Email Specials from September 2006

Friday 9/8/2006 ~ Two Epiphone Archtops from 1951


Well, I'm not sure what to make of this... it involves two Epiphone archtop guitars...


First, here's some background:
1) Once upon a time, long before the giant Gibson bought the name, there was a small independent company called Epiphone.

2) Epiphone was family owned and operated, and unlike the corporate Gibson they could quickly adapt to the changing musical tastes of early 20th Century America...

Scene One:
(The Epiphone factory in New York City)
(A man in a curly mustache enters and shouts to the foreman)
Epi Stathopoulo: Hey! People are starting to party like it's 1919! Stop making mandolins! Start making banjos!

Scene Two:
(The Gibson corporate boardroom in Kalamazoo)
Vice President of Research And Development: What's this new thing the kids are playing?
Underassistant West Coast Promo Man: I don't know. Maybe we should have a meeting.


3) Because they were on top of the trends and made a fine product, Epiphone seriously gave Gibson a run for their money... first, in the 1920s with banjos... and then, in the 1930s with archtop guitars... (Actually, by 1931 things were so bad at Gibson that they mainly manufactured small wooden toys.) (And I don't mean 'toy guitars'... I mean kids toys, like trains and boats!)

4) Archtops were the guitar-of-choice in the pre-electric Big Band era. Unlike the more mellow round-hole flattop guitars, archtops were bright and punchy and could cut through the sound of the saxes and trumpets. (Well, almost...) (At least they gave the guitar player a fighting chance...)


OK, so getting back to 2006...

Three weeks ago a guy walks into Pittsburgh Guitars with an old Epiphone archtop guitar. There's not much demand for archtops these days, but we like old guitars, so we bought it.

Two weeks later another guy comes in and says he wants to sell his late-father's old guitar. We open the case, and lo and behold, another Epiphone archtop! An odd coincidence, but stranger things have happened... We bought it, too.

We buy guitars every day, and everything goes through the shop, where Scott cleans `em, and re-strings `em and sets `em up... so I didn't look too closely at these two instruments until this week, when it came time to put them out to sell. As I was looking up the serial numbers, to date the guitars, I noticed that they were both made in 1951... Then, after a little more research, it turns out they were both made on the same day!

What are the odds that two guitars, made on the same day 55 years ago in New York City, would randomly end up side by side on our sales floor?

So, what should I do? Sell them off and let them go their separate ways, perhaps to be reunited in 2051? Or should I keep them, and start a collection of Epiphone-guitars-made-in-early-January-1951? (The problem with option 2 is that though I've always had an affection for 1951, I've never really cared much for archtop guitars...)

For the time being I've put them away, to give them time to catch up and tell each other what they've been doing for the last 55 years...


See you soon,


PS: The downside to a small business is that sometimes too much of the company's success rests on the shoulders of one person. After the death of the brilliant and innovative Epi Stathopoulo Epiphone's business went steadily downhill. Without Epi, business was bleak in the early 1950s and bleaker in the mid-1950s. By 1957 the company was owned by Epi's sole surviving brother Orphie, and the inventory consisted of 17 upright basses and a bunch of parts. In May 1957 Orphie sold the company to Gibson for $20,000. Gibson didn't get much in terms of physical product, but they finally owned the name of their arch-rival... and they've certainly used it to their advantage. Today they market Korean-made versions of most of their American guitars under the Epiphone brand name.

PPS: We're looking to hire some part-time help here at Pittsburgh Guitars, starting immediately. We need someone who is: (1) a good guitar player, and (b) younger than the rest of us. I watched the MTV video awards this week, and I'm a big fan of the Raconteurs, but I didn't recognize Fall Out Boy or Panic! At The Disco. It would be nice to have someone around the store who is a little more familiar with contemporary guitar-based bands. (I didn't recognize "T.I." either... but I'm pretty sure he doesn't play guitar.) If you are someone like this, or know someone like this, give me a call. We need someone who can work weekdays and weekends. (Although for the time being this will only be part-time.) (Oh yeah, this person must also not mind listening to long-winded discussions about vintage guitars...)

