Friday 1/5/2007 ~ Micro Frets
You'd think that after 27 years
we'd have sold at least one of every brand of guitar. But here
at Pittsburgh International Guitars you never know what will
walk through the door...
I have heard about this brand
for years, but recently we acquired our first ever Micro-Frets
guitar! You may not be familiar with them... Micro-Frets was
a small, innovative company located in Frederick, Maryland. Formed
in 1967 by Ralph Jones, Micro-Frets introduced a variety of new
ideas, including a multi-part adjustable nut that allowed you
to adjust the height and length of each individual string at
the nut, in addition to similar adjustments from a tune-o-matic
style bridge. They also designed the first electric guitar with
a built-in wireless transmitter. The signal was transmitted over
an FM frequency and could be picked up by any FM radio. (This
process was, of course, later perfected by "Mr. Microphone.")
Mirco-Frets was small, but successful.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s they produced almost 3,000
guitars. Unfortunately, Ralph Jones passed away in 1973, and
his wife, Mrs. Mrs. Jones, decided that the company should end
with Ralph. Despite a lawsuit by the employees in an effort to
keep Micro-Frets open, the company was shut down in 1974.
Although Frederick, Maryland
is not very far away, there were no Micro-Fret dealers in Pittsburgh
and these guitars are rarely seen in this area. The one we have
was made in 1971, and it has a slim, fast neck and is fun to
play. We're happy to have this piece of American guitar manufacturing
The most visible rock star Micro-Frets
player was Mark Farner in Grand Funk Railroad. (Mark liked to
use guitars made by small, independent manufacturers. He also
played guitars made by Messenger and Veleno.) Here's a picture of Mark with his Micro-Frets
Here's a picture
of John with ours.
See you soon,
PS: In addition to his wild playing
and distinctive choice of guitars, Mark Farner was also known
for his tendency to play without his shirt. Today's contest:
List as many famous rock stars as you can that often played shirtless.
We'll draw a winner from the top 10 entrees.
The contest winner will receive
a GHS Strings t-shirt, an Epiphone Guitars t-shirt, a Pittsburgh
Guitars t-shirt, a Panasonic t-shirt (I'm not sure where that
came from, since they don't make guitars, but it's in our promotional
t-shirt closet), a Hofner baseball hat (in case you don't want
to wear a shirt either) and a Levy's Straps Denim Jacket. (Here's
a picture of the jacket.)
PPS: The first shirtless rock
star that came to my mind was Iggy Pop. If you'd like to read
something hilarious, check out Iggy's contract rider.
It has items like:
"We will require the use of two dedicated and intensely
loyal security persons to be stationed at the entrance to each
of the two dressing rooms. Or do I mean one at each? Otherwise
that would be four, and I think we only need two, one at each
door. Wait a minute, let's start a again.
May we have two dedicated and intensely loyal security men, one
for each of the doors leading to the two dressing rooms. Unless
either of the dressing rooms has an extra door... OK...
Please count the number of doorways leading in or out of the
two dressing rooms, then supply an unspecified number of security
men, with the qualities mentioned above, the quantity of whom
shall be exactly proportional to the number of said doors, adhering
strictly to a ratio of 1:1. So probably two in total."
PPPS: Customer web site:
Friday 1/12/2007 ~ Chet Atkins
and Gretsch Guitars
I woke up this morning thinking
about Chet Atkins. Yeah, it seemed strange to me, too. I mean,
he was a very nice guy... I met him in Nashville a couple of
times. But still. Then I remembered that last night I read Gretsch's
announcement that they will once again have his name on their
It all goes back to 1979... well,
maybe 1967... or 1954... but really 1945... by way of 1964...
Chet Atkins was a long-time endorser
and product development advisor for Gretsch guitars. He started
with Gretsch in 1954, and over the years introduced a number
of innovative ideas: painted on f-holes to reduce feedback (odd-looking,
but successful); extensive use of the Bigsby vibrato (not for
Van Halenning, but a nice bender); the zero fret (Chet felt it
increased sustain); and, of course, the famous on-off switch
(not a particularly great idea...) (Chet figured that you could
fine-tune your sound on stage, and then flick a switch to turn
your guitar off during the breaks. In reality, it just lead to
a lot of confusion.)
Anyway, Chet's name was on many
highly successful Gretsch models over the years, including two
of the three Gretsch guitars played by George Harrison. But by
1979 he was upset by the direction of the company and he took
his name and two of the model designations that he had trademarked
("Country Gentleman" and "Tennessean") and
he went home.
What lead to his departure? World
You see, in 1945, at the end
of World War II, thousands and thousands and thousands of soldiers
returned home to do the thing they were thinking about while
fighting. And by the early 1950s there were more kids born than
ever before in the USA. (The oft-mentioned baby boom...) On February
9, 1964, The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. On February 10,
1964, every one of those baby boom kids asked for a guitar. By
1965, guitar manufacturers were making guitars and money hand
Drawn to the large sums of money,
non-guitar companies wanted to jump on the (garage) bandwagon.
CBS, for example, bought Fender. Norlin, a South American beer
company, bought Gibson. And in 1967, the Baldwin Piano company
Unfortunately for the large corporations
looking to make some guitar based cash, the baby boomers had
a lot going on in the 1960s, and not all of it involved playing
the guitar. Guitar sales took a serious nose-dive in 1968 and
1969. Furthermore, with acts like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin
on the scene, the kids who were playing guitar were turning to
solid body electrics, like Strats and Les Pauls... rather than
the hollow guitars that a company like Gretsch was known for.
Baldwin/Gretsch made some nice
guitars in the late 60s and early 70s, but they were losing their
market. And Baldwin was losing money. And the higher-ups at Baldwin
lost interest. Chet Atkins still wanted to make better guitars...
(somewhere around here I have a Gretsch Super Axe, the last model
design that he worked on. I'll get a picture of it next week)...
but the corporation didn't care anymore. Chet quit. And a few
years later Gretsch was out of business.
And that's what crossed my mind
as I was brushing my teeth this morning... The post-World War
II baby boomers and their sudden desire to play guitar in 1964,
which led to big bucks for guitar manufacturers, which led to
small guitar companies being bought up by big corporations. But
the baby-boom-guitar-explosion was temporary, and 1960s music
styles were in flux. And whereas a small guitar company might
have weathered the changes (the way Rickenbacker did, for example)
the big companies saw the times a changin' and closed down. (Or
in the case of CBS and others, sold off the non-profitable musical
instrument department.) I'm not sure what is to be learned by
this... or how we can apply it to our lives... But my teeth sure
Getting back to Chet... The Gretsch
company is back in business again. And they've been semi-purchased
by Fender. And, although Chet passed away in 2001, Fender has
made a deal with his estate to use his name on their newest Gretsch
reissues. They will be introducing the new models next week.
Of course, Fender is now also a big corporation... but they seem
to really care about the quality and historical accuracy of the
Gretsch line. So it will be good to see the Chet Atkins and Gretsch
names connected again.
Since we'll be ordering lots
of the new Gretsches, and we need room for them, I just had the
brilliant idea to create "Discontinued Island!" In
the middle of the store we're putting up a display of last-year's-model
guitars and amps (made by a variety of manufacturers that I can't
mention here) at 50% or more off the retail price! Yes! It's
our New Pittsburgh Guitars "Discontinued Island!!"
Visit it soon!! No passport needed!!
See you soon,
PS: Congratulations to our "name-some-shirtless-rock-stars"
contest winner from last week, Jim C. And thanks to everyone
who entered! I was surprised at how many names were sent in.
Here are some of them:
All of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
David Lee Roth
Eddie Van Halen
Jim Mangrum (Black Oak Arkansas)
Jon Bon Jovi
and the women most often mentioned:
Wendy O Williams
Phat Man Dee
PPS: Customer web site:
Friday 1/19/2007 ~ Army of Anyone,
and Pittsburgh Guitars on YouTube
The coolest thing happened recently.
Robert and Dean DeLeo were playing at The Rex with their new
band, Army Of Anyone, and as they usually do when they're in
town, they stopped by Pittsburgh Guitars to say hello. You may
remember them as the founding members of Stone Temple Pilots.
They are both fabulous guitar players and super nice guys. (Robert
played bass in Stone Temple Pilots and now in Army Of Anyone,
but he's also a hot guitarist.)
So, they were hanging around
and checking out some guitars, when a young kid in the store
recognized them and told them he was a really big fan. He said
he was working on one of their songs but couldn't quite figure
it out. Well, they sat down with him in the back of the store
and showed him how to play the song. He was in awe. I stood in
the front of the store looking back at them, and it gave me a
warm and fuzzy feeling. Here was a kid sitting with two of his
rock star heroes... and he was playing THEIR song... with THEM.
It was a nice scene. It made me feel good all day.
Later that night on stage at
The Rex, Dean thanked us for selling him one of his favorite
guitars, a Gibson Les Paul Custom that he bought here in 1992.
Of course, these days everything
that happens is filmed, so here's a clip.
Meanwhile, speaking of youtube,
next week is the NAMM show, the big musical instrument manufacturer
trade event. To prepare for the show, yesterday the Korg organization
had a big sales staff meeting. Korg owns a variety of amp brands,
including Marshall and Vox. To start the meeting the president
brought out a screen and played one of our Pittsburgh Guitars youtube videos! It's the
one where John cheats on his Marshall stack with a small Vox
Our sales rep said it was a big
hit and everyone was laughing. It's funny to us too, because
when we did the video we never considered that both amp brands
were owned by the same company... and that they'd play it at
a company meeting!
Life is interesting. You never
know how it's gonna work out.
See you soon,
PS: We were going to do a series
of youtube videos about John's on-and-off-again relationship
with the Marshall Stack, but we sold the amp! Recently we bought
another one, so we can now resume the story.
PPS: Other Pittsburgh Guitars youtube videos.
PPPS: The DeLeo brothers with John.
PPPPS: Customer web site:
Friday 1/26/2007 ~ NAMM Part
The NAMM Show report, Part I
"How much is that name in the window?"
In the old days Gretsch guitar
models were always designated by a four digit model number. Some
are known by that number, like the orange single-cutaway Model
6120 used by Brian Setzer in the Stray Cats... And some are known
by their model name, like the "Country Gentleman" used
by George Harrison (which, by the way, is a Model 6122). As I
mentioned two weeks ago, it has always been widely assumed that
when Chet Atkins left Gretsch in 1978 he took two "names"
that belonged to him, "Country Gentleman" and "Tennessean."
After all, both of these names turned up on Gibson guitars when
Chet signed an endorsement deal with Gibson in the early 1980s.
Consequently, when Gretsch was resurrected in the mid-1990s (first
independently, and later in conjunction with Fender) the reissues
of these models had to be renamed... and they were: the "Country
Classic" and "Tennessee Rose."
A few weeks ago, when Fender
announced that they had reached a deal with Chet's estate to
once again use his name and logo/signature on Gretsch guitars,
we vintage-nuts were happy to imagine both Chet's name and the
original model names back where they belong! Well...... as it
turns out, Chet did trademark "Country Gentleman"...
but he never cared about "Tennessean." And by 1981
when he signed with Gibson, the original Gretsch company was
out of business and the name "Tennessean" was floating
in space, unused. So those clever folks at Gibson trademarked
it themselves... and own it to this day. And as you might guess,
they don't plan on selling it back to Fender. So, unfortunately,
while the Model 6122 is once again called the "Gretsch Chet
Atkins Country Gentleman," the Model 6119 is still only
partially accurate as the "Gretsch Chet Atkins Tennessee
Rose." I know it's only a name... but, awwww.
2) Looking for new model lines
One thing I do at the show every
year is look for new guitars to carry here at the store... just
to keep things fun. This year I spent some time at the "Eastwood
Guitars" booth. (http://www.eastwoodguitars.com) They make
very nice reissues of 1960s Airline guitars. (The most recent
famous user of vintage Airline guitars is Jack White from the
White Stripes.) (Although, in his new band, the Raconteurs, he's
using Gretsch Duo Jets.) I sat at the booth... and played the
new guitars... and liked them. But I thought they were just a
little too expensive for a Chinese-made instrument (list prices
$899 and $999), so I didn't order any. I did, however, ask them
how they got the rights to the "Airline" brand name.
They said that no one was using it, so they took it!
*A quick trip down guitar-history-lane:
(I'll type really fast to try to compress this into one paragraph...
you should read it fast too, so we can get to the real point
of this email!) There once were five Dopyera brothers... One
of them, John, invented the resonator guitar and started the
National guitar company in 1927. In 1928 he got annoyed with
his investors and quit to form the Dobro resonator guitar company.
(Nationals were generally all-metal guitars. Dobros were generally
wooden bodies with an aluminum resonator cone.) In 1932 his original
partners ran into financial trouble and sold National to his
brothers. In 1933 they merged to form National-Dobro and things
were great... until World War II. In 1942 many manufacturers
stopped what they were doing to make military supplies. National-Dobro
dissolved and re-formed as Valco to make airplane parts. After
the war they wanted to get back into the guitar biz, but metal
parts for the resonators were hard to find, and the new field
of electrified guitars was booming. From the late 1940s through
1964, Valco made a wide range of electric lap steels, archtop
electrics, and solidbody electric guitars, under their brand
names of National, Dobro and Supro. They also made instruments
for department stores to sell under their own brands. The guitars
Valco made for Sears were labeled "Silvertone." The
guitars Valco made for Montomery Ward were labeled "Airline."
Here's a picture of John holding a rare
1958 Valco Supro.
(1958 was the year Gibson changed the Les Paul Custom from two
single coil pickups to three gold plated humbucks. This Supro
clearly mimics the look of the `58 Les Paul Custom)
3) This bring us to:
The folks at GHS strings have
been friends of mine for years. They make a super fine string.
What you may not know (and they don't like to talk about), is
that they make super fine strings under a lot of different brand
names... just like the Valco, Supro, Silvertone, Airline thing.
You see, there are really only a handful of guitar string manufacturers
in the country. GHS and D'Addario are two of the biggest. There
are probably fifty different string brands out there, but behind
the scenes most of them are made by GHS or D'Addario. (In defense
of the other brands, GHS and D'Addario do modify the composition
of the strings based of the specification requirements of each
brand. So the many different brands aren't exactly identical.)
As I was sitting, chatting with
GHS, it occurred to me that we should have Pittsburgh Guitars
strings! They will make them for me, so they'll be great strings.
All we need is a super cool brand name!
Do you have any suggestions?
So far we have the "Pittsburgh
Guitars Pathway To Cosmic Truth Strings," the "Pittsburgh
Guitars 665.9 Strings" (they are ALMOST evil!), and the
"Pittsburgh Guitars Set-A Strings." (Since lots of
folks just ask for a "set a strings"...)
Send in your ideas for the new
Pittsburgh Guitars string brand. We can design the artwork for
the packaging... we just need a clever name. It can be anything,
as long as it's not trademarked or copywritten by someone else.
(Although if it was once used by the Mongomery Ward department
stores we're apparently safe...)
Thanks! If we use your suggestion
you'll win a bunch of stuff (to be decided later), a couple of
boxes of Pittsburgh Guitars strings and maybe even a free guitar!!!
(OK, I didn't have time to think of the actual prize yet... but
it'll be good!)
Send in your "name"
suggestions from now through the end of February. And soon we'll
have fabulous "Pittsburgh Guitars <insert name here>
Guitar Strings"!!!!!! The best, most unique strings on the
See ya soon,
PS: The "Silvertone"
brand name is owned by Sears. In addition to Valco many other
manufacturers have provided Sears with instruments. Guitars with
"Silvertone" on the headstock may have also been made
by Danelectro, Kay, Harmony or others.
PPS: Customer web site:
The New Cars