Email Specials from November 2008

Friday 11/7/2008 ~ Suite: Judy Blue Eyes


Yesterday I was standing in the Bank Bar, waiting for my soup, when I suddenly remembered June 6th, 1969.
No, it wasn't the soup. Sure, they say that the sense of smell is a powerful trigger of old memories... but yesterday's potato and pepper soup only reminded me of the day before. (It was good then, too!)

The June 6, 1969 memory was triggered by a song on the Bank Bar's radio: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Crosby, Stills & Nash.


It's a fond memory. A pleasant summer evening during graduation week, and I was with several of my high school friends. Tom Reitzel's parents were out of town, so we met at his house, to hang out, and talk about life. I remember little about the conversation... We were young, naive, suburban high schoolers, in a pre-internet world... so we didn't know much about anything. But I do remember that someone showed up with a brand new album by a brand new band, called Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The names were familiar. All three had recently left famous bands.

To me, David Crosby was the most well-known. Although Roger McGuinn was the granny-glass-wearing-Rickenbacker-12-string-playing frontman in Crosby's old band, The Byrds, Crosby was famous for his distinctive on-stage appearance. He played either his Gretsch Tennessean or his Gretsch Country Gentleman, and he always wore some sort of cape/poncho-like thing. (Thirty years later I found out that he chose the cape/poncho look because he was self-conscious about his weight!)

Steve Stills' former band, Buffalo Springfield, only had one big radio hit, "For What It's Worth," and that was way back in 1966. But he did have good sideburns, and also played a Gretsch guitar. (Usually a White Falcon.)

I kinda knew that Graham Nash was from the British band The Hollies. I had all of their early 45s, "Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window," "Carrie Anne," and "Stop Stop Stop." But like most Americans, I couldn't have told you who was who in that band.

Despite the recognizable names, the music was unlike anything we had ever heard before. It was far more mellow than a lot of the music we had recently purchased (like the first Led Zeppelin album, released a few months earlier), but it wasn't wimpy or sappy. It was rock & roll guys, with rock & roll clothes, and rock & roll guitars, doing music and vocal arrangements that were complex and intricate. It spoke to us. And it spoke perfectly to the times.

That night in June we played the Crosby, Stills & Nash album, over and over, until dawn.


Thirty-nine years later, all of us have heard the songs from that album a thousand times. And after a thousand times it's natural that things lose their impact and meaning. But yesterday, in the Bank Bar, I was suddenly and unexpectedly drawn back to the summer of 1969. To an innocent time, on a warm summer evening.

And that is the beauty of music.


See you soon,


PS: Years later I came to realize that part of the mellow sound of the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album is due to their extensive use of Gretsch guitars. Unlike other guitars, most Gretsch instruments don't have a rotary "tone" control. If the guitar is a bit too bright, you can't roll off just a little high end. Your only choice is a tone toggle switch, which makes things seriously mellow. I talked about the Gretsch switches in an Email Special back in March. Here's a link to that in the Email Special Archives section of CarlsGuitarCorner.

PPS: David Crosby and poncho.

PPPS: The Bank Bar isn't really called the "Bank Bar." It's actually the "Carson City Saloon." It's located at the corner of 14th and Carson, in a building that was a bank for 109 years. It was our bank for many many years. During the financial mergers of the early 2000s, Mellon Bank sold the building and it eventually became a bar. It still looks like a bank to me, except now when I deposit my money there, I never get it back out.

PPPPS: I wonder if any of my high school classmates remember spending an entire evening listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash? Someday I should track them down and ask.

PPPPPS: I know there are many folks on this email list who weren't even alive in 1969... and to them I must seem really old. Well, you're right! But... someday it will happen to you!

PPPPPPS: Thanks to all of the folks who wrote to say they enjoyed last week's Email Special video. Making it was a lot of fun... but it wasn't easy. First of all, it was hard to get John's dressing room trailer into the store. And then we had to hire catering for his entourage. And the Nauga handlers were always running around the store, trying to keep the Naugas in line. Those little monsters won't listen to anybody!

PPPPPPPPS: When I announced the "Write A Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song" Contest I said that the cut-off time would be early November. But songs are still arriving, and a couple of folks asked for more time. (And we were distracted by that election thing.) So, if you're working on a song, feel free to send it in. We'll pick a winner before Christmas!

PPPPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Richard Shindell

Friday 11/14/2008 ~ The Fender Jaguar


I went out to dinner on Tuesday for my birthday. I wanted the evening to be special, so I wore a tie. Things always seem fancier if you dress up a little.
Here's an example.

Dressing things up was discussed at CBS Musical Instruments headquarters, in October 1965. I believe the conversation went something like this:

Larry Tate: Gentlemen, we just bought the Fender Electric Instrument Company from Leo Fender for thirteen million dollars in cash, and twenty-four dollars worth of beads. But the company's top-of-the-line guitar, the Jaguar, is still being outsold by the lower-grade model, the Stratocaster. What are we going to do about it?

Darrin: Well, the Jaguar already has a more complicated switching system than any other guitar in our line. In fact, I bet that forty-three years from now people still won't understand how it works...

