing led
to another... and now this email is forty pages long.... Sorry
Anyway, we're gonna have a good
time playing some great Beatle songs, and there will be a cool
display of vintage fab gear, so stop by The Rex Saturday night.
We have about 50 people signed up, but the songs are only two
minutes long, so maybe you can sing one too!
See you soon,
PS: Saturday Night, The Rex,
8 PM! All Beatle music!
PPS: Customer web site:
Friday 8/18/2006 ~ 12-strings
and Folk Music
The other day I was sitting in
the back of the store and I noticed a used Guild 12-string. I
picked it up and began to play. Naturally, I played one of the
two greatest 12-string songs ever: "Walk Right In"
by The Rooftop Singers.
("Walk Right In" is
actually the #2 greatest 12-string song... #1 is "Mr. Tambourine
Man" by The Byrds, but it requires slightly more little-finger
As I played, I thought back to
that often forgotten, I'm-sure-it-was-radical-for-its-time, early
1960s folk phase...
You see, pop music in 1960 didn't
have much of an edge. Elvis was away in the Army, Chuck Berry
was away in prison, Buddy Holly was... well... dead. The charts
in 1959 were dominated by Frankie Avalon, Paul Anka and Bobby
Darin. Those guys may have been cute heartthrobs to 13-year olds,
but the rebellious (for their day) college crowd needed something
with a little more punch. That's when "folk" acts burst
onto the scene... Groups with acoustic guitars (and maybe a banjo
or two) toured colleges and nightclubs around the country, playing
spirited, up-tempo versions of old folk songs. Sure, they had
too many matching striped shirts and too few electric guitars,
but they put a lot of energy into their music. (And, although
I can't quite picture this: they were probably hated by the "parents.")
Folk acts of interest:
- The Rooftop Singers... Yeah,
they only had one hit, the aforementioned "Walk Right In,"
but it's a cool song. (I don't know what it's about... but it
has TWO 12-string guitars playing the same riff!)
- The New Christy Minstrels...
Well, they changed personnel on almost every album, but you should
at least know their song "Green Green" sung by Barry
McGuire. (After he quit the band McGuire had a big solo hit with
"Eve Of Destruction.")
- The Kingston Trio... The quintessential
folk act. They had lots of hits, like "Tom Dooley,"
"Sloop John B" (eight years before The Beach Boys),
and "Greenback Dollar"... plus my favorite, "M.T.A.,"
a song about the Boston subway system.
Needless to say, both the Frankie
Avalon-style acts and the folk acts were swept off the charts
in 1964 when The Beatles and other British bands arrived. But
early 60's acoustic groups paved the way for the electrified
folk-rock acts of the mid-60's, like the Byrds, The Association,
The Buffalo Springfield, and even Bob Dylan. That era of folk
music is an interesting part of music history. And history is
See you soon,
PS: "M.T.A." which
stood for the Massachusetts Transit Authority, was actually written
for a 1948 Boston mayoral race. The Kingston Trio, like many
folk acts, updated an older song.
PPS: One member of the Kingston
Trio, John Stewart (no relation to TV's Jon Stewart), later wrote
a big hit for The Monkees, "Daydream Believer."
PPPS: For a fabulous mockumentary
about the folk era, see the movie "A Mighty Wind" by
the same guys who brought us "This Is Spinal Tap."
PPPPS: On a different note, thanks
to everyone for making last week's Big Beatle Show such a success.
It was great to see such a wide range of ages and musical styles!
What a wonderful, joyous evening. We must do it again! Here are
some pictures: ../links/beatleshow.html
I was very impressed with all
of the acts, especially our students and other folks who had
never played on the big stage before. Congratulations! And I
was also impressed with how great the old Vox amps sounded! And
they actually worked all night!!!
PPPPPS: Customer web site
Friday 8/25/2006 ~ Fleetwood
Mac, The Vogues and More
1) Last week I mentioned The
Kingston Trio and that an ex-member, John Stewart (no relation)
later wrote the big Monkees' hit "Daydream Believer."
(Davy Jones: "What number is this, Chip?" The rest
of the band: "7A") Stewart also had a hit on his own
in 1979 with "Gold." ("There's people out there
turning music into gold...")
1a) "Gold" was produced
by Lindsey Buckingham and features the distinctive sound of Stevie
Nicks on background vocals.
1b) Speaking of Lindsey Buckingham
and Stevie Nicks, their association with Fleetwood Mac had an
interesting beginning. Mick Fleetwood was in California in mid-1974
looking for a new recording studio for the band's next record.
At Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, engineer Keith Olsen wanted
to impress Fleetwood with what he considered a great sounding
recording, a song by the duo Buckingham-Nicks. Mick Fleetwood
was impressed with both the sound and the duo. Later that year,
when Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch quit, Mick Fleetwood hired
Buckingham and Nicks. The following year the newly revamped band
sold a gazillion records with the album, "Fleetwood Mac."
In 1977 they sold an estimated two-gazillion copies of the LP
1c) By the way, Mick Fleetwood
originally only asked Buckingham to join the band, but Buckingham
insisted that they hire his girlfriend Stevie Nicks as well.
Buckingham and Nicks had been together since high school. See,
childhood romances CAN work out! (Oh, wait a minute...)
1d) Just as Stevie added distinctive
backup vocals to John Stewart's "Gold," her first post-Fleetwood
Mac single "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" featured
another distinctive vocalist: Tom Petty.
1e) I just saw Tom Petty on Jay
Leno this week. Although Tom is now kinda scary looking, the
stage looked great... they were using three Vox Super Beatle
Amps! It was almost as impressive as the six we had on stage
two weeks ago at the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show.
1f) Speaking of the Big Beatle
Show, I just got a call from a TV producer in Canada who is doing
a special about Pete Best. He saw our web site pictures of the
Cavern-era Beatle equipment on display at the Beatle Show and
wanted to know if I'd sell my Pete Best drum set. Fortunately,
I speak Canadian, and I was able to say "Sorry, it's a beauty,
eh, but no. Take off."
1g) Getting back to Fleetwood
Mac, they didn't perform for most of 1973 due to legal issues
with their manager. Apparently the manager claimed ownership
of the name "Fleetwood Mac" and he sent a different
(fake) band out on tour under that name. Much suing ensued, and
by 1974 Mick Fleetwood and John McVie got their names back.
1h) This bit of manager shenanigans
happened here in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s with the band The
Vogues. From 1965 through 1974 the original Vogues had 14 hit
records, including "You're The One" and "Five
O'Clock World." In 1975, unbeknownst to them, their manager
sold their contract to a new guy... And the new guy trademarked
the name "The Vogues" and sent different (fake) band
on the road. Suing ensued, but the original Vogues didn't have
Mick Fleetwood's lawyers. Sadly, the original band can now only
use their name in Western Pennsylvania. In the rest of the country
a fake band now performs under the name The Vogues... So if you're
in Vegas and you see a band called The Vogues and the guy onstage
says "Here's a song we recorded in 1966..." jump up
and yell, "Shenanigans!"
1i) Speaking of The Vogues, their
first hit record has an unusual history. In 1965 there was a
hot Pittsburgh band called The Fenways, led by lead singer and
guitarist Sonny DiNunzio. They scored a big local hit with the
single "Walk." When looking for a follow-up, they found
a cool song written and recorded by Petula Clark called "You're
The One." (Petula's biggest US hit: 1964's "Downtown.")
The Fenways recorded "You're The One" and were poised
for success. But after hearing the recording their manager thought
the song was better suited for another one of his acts. The manager
erased Sonny DiNunzios vocals and recorded The Vogues vocals
over The Fenways band track. The Vogues version went on to be
a national hit and started their career. The Fenways never had
another hit. In 1968, in keeping with the changing times, they
changed their name to The Racket Squad. A few years later they
1j) That brings us to the glass
case in the back of the store. I put the Antiguas back in storage, and this month's
offering is Pittsburgh Guitars' Collection of famous "Pittsburgh
guitars." On display we have the very unusual Rickenbacker
456/12 with a 6/12 string converter used by Sonny DiNunzio in
The Fenways and The Racket Squad. Plus: the wildly painted Fender
Custom used by Karl Mullen in Carsickness, a Norm Nardini &
The Tigers guitar painted with tiger stripes, three guitars from
the legendary Pittsburgh band Gravel, the Les Paul Marty Lee
used to record Donnie Iris' hit "Love Is Like A Rock,"
and more. We even have the Fender DeVille amp recently used on
The David Letterman Show by The Clarks. Stop in and check out
some of Pittsburgh's guitar history.
2) OK, I was gonna have a part
(2), but part (1) kinda got away from me...
See you soon,
PS: "Five O'Clock World"
by The Vogues was used a the theme song for The Drew Carey Show
for the first season (maybe two). Someone made a lot of money...
probably not the original guys.
PPS: I don't want to keep bringing
up The Kingston Trio, `cause I don't care THAT much about folk
music... but I would like to mention that there is a Kingston
Trio on the road right now, and NONE of them are original members...