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...
(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!
(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
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
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
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:
Friday 9/22/2006 ~ More From
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
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,
(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!!
Customer web site:
Friday 9/29/2006 ~ A joke
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
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.
Slim Forsythe and the Parklane Drifters