Email Specials from February 2007

Friday 2/2/2007 ~ NAMM Part 2


NAMM Part 2
The Arrival of the Boxes.


After 27 years it's still exciting when UPS shows up. Opening boxes of new guitars and guitar related stuff is like Christmas! And thanks to my big NAMM show orders from two weeks ago, stuff is arriving like mad!

-As you know, I'm a big fan of Martin guitars. (The world's finest acoustic!) My goal is to carry as many different models as we can fit on the walls. Continuing with that plan, on Wednesday we got eleven new models! I think we're up to 40 or 45 different Martins now... (Unfortunately, we now have more than we can display. Fortunately, we now have a three story building, so we have lots of extra room. If you are curious about an HD-35 for example, just ask and we'll have it sent down from the second floor!)

- Our biggest selling amp line is Vox. We were a little low after Christmas, but a big pile just arrived yesterday! I built a Vox pyramid in the middle of the store. (Next week: Stonehenge!)

- Thirty-seven boxes of Fender guitars are arriving later today... Yea!

- This morning we received 96 new songbooks. I ordered books by people that I know (Metallica) and people that I don't know (Jack Johnson?)... But one book that I couldn't bring myself to order was the new Billy Joel guitar book. Now, don't get me wrong. I've always been a B.J. fan. I saw him way way back when "Piano Man" was first released... It was a great show and everybody at the club went out and bought the album the next day. (And now 34 years later he's singing at the Super Bowl!) But the book looked funny with a big on-stage picture of Billy playing guitar. It's like when Mick Jagger plays guitar. He already has the super fabulous Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood playing behind him... Or when Madonna plays guitar. She already has perfectly fine pre-recorded music tracks that she's lip-syncing to...

I know what it is... No matter how big and famous you get as a singer or piano player, it's still cooler if you play guitar. Movie stars, TV personalities, NFL quarterbacks... deep down inside they all wish they could play rock & roll guitar.

So, at least we have that goin' for us! You and I already play. You're most likely better than me, but I still love it! And hey, at least we both play better than Madonna.


See you soon,


PS: Thanks for all of the great "name" suggestions for the new Pittsburgh Guitars guitar strings!! (And a special thanks to Curt from Illinois who has sent over 50 names so far!) I appreciate everyone's input. A couple of my favorites: `Burg Benders; Carson Street Crunchers; and Monongahela Metal... although THAT won't fit on a string pack! (Actually, now that I see those in print they also look like names for roller derby teams...) Well, we still have some time to decide, so if you have any name ideas please send them!

PPS: Getting back to Super Bowl entertainment, Prince will be performing at half-time and I hope he gets a chance to play guitar. He's often viewed as an eccentric, singing/dancing gnome, but he's also a hot guitarist.

PPPS: Customer web site:
1964 The Tribute

Friday 2/9/2007 ~ One-Pickup Guitars


It's hard to go out at night and party down with sub-freezing weather like this... Sometimes it's best to just snuggle up under a blanket and watch TV. This week I watched two rock & roll movies.

The first film was one I discussed in a previous email: "The Girl Can't Help It," starring a gravity-defying Jayne Mansfield. Last year I commented on the movie's proliferation of "black `guard" Telecasters. (Fender Telecasters made between 1950 and late 1954 featured black bakelite pickguards. In the fall of `54 Fender changed the pickguard material to a white plastic... so in vintage-guitar-land those early guitars have become known as "black `guard Teles.") When I watched the movie this week on a bigger screen, I noticed that Little Richard's guitarist was actually using a black pickguard Fender Esquire.

The Esquire was a Telecaster with only one pickup. It looked nearly identical... same bridge, same switch, same knobs... just missing the neck pickup. (The body was even routed under the Esquires' solid pickguard, since the same bodies were used for both Teles and Esquires.) (Which is why it's so easy to convert an Esquire to a Tele... just cut a hole in the pickguard and wire in a pickup... which is what Bruce Springsteen did. If you ever see a close-up photo of his famous Telecaster, you can see that the headstock really reads "Esquire." He added the second pickup.)

It got me thinking about other guitar models that were available with a one-pickup option. In 1954, when Leo Fender introduced his new improved solid-body, the three-pickup Stratocaster, he did not offer lesser-number-of-pickups choices. Likewise, with the next new top-of-the-line models, 1958's Jazzmaster and 1962's Jaguar, one pickup versions were not considered. The only post-Esquire-released single pickup guitar was the budget, short-scale, "student" guitar, the 1956 Fender Musicmaster. (Also available with two pickups as the Duo-Sonic.)

Gibson took a similar path. Their top-of-the-line solid-body, the Les Paul Standard, only came in a two pickup configuration. Later in the `50s the Les Paul Custom featured three pickups. Gibson's only 1950s one pickup guitar was the budget Les Paul Junior. (Catalog quotes: "Moderately Priced!" "Outstanding Value!") (It was also available in a limed mahogany color as the Les Paul "TV Model.")


It occurred to me (as I wondered how uncomfortable Jayne Mansfield must have been with her waist compressed to 18") that besides the Esquire, major guitar companies only offered one-pickup guitars in their budget lines. (The only exception that came to mind was the 1963-1965 Gibson Firebird I, which was a bare-bones guitar ornamentation-wise, but not inexpensive.)


This trend changed in the 1980s. And it was especially obvious in the second movie I watched, "The Decline Of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years." This 1988 documentary of metal bands features lots of one humbuck, one-knob guitars. (And lots of REALLY big hair!) The availability of more expensive one pickup guitars was brought on by three things: (1) the technological wizardry of folks like Seymour Duncan, who can wind a pickup to produce a specific tone or volume; (b) the extensive use of large pedalboards, with so many effects that you can't distinguish the particular sound of a pickup anyway; and (iii) Eddie Van Halen, who showed that genius guitar licks can be produced with one pickup and a wacky guitar.


Now, you're probably saying, what about today, 2007? Well, just like really big hair, one pickup guitars are not as popular as they once were. I think that many people have realized that (a) the beauty of Seymour Duncan pickups is not just that they can be really loud... they can also produce great tone; and (2) even tons of effects pedals can be used tastefully; and (III) Eddie Van Halen would sound great playing a cheap four-pickup Teisco guitar.


See you soon,


PS: One guitar that started out as a budget model, but ended up as a great rock & roll guitar, is the single pickup Gibson Les Paul Jr. There's something about the grit of a P-90 pickup combined with the solid neck joint of an instrument that isn't routed for a neck-position-pickup, that gives you a sound that's fat and powerful.

PPS: Here's a picture of an early 90s Kramer we just purchased. In its day it was a happenin' guitar. It's still pretty cool!

PPPS: Here's a picture of a 1960s Tiesco. With five knobs, six rocker switches and four pickups, it's as far away from the Kramer as you can get.

PPPPS: Still one of the best pickups: "I'm with the band."

PPPPPS: Customer web site:

Friday 2/16/2007 ~ Pickup Construction


OK... so at six o`clock last night I started to think about this week's email special. I usually wait until Friday morning... but this has been such a strange week, with the snow and the ice and the snow...

Anyway, I wanted to elaborate on last week's email about pickups. For example, you may not realize that, although they sound different, the pickups on an older multi-pickup guitar are identical. In other words, all three pickups on an older Strat are the same; both pickups on an older Les Paul are the same, etc. They produce a different sound because of their position relative to the bridge. At the bridge the strings are tighter and the sound is brighter. At the neck position the strings are looser and the sound is bassier. That's why there is no "tone" knob controlling the bridge pickup on a Strat. Leo Fender figured that if you wanted a more mellow sound, you should just use the selector switch to move to the middle or neck pickup. (Which, of course, brings to mind that "tone" controls on a typical guitar are really just "roll-off-the-high-end" controls...)

I also wanted to mention that, in addition to the obvious single-coil vs. double-coil design, Strat and Les Paul pickups are different in that the pole pieces on a Strat pickup are actual magnets, whereas the pole pieces on a Les Paul pickup are screws that are touching a lower magnet (they are magnetic by association!). The result of this difference is that Strat pole pieces exert a stronger pull on the strings, and if your Strat pickups are too close to the strings they will affect the string vibration, and cause weird over-tones... almost as if you are out of tune. This often happens with the neck position pickup on a Strat... it's easy to accidentally have that pickup up too high. As the string tries to vibrate in a happy circular motion, the magnet in the pickup pulls it downward, creating an oval motion. And yuck.

And then I wanted to mention that these days folks like Seymour Duncan are using different magnets and wire and windings to fine-tune the tone and volume of individual emphasize, or de-emphasize, the tonal changes due to pickup location.

So, to learn more about it and try to explain some of the inner details, I logged on to a few web-sites about pickup construction. And after about twenty minutes I had a headache. There were all of these charts and squiggly lines and talk about ohms and resistance... and ow! my brain hurt. I admire Seymour and anyone else who ever made a pickup, but I couldn't follow the electro-magnetic, behind-the-scenes, harmonic-overtone, mumbo jumbo, without becoming numb. Don't get me wrong... I know what I like. I've played thousands of guitars, and I have strong opinions about what sounds good and bad in a guitar and a pickup... But the science of it all started to bring me down. At 8PM I locked the store, and still in a daze I wandered out into the 25-degrees-below-zero wind chill....


As I started my van for the drive home, I popped in the new CD by The Smithereens that Johnny B. (formerly "the-new-guy") gave me yesterday... and suddenly my headache was gone. You may remember The Smithereens from their 1990 hit "A Girl Like You." ( On their new CD, "Meet The Smithereens," they have re-done The Beatles' first Capitol Records' album, "Meet The Beatles."

It made me happy on so many levels. First of all, I've always been a Smithereens fan. The drummer and guitarist were on a Sonny Bono tribute I did many years ago and they're very nice guys. Secondly, it's a fun idea. Lots of bands do cover songs, but it's pretty cool to cover an entire album. And thirdly, it reminded me of the magic of The Beatles. The album opens with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There." These two songs were also both sides of the band's first 45 rpm record on Capitol... and that Beatles 45 is a work of art.

You may have read in the news this week that in Paris the Louvre guards are going on strike to protest the stress of guarding the Mona Lisa. I believe that if you carefully analyze "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" you'll see that that single alone is as much a work of art as the Mona Lisa. Sure, at first glance you might say "it's just two rock & roll songs"... you could also say that the Mona Lisa is just "a nice picture of a semi-smiling lady." But Leonardo da Vinci used delicate brush strokes to create a masterpiece that is far more complicated than it first appears... The beauty of the Mona Lisa is that you can study her for years and still see more. In the same way, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" are far more complicated and intricate than they first appear. The interplay of the instruments combined with youthful exuberance (John Lennon's rhythm guitar work in "I Saw Her Standing There," for example), the more-complicated-than-it-appears drumming (Ringo's two-handed triplets at the end of the first verse of "I Want To Hold Your Hand"), and George Martin's production ("I Saw Her Standing There" is a powerful recording that holds up even today) resulted in a record that impacted an entire generation of Americans.

Do what I did when I was a kid. Listen closely to these two recordings. First listen to just the bass. Then start the record over and listen to just the lead guitar. Then just the rhythm guitar. Then just the drums. Then, once you understand all of the components, listen again to hear how they all fit together. It's impressive. And Pittsburgh Guitars today can be traced back to that 45.


So, I enjoyed my drive home. I got over my inability to concentrate on the technical descriptions of magnetic flux. I remembered that it's the sounds created by electric guitars that I love.

And I also got a kick from the realization that the previously mentioned "I Want To Hold Your Hand"/"I Saw Her Standing There" recordings do not have a Strat or Les Paul pickup on them anywhere.


Because I strongly believe that "I Saw Her Standing There" is a great song, and worthy of analysis, here's this week's special/contest:
Sometime over the next couple of months get together with your band, or duo, or self, and record a version of the song. Send us the recording and we'll put it up on the Pittsburgh Guitars web site and our Pittsburgh Guitars myspace page. After we get a bunch, we (Scott, Mark, John, Rick Marsh and I) will pick our favorite (based on no particular criteria), and the winning act will received a FREE Vox AD30VT amp! (List Price $340!)


(You can send a CD or tape... or contact Johnny B. at the store for other methods of song transfer...)

(Or if you'd like to send a video, we'll put it on the Pittsburgh Guitars youtube page.)


See you soon,


PS: The inclusion of both sides of the hit single "I Want To Hold Your Hand" on the album "Meet The Beatles" was a Capitol Records modification here in America, where LPs always featured the artist's latest hit 45. The original British release of this album, on EMI Records and titled "With The Beatles," did not include these two songs. Our email subscribers in other countries, especially our friends in England, probably question Capitol's decision to re-arrange Beatle recordings... but it made for a super strong, super successful LP... and in the long run it worked out OK.

PPS: The rest of the LP, both "Meet The Beatles" and "Meet The Smithereens," is also great. I just got sidetracked by the first two songs.

PPPS: I forgot to mention that after the success of the "I Want To Hold Your Hand"/"I Saw Her Standing There" 45, The Beatles went on to have a few other hit records...

PPPPS: Customer web site:
The Undertakers

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