Email Specials from January 2007

Friday 1/5/2007 ~ Micro Frets Guitars

 

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 history.

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 guitar.

Here's a picture of John with ours.

 

See you soon,
Carl

 

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:
Project Object

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 guitars.

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 War II.

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 over fretboard.

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 bought Gretsch.

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 are clean!

 

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,
Carl

 

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:
Ted Nugent
Slash
Anthony Keidis
Flea
All of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
David Lee Roth
Rob Halford
Eddie Van Halen
Jim Mangrum (Black Oak Arkansas)
Keith Richards
Freddy Mercury
Henry Rollins
Jim Morrison
Kid Rock
Mick Jagger
Ron Wood
Roger Daltry
Robert Plant
Jimmy Page
John Bonham
Paul Stanley
Sid Vicious
Johnny Rotten
David Bowie
David Johanson
Simon LeBon
Vince Neil
Tommy Lee
Nikki Sixx
Rick Allen
Phil Elliott
Peter Frampton
Joe Perry
Steve Tyler
Rod Stewart
Ozzy Osbourne
Pat Simmons
Steve Perry
Angus Young
Bon Scott
Roger Taylor
Mark Farner
Scott Weiland
Axl Rose
Lemmy
Billy Idol
Scott Ian
Sebastian Bach
David Coverdale
Bret Michaels
Rikki Rockett
C.C. DeVille
Steve Vai
Rob Halford
Jon Bon Jovi
Kip Winger
Dave Mustaine
Lars Ulrich

and the women most often mentioned:
Wendy O Williams
Phat Man Dee

PPS: Customer web site:
The Meridians

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 amp:

 

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,
Carl

 

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.
http://www.youtube.com/pittsburghguitars

PPPS: The DeLeo brothers with John.

PPPPS: Customer web site:
Brad Yoder

Friday 1/26/2007 ~ NAMM Part 1

 

The NAMM Show report, Part I
"How much is that name in the window?"

1) Gretsch

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 planet!!!!!

 

See ya soon,
Carl

 

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


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