Email Specials from November 2007

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 other side.

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 models.

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 songs.
(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:
Mark Lucas

Friday 11/9/2007 ~ Guitars on TV


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 TV watching!


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 let me know.

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
The Breakup Society!
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 of America.

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 library card-carriers."

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 went.

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 prediction.


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:

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