Customer web site:
Great Ants

Friday 9/15/2006 ~ Mark Chatfield, The Godz & Bob Seger


I saw a friend of mine on Jay Leno last night. His name is Mark Chatfield and he's been playing guitar for Bob Seger for 24 years now. (Although Bob hasn't toured for the last fourteen years... so it's not a real steady gig.) Seeing Mark reminded that you never know where life is going to take you.

It all goes back 32 years...

I moved to Columbus, Ohio for three months in the summer of 1974. While I was there I decided I may as well put a band together, so I stuck an ad on a music store bulletin board, just like the one we have here at Pittsburgh Guitars. The first call was from Mark. He was the fastest guitar player that I had ever seen and a nice guy. I remember that he had a Marshall half-stack and since those were the days before amps had "Master Volume" controls, he had to crank the amp almost all the way up to get the sound he wanted. To keep the volume down at rehearsal, we used to turn the speaker cabinet around and push it flat up against a wall. That probably wasn't good for the speakers, or the wall.

At the end of the summer I bought an old U.S. Mail truck to drive my stuff back to Pittsburgh. Mark and I kept in touch, and in October 1974 he called to say that he needed the truck for a new band he was putting together. I traded him the Mail truck for a `71 Strat, a Leslie speaker cabinet and a Vox Super Beatle Amp.

A year and a half later, in 1976, that Super Beatle was the first amp that I sold to the Beatlemania show on Broadway. The sale helped me establish a relationship with the show, and I subsequently bought lots of guitars and amps for them. The more guitars I bought, the more I realized how much I liked guitars. One thing led to another... and it all ultimately led to the founding, in 1979, of Pittsburgh Guitars.

So, looking back: Columbus music store ad... Mark... Super Beatle... Broadway... Pittsburgh Guitars.

The moral: Form a band whenever you can! Even if you don't become famous, you never know where it may lead. And it will be fun along the way!


See you soon,


PS: Getting back to one-thing-leads-to-another: Mark formed a hard-rockin' band in Columbus called The Godz. I went to visit once, and they were all living in the same house and there was a motorcycle in the living room! The Godz's first album was produced by Don Brewer, former drummer in Grand Funk Railroad. A couple of years later Bob Seger asked Don to drum for him on tour. Don told Bob about Mark. And Mark has been with Bob ever since. It was nice to see him on TV last night.

PPS: On a totally different topic, Richie Havens stopped in this week and it was a pleasure talking to him. He and Scott chatted about Woodstock. We talked about life and guitars. He is a warm and friendly guy.

PPPS: Nick Nolte stopped in this week, too. He's filming a movie here in town and he came in to buy a small travel guitar. At least we think that's what he said...

PPPPS: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a fake Fleetwood Mac band that was sent out on tour when their manager claimed ownership of the Fleetwood Mac name. One of our friends, Pam S., wrote to say that she saw the fake band back in 1973. She said that it was a surprise to her and the rest of the audience when strangers, who looked nothing like Fleetwood Mac, and didn't even have a woman in the band pretending to be Christine McVie, came on stage. Needless to say, the crowd reaction was less than friendly. "And then the band gotrude to the audience for not clapping appreciatively enough for their fakeness," said Pam. "It was the weirdest concert I have even been to."

PPPPPS: A longer history of Pittsburgh Guitars is here.

PPPPPPS: Customer web site:
Richie Havens

Friday 9/22/2006 ~ More From Iceland


Remember a month or so ago when I mentioned selling a Vox bass to a guy in Iceland who played in a band called Cynic Guru and he sent us his band's CD and we really liked it?

Well earlier this week we were selling a guitar strap to a nice young couple and we noticed that they had an interesting accent so we asked them where they were from and they said "We're from Iceland and we're going home tomorrow."

So we said "Hey we know a band from Iceland called Cynic Guru" and they said "We will be at the big Iceland Airwaves music festival in a few weeks and Cynic Guru will be playing there" and we said "Tell them we said hello" and they said "OK."


(It's not a terribly complicated story, so I wanted to get it out in as few sentences as possible.) (Although, I must admit it's cool to send a "hello" to a country so far away...) (We asked the couple if Iceland was cold and covered in ice. They said, "No." Apparently the average winter temperature in Iceland is 35, which is warmer than Pittsburgh, and the average summer temperature is 55, which is cooler than Pittsburgh. So to them, WE, with such wide temperature swings have the odd climate.) (You know, now that I think about it, it does get really really cold here in Pittsburgh... and then really really hot...) (... what's up with that??) (Although, we do have an easier-to-deal-with light/dark arrangement. In the winter they have three to four hours of sunlight, and in the summer it never gets dark!)


Anyway, they said Iceland is a beautiful country and we should visit.


Oddly enough, on Wednesday a band called "1349" stopped in to Pittsburgh Guitars and they were from Norway. They said that during the winter in their hometown it's dark continuously for nine months straight! THAT would be depressing. Although, there must be some advantages to that situation... Let's see.... Well, you could save money on sunglasses. And you could take a nap whenever you wanted, since it would always be dark. And if someone was walking on the other side of the street and you didn't remember his name, you wouldn't have to worry about him yelling, "Hi, Bob" and you not being able to yell his name back, since it would be dark and you wouldn't see each other anyway.... So, yeah, I guess nonstop darkness would be interesting...


BUT you wouldn't be able to have a picnic in the park and throw a frisbee around with your dog and take your battery powered Vox amp and play your electric guitar while having some delicious sandwiches and some refreshing lemonade... No, you couldn't do THAT! So, sunlight IS good!

By the way, in case you don't have a battery powered Vox amp yet, it's this week's email special item. And what cool item it is. The Vox DA-5 amp has 11 different built in amp models and 11 different built in digital effects. It also has a mic input and a line-in for your CD or MP3 player. It's a loud 5 watts, adjustable down to 1/2 watt. It runs on electric power or batteries. And now, for the first time it's available in four different colors! Including pink! (Red, black, and green are the other three...) Here's John with them.

Sorry we can't tell you what the email special price is... but it's $15 lower than our regular discounted price... and we can't tell you that either, because it's already too low and they won't let us...


See ya soon,
Pittsburgh Guitars
(where we offer daylight up to 12 hours a day!)


PS: More DA-5 info...

PPS: Just last night a regular customer (shopping here for six years now) saw the Email Special sign-up list and said, "What's this?" We said, "Don't you get an email from us every Friday??" And he said, "No, but I want to!" If you know anyone who isn't on our list but should be, tell them to send a message and we'll sign `em up!!

PPPS: Customer web site:

Friday 9/29/2006 ~ A joke


Hi folks!

Hey, I just spent two hours writing an email special story... but I've decided it was too depressing... and I'd rather be happy.... so I'm going to scrap it.



I'll replace it with a joke:

A dog walks into an employment agency and says, "I'm looking for a job." The guy behind the desk is shocked and says, "Wow, a talking dog! I know a circus that will hire you immediately!" The dog says, "What would the circus want with a plumber?"


See you soon,


PS: The original email concerned the use of pre-recorded Pro Tools tracks in supposed "live" performances. Sure, you expect it at the Mellon Arena with P-Diddy and gyrating dancers... but this week I saw it at a smaller venue by a rock & roll band and it brought me down.


PPS: I'm all better now, though!


PPPS: Coming Saturday October 28th!
Night Of The Singing Dead, Part XIV!
All Live!!! At The Rex Theater!!! 8PM!!!!

PPPPS: We put a vintage Pittsburgh Guitars TV Commercial on our youtube page.

PPPPPS: Customer web site:
Slim Forsythe and the Parklane Drifters

Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars