Friday 11/2/2007 ~ The Martin
Factory, Beatle Songs, and Ukuleles
So, two weeks ago I had a chance
to tour the Martin Factory again. In the three years since my
last visit they built a wonderful new Martin Museum, with hundreds
of old guitars spanning the history of the company. One advantage
of Martin being continuously family-owned is the wealth of original
artifacts... like C.F. Martin (the First)'s original workbench...
his original hammer (he'd hammer in the morning)... and a variety
of other vintage tools. And I noticed that they're generally
using the same types of tools today!
The factory is rather impressive.
They have a large room full of men and women hand-building instruments...
the same way Martin employees have been making guitars for the
last hundred years. I stood for fifteen minutes and watched a
guy hand carve the dovetail neck joint on a D-28. There was a
great sense of artistry and history. I tried to mentally compare
that to a big factory in China where they put a tree trunk in
one side of a giant machine and thirty guitars pop out of the
They were happy to see me at
the factory (it's either my sparkling personality or the hundreds
of Martins we've sold here at Pittsburgh Guitars...) and they
took me on a secret tour of their stash of expensive, rare wood.
Despite the fact that it's a big planet we live on, it's now
getting harder and harder to get the best guitar-making woods...
(I'm gonna blame it on all of those log cabins our forefathers
built!) ... so they actually have Brazilian Rosewood, Adirondack
Spruce and other valuable woods under lock and key. They use
these rare woods for high-priced special orders and Limited Edition
Getting back to the museum...
the many displays chronicle the history of the company, and one
section mentions that in the late 1920s Hawaiian music was so
popular that Martin produced twice as many ukuleles as they did
guitars... That brings us to the email special from October 19th...
On October 19th I described how
Hawaiian music led to the formation of Fender Musical Instruments...
which led to the invention of the Fender Telecaster... which
led to the Precision Bass and the Stratocaster... which led to
rock & roll and life as we know it. In that same email I
showed pictures of John with different Fender lap steel guitars.
And for variety, I included a picture of John with a vintage
Hofner lap steel just like the one John Lennon played on the
song "For You Blue." I also mentioned that "For
You Blue" was the last song ever recorded by The Beatles.
Almost as soon as I hit "send" I realized the error
of my ways... and I'd like to correct that now.
First a brief history of the
last three Beatle albums...
(a) On November 25, 1968 The
Beatles released the massive double-record "White Album."
Although it's a great record, the recording sessions were a bit
fragmented, with different band members working on their own
(b) In January 1969 they decided to get back to working as a
band unit, and they wrote and recorded an album's worth of songs,
including "Get Back." (And along the way made their
last ever public performance on the rooftop of their Apple office
building.) Two new George Harrison songs were played during these
January sessions, "For You Blue" (with the Hofner lap
steel) and "I Me Mine." Everything went well with the
project, except for the excessive drug use, the constant bickering,
assorted band members threatening to quit, and, of course, Yoko.
By March 1969 they decided they weren't happy with the recordings.
They put the potential LP on hold and started their next, and
final, album "Abbey Road."
(c) The fabulous "Abbey Road" was recorded from April
through August, and released on October 1, 1969.
(d) Once "Abbey Road" was done, The Beatles decided
to do something with the January recordings. The new release
would be both an album and a movie, and titled "Let It Be."
However, one song from January 1969 wasn't properly recorded,
and on January 3, 1970 The Beatles recorded "I Me Mine"
for the "Let It Be" album. This January 3, 1970 taping
would be their last official group recording session.
(e) "Let It Be" was released on May 18, 1970
(f) So, to recap: "Abbey
Road" was The Beatles' last recorded album. The "Let
It Be" LP was recorded BEFORE "Abbey Road" but
released after it.
(g) After the release of "Abbey Road" one last song
was recorded for the "Let It Be" album, "I Me
Mine" written by George Harrison.
(i) When I was typing the email
special for October 19, 2007 I remembered that the last song
The Beatles recorded was a George Harrison tune left over from
the January, 1969 sessions. But I guessed "For You Blue"
with the lap steel, instead of the other one, "I Me Mine."
Sorry about that. I should have looked it up.
(j) By the way, George Harrison
was a big ukulele fan!
On October 20, 2007, one day
after the October 19 Hawaiian email, Bob S. dropped off a DVD
copy of the movie "The Jerk" by Steve Martin. ("...and
this chair.") In the movie, Steve and Bernadette Peters
walk on the beach and sing "You Belong To Me" while
Steve plays the ukulele. In the movie's DVD extras they show
you how to play the ukulele and the chords for that song. You
can then play along with Steve. It's a nice touch for a DVD extra!
Here's the song.
It's been an exciting week here
at Pittsburgh Guitars, where all the amps are loud, all the guitars
are good looking, and all of the customers are above average.
There's lots more to talk about... but this email is already
a tad long, so until next week....
See you soon,
PS: Hey, last week's Night Of The Singing Dead show was a sold-out
success. Thanks!! We'll have photos up on the site, soon!
PPS: Speaking of George Harrison
and The Beatles' last public performance, the Fender Custom Shop
has just released a Limited Edition Rosewood Telecaster just
like the one George played on the Apple rooftop. We got one in
this week and have already sold it, but you can see a picture
of the guitar and it's new owner Mike S. on
our home page.
PPPS: Customer of the week:
Friday 11/9/2007 ~ Guitars on
Oft' times, after working a twelve
hour day here at ye olde guitar store, I like to go home and
snuggle up under a blanket on the couch with my TiVo controller.
And, as I take a moment to relax with my nightly Cabernet and
the evening's sitcoms, I'm always happy to see a TV character
playing the guitar.
Last week on "How I Met
Your Mother" Neil Patrick 'Doogie Howser' Harris, who plays
Barney, competed with Josh Radnor, as Ted, for the affections
of a woman who "plays in a reggae band." In the final
scene, Barney, hoping for romance, sat on her couch as she practiced
one note over and over (it was reggae, after all...) on her 1954-55
Reissue Fender P-Bass. Although the bass was only on the screen
for 10 seconds, you could tell it was a 1954-55 model since it
had a single coil, Strat-style pickup (used from 1952 through
1956), a contoured body (introduced in 1954) and it was an early
two-tone sunburst (used until 1955.) And you could see it was
a reissue by the depth of the gloss finish. In the 1950s Fender
used lacquer, but they now use polyurethane, which gives a "deeper"
look to the finish.
A few minutes later as I was
fast-forwarding through the commercials,
I briefly caught sight of a Gretsch hollowbody. I rewound and
watched the commercial. (Boy, commercials are long... and there
are LOTS of them...) This ad was for Febreze air-freshener and
shows a girl playing a bamboo yellow Gretsch Anniversary. In
the 1950s and early 1960s Gretsch was famous for its colorful
guitars... and they made several two tone models- a light & dark green, like this, and
a yellow and tan like this.
Four years ago when Gretsch decided
to reissue the yellow guitar, they called me and asked if they
could borrow an original one, to get the color right. I said
"Sure!" but before the sales department could get mine,
the R&D department picked some colors and started manufacturing
the instruments. The reissue colors, as you can see in the Febreze
ad, are a harsher yellow top, with reddish sides and back. Here's the catalog photo.
It's a far less attractive color
scheme, but it's still nice to see the guitar prominently featured
in the commercial.
There was an even cooler scene
in a recent episode of the new Showtime series that has the same
name as the last Red Hot Chili Peppers album. (A lot of folks
get this email at work, so I'm not sure if I can say the name
of the series....) On this series David Duchovny plays Hank Moody,
a troubled writer who is barely likeable. Fortunately for the
show, it's hard not to like Duchovny. He makes the character
sympathetic enough to keep you watching... if you don't mind
a lot of people doing things that I also can't write about...
In this particular episode he gets an unexpected, large royalty
check and offers to buy his 13-year-old daughter a new guitar.
Previously she was seen using a recent issue sunburst Les Paul
Standard. In this episode they visit a large guitar store near
Hollywood and he offers to buy her any guitar on the wall. Her
first choice is a red 1965 Fender Mustang, like this.
But as they're pondering, over
at the counter they see a semi-scruffy musician holding his young
daughter offering to sell his old guitar. The counter-guy says
no and semi-scruffy and his daughter walk away dejected. Fortunately
his guitar was on-screen for two seconds, just enough time to
see that it was a 1959 Les Paul Special. Duchovny and his daughter
follow him to the street and ask about it. He says he needs money
for his family and although it's worth more, he'd take $1,000.
Duchovny hands him $13,500 in cash and everybody is happy. I
haven't watched this week's episode to see if the guitar re-appears,
but I certainly hope it does!
Even with only two seconds of
screen time the 1959 Special was obvious. The flat body, with
no contoured top, immediately indicated it was either a Les Paul
Junior or Les Paul Special. Since it had two pickups, it was
a Special. (The Junior has one pickup.) And since it was a double-cutaway,
that made it a 1959 model. It looked just like this, except it was "TV
yellow" instead of red.
Yep, that was a good night of
See you soon,
PS: Last week I mentioned the
scene in the movie "The Jerk" when Steve Martin walks
along the beach with Bernadette Peters. He sings "Tonight
You Belong To Me" while playing the ukulele. Here's the video.
I know that Steve is an accomplished
banjo player, so I presumed he played the uke on the soundtrack.
However, one of our email special readers Jim T. writes to say
that the actual uke in that scene was played by the famous ukulele
player, Lyle Ritz. That's what I love about our Pittsburgh Guitars
customers! We love guitars, and other stringed instruments, enough
to KNOW that sort of thing!! Jim T.'s email really made me smile!
PPS: Hey, our new site Carl's Guitar Corner is catching on! One
of our friends, Paul Buriak has even offered to start a blog
associated with it. Here's the link to Paul's contribution.
He's gonna write stuff about the store and music and whatever.
It looks pretty cool. I'm not too blog-knowledgeable, but I think
you can add to it, or add comments... Check it out. And if you'd
like to contribute anything else to carlsguitarcorner.com let
PPPS: Speaking of Carl's Guitar
Corner, this week's video is the world's youngest Beatle tribute
band, "Stockwood." They're great! And the guitars look
HUGE on them, just the way they looked on the original Beatles.
Hmmmm.... I always wondered how tall the real Beatles were...
PPPPS: Customer of the week:
This Saturday Night, 11/10/07
Plus: The Frampton Brothers!!
31st St Pub
Wednesday 11/21/2007 ~ How Steven
Colbert Ruined My Birthday
For my birthday last week I got
a copy of the new book by Steven Colbert, "I Am America
(And So Can You)." Needless to say, I was excited! I'm a
big fan of his show, and I knew his book would be parodyific.
I read the cover, cover to cover, and then the inner dust jacket
flap. Everything indicated it was going to be brilliant. Then,
on the VERY SECOND PAGE (in the Introduction, so it's labeled
"page viii") there is a typo! And not an accidental
typo, like "peolpe" instead of "people."
It's a typo based on a basic lack of understanding of the English
language... and to me a typo that appears so often these days
that I'm beginning to have concerns about the intellectual future
On page viii Colbert discusses
"America's Heroes" and he defines them as the "people
who bought this book." I smiled at that comment as well
as the following sentence, when he indicates that people who
merely "borrow" the book are not Heroes. Then, referring
to those who may borrow the book, he says "They are no better
then welfare queens mooching off the system like card-carrying
No better "then" ?????
I was shocked. I closed the book. And now I can't bring myself
to read the rest... It makes me too sad.
Colbert, on the dust jacket,
claims that he didn't write the book, he merely dictated it into
a cassette recorder. But someone typed the manuscript. And someone
else proofread it. And someone else MUST have read it before
it went to print. So that's at least THREE people involved with
this book who don't know the difference between "then"
and "than." And it would be bad enough if it was just
this one poorly edited book. Sadly this erroneous substitution
of "then" for "than" is becoming more and
more commonplace. I see it on newsgroups, blogs, forums, discussion
groups and even in some low budget publications. And now, in
an actual hardback book, semi-written by someone I respect. It's
as if I went to see Van Halen and the band kicked into "Hot
For Teacher," but suddenly Eddie started to play the wrong
chords, and not because of a legitimate rock star excuse... like
he was drunk or high... and not because he suddenly decided to
play jazz... but because he simply thought that's how the song
This week I saw a movie called
"Idiocracy." It was written by Mike Judge, writer and
director of the movie "Office Space" and creator of
the TV show "King Of The Hill." In "Idiocracy,"
a normal, everyday guy is frozen and wakes up 500 years in the
future, where everyone in the world is stupid. It's pretty funny...
until you realize that at the rate we're going it may be an accurate
Of course, you may be wondering
what this has to do with guitars... Well, not much. But fortunately,
my birthday wasn't totally ruined. I put the book down, THEN
I went to see Blue Cheer at the Rex. They were a lot older THAN
they were in 1966 when "Summertime Blues" was a hit.
But they still had the sound... and the volume. THEN I went to
see The Frampton Brothers at the 31st Street Pub. Ed's Les Paul
was a lot heavier THAN Sean's Gretsch Silver Jet, but they both
sounded great. Hearing a couple of good bands cleared my head
and cheered me up! Maybe my mistake was reading in the first
place. Hey, wait a minute....
See you soon,
PS: Hey! Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanks for being our favorite customer all of these years. It's
been fun hanging out and talking about music and guitars and
stuff. Sorry I got carried away with the "then" and
"than"... it's just a pet peeve of mine... and I've
never been good with pets. But, come on, they don't even SOUND
the same... it's not like "their" and "there"
and "they're"... oops... OK, enough about English and
spelling... Next week it will be all guitars, all the time...
In fact I had a nice chat about guitars with Jacques from France
last weekend at a guitar show in Wilmington, Delaware. I'll tell
you about it next week. Actually, the vintage guitar market is
currently going through some changes, I should have talked about
THAT... but it's already 10:35 AM on Wednesday and you're probably
leaving work early for the holiday weekend and I don't have time
to start over... Next week: Guitars! And I ain't kidding!
PPS: Hey.... there's a band you
should see this Saturday at The Rex. I used to go to see them
thirty years ago at The Decade when they were called Gravel...
and at a time when most local bands were doing cover tunes, they
were packing the clubs with great original material. Eventually
their songs were covered by big time Nashville artists like Hank
Williams Jr, Mel Tillis, Alabama, and many others. They changed
their name to Corbin/Hanner, and today both Bob Corbin and Dave
Hanner have million-selling gold records on their walls. They
are among the most successful songwriters ever to come from Pittsburgh.
Saturday, November 24, The Rex, 8:30PM
PPPS: Customer of the week: