Email Specials from March 2007

Friday 3/2/2007 ~ Vox Amps


I missed last week's email because I was at a vintage guitar show in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

But first let's go back to 1982... Or maybe 1962...

You see, in 1962 Tom Jennings owned and ran the most successful amplifier line in Great Britain: Vox. Then one of the bands using his amps kinda hit the big time. (Perhaps that should be "BIG TIME.") For the first year or so, Tom was thrilled... but it was definitely a case of "Be Careful What You Wish For." By 1964, when The Beatles came to America, the worldwide orders for Vox amps far exceeded Tom's manufacturing capabilities. He couldn't possibly satisfy the demand. To subsidize more and more expansion, he sold more and more of his company to outside investors. By 1967 Vox's primary stockholder was The Royston Group and Tom Jennings was gone. The Royston Group, though, had lots of other non-musical-instrument investments, and in 1969, when several deals went bad, they declared bankruptcy. Throughout the 1970s an assortment of other companies bought and sold the Vox brand name, trying to resurrect it... but by 1980 Vox was once again out of business.

This brings us to the early days of Pittsburgh Guitars. In 1982, Paul Buriak, one of our hip-to-what's-happenin' customers, told me that yet another company, Rose-Morris, had purchased the Vox name. (I'm not sure how he heard about it... after all, this was pre-internet!) (I guess from British magazines...) I called Rose-Morris in London and made arrangements to meet them in their hotel room in Chicago at the 1982 NAMM show. (They couldn't afford an actual NAMM show booth...) (Yeah, looking back, it may have been odd to go to a hotel room with two strangers... but they had such nice accents!) I'll never forget walking into that room and seeing a brand new shiny Vox AC-30 sitting on top of a road case. And for added drama they had a Les Paul hanging from the amp by it's guitar strap.

I immediately made arrangements to import the two models they were making, the AC-30 and the V125 head and cabinet. At that point, no one in America was carrying their amps (few stores even seemed interested) so they had no US distributor. I remember going out to the cargo hanger at the airport to pick up the amps. It was very exciting.

Jumping ahead to a few months ago, an old friend of ours, Hank Lawhead, who purchased one of those first V125 amps in 1982, asked if I'd like to take it back in on a trade. I said, "Of Course!!" I've always been sentimental... plus it's a rare piece of Vox history. Every company that has owned the Vox name has manufactured some version of the AC-30, but the V125 head and cabinet was only made by Rose-Morris during the mid-1980s.

(Rose-Morris, by the way, sold the Vox name in 1992. In recent years it has been purchased by the Korg company and they are doing a great job with it. Just watch Letterman, or Leno, or Conan some night. 80% of the bands appearing on those shows have at least one AC-30 on stage with them.)


OK, so getting back to last weekend... When we go to guitar shows it's always nice to stand out among the hundred other dealers. Of course, we have our sparkling personalities... and the fact that our guitars are actually set-up and play well... and then there's our cool Pittsburgh accent. But, I also like to take an interesting conversation piece to draw people into our booth. So last weekend I took the Vox V125. I figured that most folks wouldn't even know what it was. And wouldn'tcha know, another dealer brought one too! I've never seen one at a show before, and probably won't again, but sure enough... another one of the handful of V125s that made it to the USA in the early 1980s found it's way to Spartanburg, SC last weekend!

And this has happened many times before. I remember one show when I took a super rare, never-saw-another-one, Orange 8x10 cabinet. And, yep, right across the aisle, another Orange 8x10! There should be a name for these kinds of occurrences. A coincidence... but not one that is really important or earth shaking... but just makes you say, "What the...?!?!"


Anyway, we had a great time. It's always fun to be in a room with a thousand guitars!


See you soon,


PS: Speaking of Vox, we are currently holding our "Free Vox Amp Give-Away Contest." Send in a recording of you, your duo or your band doing a version of "I Saw Her Standing There." In a month or so, we'll pick a winner for a Free Vox AD-30VT amp! (Send a tape, CD, mp3, myspace or youtube link, or whatever format you'd like!)

PPS: Customer web site:

Friday 3/9/2007 ~ Guild Guitars


Wood You Believe...

OK, I couldn't help myself. I'm not sure where we're gonna put `em, but this week I ordered 20 new Guild guitars...


But before we get to that, let's briefly go back to the mid-1940s. There once was a dapper young man named Epi Stathopoulos... and his company, Epiphone, made some of the finest guitars of the era. Many players considered the Epiphone archtops to be superior to Gibson's. Unfortunately, World War II brought factory production to a halt. And Epi's death in 1943 brought him to a halt. Although manufacturing picked up again after the war, Epi's sister and two brothers fought constantly over the direction of the company. As things began to unravel they decided to relocate production from New York City to Philadelphia. Many of their key craftsmen, however, didn't want to make the move.

In 1952 Alfred Dronge organized these ex-Epiphone employees and formed the Guild Guitar Company. With talented, experienced builders Guild grew steadily over the next two decades. In the late 1950s they moved to a bigger factory in Hoboken, New Jersey, and then in the late 1960s moved to yet a larger plant in Westerly, Rhode Island. Things were on an upswing, and led by Al Dronge they made a quality, well-respected guitar. Al loved music and he loved guitars. Unfortunately, he also loved flying his private plane... right up until the end... of the runway, in 1972. With Al gone the company changed hands several times. By the late 1980s they were still making a superb instrument, but were in financial disarray. They were nearly bankrupt in 1995 when Fender bought the brand.

Now, what about Pittsburgh Guitars and Guild? Well, I've always liked them. Here's a picture of me with a 1971 D-25 that once belonged to Dave Hanner from Gravel (later the Corbin-Hanner Band). Dave wrote several million-selling songs on this guitar (and along the way added and removed four different pickups!)


We started carrying Guilds in 1986 and we sold a bunch of them right up until the Fender purchase. When Fender closed the Rhode Island factory in 1996 and moved manufacturing to the West Coast, we figured we'd let things settle a bit before re-ordering.

Now in 2007 Fender is up to speed with a beautiful line of American-made Guild guitars. They have also introduced high quality, all-solid-wood, Chinese-made Guild acoustics. Now I don't know much about the world market, but lately I have seen some fine instruments come out of China. And my dealer friends across the country have told me wonderful things about these new Chinese-made Guilds. (And I love General Tso's Chicken!) So I ordered some expensive USA-Guilds and some not-so-expensive imported-Guilds.

Yesterday we received two USA models: a beautiful D-40 (as used by Richie Havens) (who was in our store a few months ago and is a very friendly guy), and a super beautiful D-55 (as used by George Strait) (who we never met...) (but he's probably a nice guy, too...) I presume the other guitars are on a slow boat from...


See you soon,


PS: You're probably wondering, why the imported Guilds? Well, I was always a Made-In-USA snob, especially when it came to imported instruments featuring vintage brand names. But I started to question things when I saw that the new Japanese-made Gretsch guitars are actually better constructed than the older, original ones. And we've been very happy with Fender's imported guitars, both the higher level vintage reissues and the entry level guitars. And now more and more companies are building factories in China and turning out great stuff. Let's face it, the bottom line is to get good, affordable guitars into the hands of players. The most important thing is the music. We want as many people as possible to play guitar. (The world would be a better place!) And if you need a nice instrument, but don't have $1000 to spend on a USA-made guitar, it's good to know that there is an alternative.

PPS: Several folks who have entered our "Send Us Your Recording Of 'I Saw Her Standing There' And Maybe Win A New Vox Amp Contest!" have expressed concern that their recordings weren't professional enough. I know I said I'd put the entries up on our Pittsburgh Guitars web site, but I don't have to. That's not the important part of the contest. The important part is to gain an appreciation of a fabulous, simple-yet-complex, rock & roll song. So, keep sending in your stuff. Don't worry about the quality of the recording. We don't have to put `em up for the world to hear, unless you want us to. We'll announce a winner sometime next month.

PPPS: Customer web site:
The Corbin/Hanner Band

Friday 3/16/2007 ~ "Mistakes" in Songs


I was riding in the car yesterday listening to satellite radio, and I heard a catchy old song by the band War, called "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

It starts with a miniature piano riff and oddly there's a mistake right around the one-and-a-half-second mark. I remembered how much that bothered me back in 1975 when the song was on the charts. I often thought, "Couldn't they just have stopped at, oh maybe, three seconds into the song, and started over??"

Now, in 2007 however, I was happy to hear it. The little mistake made the record feel so human. I miss that in music. Recordings today utilize so many computer programs that songs are just too perfect and sterile.

I started to think about other hit songs with mistakes... Like "I Saw Her Again Last Night" by the Mamas & Papas. Going into the last verse the vocals come in a line too early. They sing "I saw her..." and stop. The same thing happens in The Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" (the ultimate recording of that song) when the vocalist misjudges the start of the second verse. He sings one word. (I'm not sure what it was... we never could understand the words to that song... that's why everyone thought it was dirty...) (You know, the FBI actually started an investigation of that record, questioning whether it was obscene. Their conclusion: We can't understand the words.) That reminded me of another song with a mistake, only this time it was the band: In "Hold On I'm Comin'" by Sam & Dave, half of the horn section forgot that the chorus repeats after the second verse. They play the chorus riffs perfectly once, and then put their horns down, realize their mistake, and jump in halfway through the repeated chorus.

A mistake that wasn't on a "hit" song, but makes me laugh whenever I hear it, is on a tune by The Rolling Stones called "I'm Free." It has drum hits between certain vocal lines... Let's use the professional musical term "dum" to represent a combination snare drum and high-hat hit... The chorus of the songs goes (you sing Mick Jagger's part):
"Hold me" dum dum dum
"Love me" dum dum dum
"Hold me" dum dum dum
"Love me" dum dum dum
Can you mentally picture that? (Well, mentally hear it?) Now, the goal would be to have all of those "dums" in time with the rest of the song. But on this recording Charlie Watts flubs one... badly. I've always presumed that they figured it was just a filler album cut, and no one would ever hear it. (In the US the song was used as the flip side of the hit 45 "Get Off Of My Cloud.") It's ironic (and not like "ra-eee-ain on your wedding day...") that forty years later "I'm Free" would be heard by millions of people when the recording was used on a Chase credit card TV advertising campaign! Fortunately, the TV commercial was only 60-seconds long and didn't get to the mistake.

(Actually, Alanis Morrisette's entire song "Ironic" could be considered a mistake, since she misuses the word throughout the song. The scenarios she describes in the song are unfortunate coincidences, but not ironies.) (Although it could be ironic that I've used the song "Ironic" as an example in this email...)


You know, to make a long email even longer, as long as we're speaking of flip-sides-of-forty-year-old-records-being-used-in-TV-commercials, I smiled when I recently saw an ad for Volvo featuring "I Gotta Move" by The Kinks. ("I Gotta Move" was the flip side of 1964s "All Day And All Of The Night.")

And speaking of The Kinks, last week I decided to listen to some old Kinks stuff, and I stumbled across some live recordings. I'm a big Kinks fan and I used to see the band often. Listening to the old concerts reminded me that when you saw the band you never knew how fast they'd play the songs... or what parts they'd forget... or what mistakes they'd make. It was always an exciting, unpredictable experience. Which brings me back to contemporary sterile recordings... The same holds true of "live" concerts. So many parts of a "live" performance these days are pre-recorded and played back on a computer, that there's little room for human error... and human generated excitement.

I guess you can't fight the advance of technology, and its use in music. But the thing that I love about musicians is that one moment there will be silence, and in the next moment this person, or group, will create audible art. It's like something from nothing. I admire that creative ability. And I guess that's why I like guitars so much. They don't play themselves. They require concerted human effort... more than merely pushing a button. And the art created on a guitar is human-made.

OK, I've rambled on enough... I have to get started on the taxes...

Remember: be good, eat your vegetables, make some music, don't worry about mistakes.



Oh yeah, I should try to promote the store....


See you soon,


PS: Other store stuff:

-The Pittsburgh Guitars Guitar Strings are still in the works.

-The "Win A Vox Amp" Contest is fun. And there's still plenty of time to send in your recording.

-The Guild Guitars have started to arrive... five so far. They're very nice! Stop in and check `em out.

-And speaking of nice guitars, we just got a batch of Martins. I ordered a lot of them because prices are going up soon and I wanted to get YOU one at last year's price!
As you may know, Martin's "15 Series" guitars are all solid mahogany... and while they sound wonderful, mahogany guitars generally don't have the most distinctive grain patterns. BUT one of the most recent arrivals has such a cool look to it that I HAD to show you a picture. Here's John with a new Martin 000-15. I like the look of that guitar!

-And speaking of modern technology and guitars, just today we received Fender's newest innovation: it's a high-tech Strat that, with the turn of a knob, will go from regular tuning to dropped D tuning, to open G tuning, to DADGAD tuning and more! It's pretty wacky.


PPS: Customer web site:

Friday 3/30/2007 ~ Things I Grew Up With


As I sat here at the store working on taxes last night at midnight, I also pondered today's email special. (By the way, those rumors you've heard about late-night-loud-drunken-college-students on the South Side: all true.)

Three things came to mind: 1) On Tuesday someone emailed and asked if we'd be interested in selling handmade acoustic guitars from an independent luthier; 2) Last Saturday I participated in a wine-tasting party with the neighbors; and 3) Wednesday I had a delicious stuffed Tilapia lunch at Red Lobster.


When I got the email about the handmade guitars I quickly wrote back and said "thanks, but no thanks." After all, I thought to myself, they may be nice instruments, but they won't have the marketability of brands that my customers already know. Then, I thought to myself, wait a minute... you love guitars, what if they are something special? Well, I thought to myself, even if they are nicely made,they won't have the emotional impact of old brands that we've enjoyed for years... Then Mark called from downstairs with a question, so I told myself I'd get back to myself later.

The wine-tasting event was interesting. Four people, four bottles of wine with the labels covered, try to guess the cheap one, try to guess expensive one. (Much to my surprise I WAS able to pick them out!) (Which is bad, since now I'll want to buy more expensive wine...) Half way through the evening the conversation turned to music and my neighbor said he really liked the album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." I said, "Oh, are you an Elton John fan?" And he said, "Not really. It's just that that album was out during an important part of my youth. It meant a lot to me then, and consequently still does." He then said more stuff, but since I was most of the way through a bottle of wine I don't remember the rest... (I do have vague memories of later pulling out a Strat and a Tele and trying to explain the differences. Some people get angry when they drink; some people get giddy; I try to explain the wonders of different guitar models to non-guitar players...)

At Red Lobster I was impressed with the creamy lobster sauce on the stuffed Tilapia. I was also impressed with the in-house background music. I heard Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, and other cool songs from my childhood. I wondered if forty years from now Red Lobster will be playing Akon Featuring Snoop Dogg. Or will "Chain Of Fools" always be a better song than "Don't Matter" (Akon's current #1 song on Billboard)?


This morning I realized that these three stories are all connected. I don't have a great interest in new guitar brands because I grew up with Les Pauls, Stratocasters and Martins. As a perfect counter-example, Paul Reed Smith (a relative new-comer) makes excellent instruments. Scott says that they're the easiest guitars to set-up because they are so well made that they adjust perfectly. And I appreciate Paul Reed Smith guitars. BUT I'll never have an internal emotional connection with them. A Les Paul will ALWAYS mean more to me. My neighbor is not an Elton John fan, but he will always have a connection with "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." And as much as I like some new music (not necessarily Snoop Dogg) I will always prefer songs from my early days. So, your adolescent years may be tough ones... trying to figure out life and relationships and where you fit in... and I certainly wouldn't want to go back. But it's interesting that the music of your youth stays with you, and stays comforting. At least to me.


See you soon,


PS: Thanks to all of you who have entered our Send-In-Your-Recording-Of-"I Saw Her Standing There"-And-Maybe-Win-A-Vox-Amp Contest. Since some folks are still working on their recordings we're going to extend the contest beyond the end of this month. See the PPS below.

PPS: Hey! Two things just occurred to us. 1) May is our anniversary: 28 Years! and B) We haven't had a Grand Opening Celebration for the new store! (It was winter, after all.) So, on Friday & Saturday, May 18th and 19th, we're going to have a combination Anniversary/New-Store-Grand-Opening Party Weekend! We will have lots of sales and give-away stuff and contests and whatever else we can think of. (Maybe some extended hours, maybe some manufacturers sales reps demonstrations, maybe some drinks...) We'll also pick the "I Saw Her Standing There" contest winner. And if everything goes according to schedule, we'll debut our new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings. So, mark it on your calendar (or enter it in your Blackberry) - "May 18th and 19th: Stop by Pittsburgh Guitars!"

PPPS: If you're new to this list and would like to know more about the "I Saw Her Standing There" Contest, reply back and I'll send you the email from a few weeks ago that explains things!

PPPPS: Customer web site:

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