The other Darrin: And we already offer it in a variety of designer colors...

Darrin: Wait!! I've got an idea! Why don't we do something that has never been done before on a Fender guitar: Put binding on the fingerboard!!
The other Darrin: Yes! THEN it will be the fanciest guitar we make!!

And so it came to pass. In December 1965 the Jaguar fingerboard, previously just plain rosewood with humble dots, was given white binding down its sides. And did it become the biggest selling Fender guitar? Er... no.


Six months later the three men met again:
Larry Tate: Welllllllll............

The original Darrin: It just occurred to us that this guitar we're having trouble with was developed as an off-shoot of the Fender Jazzmaster. Remember how, in 1958, Leo introduced the Jazzmaster with wide single coil pickups, in attempt to get a more Gibson-like sound...

The other Darrin: That's right. Leo's original pickups are narrow and bright sounding. Gibson's pickups pick up a wider section of the string, and produce more low end...

The original Darrin: And even though the Jazzmaster hasn't worked out very well because the pickups have a tendency to buzz... and even though we gave up on the wider pickup and went back to the narrow pickups with the Jaguar...
The other Darrin: We STILL think there is something to be learned from Gibson...

The original Darrin: We need to copy something that Gibson does on THEIR top-of-the-line electrics, like the Les Paul Custom and the ES-355! We need to do something that has never been done before on a Fender guitar: We should replace the dot markers on the fingerboard with block markers!!


And thus it happened. In the summer of 1966 the dots on the Jaguar fingerboard were changed to blocks!! And forsooth, did it NOW become the best selling Fender guitar?? Ah... well... no. But it WAS fancier!

Despite its visual "dressing up," Fender's Jaguar never reached the prestige status of the Les Paul Custom. Sales continued to fall. It was dropped from the line in 1975.

But isn't it exciting to know that now, decades later, we can use these visual changes to roughly date a Jaguar even if we don't know its serial number? Isn't it fun to know that if you see a band on David Letterman using an old Jaguar, you can turn to your significant other and say, "Hey, look! An early 1966 Jaguar!" Yep!!!!


Here's John with a 1963 Jaguar, in a cool white custom color. Note the dot inlays and unbound neck. The Jaguar featured an unbound neck with dot inlays since its introduction in 1962.

I don't own a December 1965 thru mid-1966 Jaguar... with dot inlays and binding on the neck... but a famous dead guy had one. Here's Kurt. The bound fingerboard with dot inlays indicate that this guitar was made between December 1965 and June 1966. (Yes, he changed the pickups.)

Here's John with a 1966 Jaguar... with the new fancy block inlays.


See you soon,

PS: By the way, the next design modification that Larry, Darrin and Darrin made was changing the Fender decal from an outlined one, to solid black. They figured that from a distance the logo would be more visible that way. The word "Fender" on the Jaguar decal was changed in 1968. Here are pictures.

PPS: You probably noticed that in the above photo of John with the 1966 Jaguar, there are yellow spots where the player's forearm rubbed the guitar. The black and red layers of lacquer have been worn off, exposing the first layer of paint, the yellow coat. You won't see this happen on most modern guitars, which feature a polyurethane finish, but it's common on older guitars with nitrocellulose lacquer finishes. I like it. Worn guitars look like they've had a long exciting life! Here's my favorite old Jaguar!

PPPS: Like other guitars that had fallen from favor... and therefore were easily affordable... the Jaguar eventually became popular with young, new bands. That's why they turned up in the hands of players like Kurt C., Thurston and Lee from Sonic Youth, and others. Naturally, once the Jaguar re-surfaced on TV Fender reissued the model. Japanese-made reissues were introduced in the late 1980s and an American-made `62 Reissue has been made since 1999.

PPPPS: As I mentioned above, the Jaguar was designed to be an improvement on an earlier model, the Jazzmaster. Fender didn't give up on the Jazzmaster, though. They continued to make it along with the Jaguar. The Jazzmaster was manufactured from 1958 until 1977. Here's a a picture of John with a 1960 Jazzmaster. Like the Jaguar it was later reissued, in both Japanese-made and American-made versions.

PPPPPS: In fact, this year Fender introduced a signature Elvis Costello Jazzmaster. Here's John with a new Elvis Costello Jazzmaster.

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Drive-By Truckers

Friday 11/21/2008 ~ Pictures of Unusual Guitars


So, I was loading the truck for a guitar show in Philadelphia this weekend, when Betsy interrupted. She had John posed in the photo room upstairs, and she wanted to know what guitar to put in his hands...

Since I was busy piling guitars and amps on a dolly, I hadn't yet given any thought to the email special. I told her, "Help me lift this 1932 bass drum with a light-bulb built inside, on top of this stack of amps, and then just pick something interesting off the wall..."

And she did. Here's John.
When I saw the green bass I immediately thought of Poison. (Not the drink, the band.) I wasn't an actual Poison fan, but they were on MTV a lot back when MTV actually played music videos, and I kinda liked them. I appreciated the fact that they obviously weren't taking themselves too seriously... compared to many other hairspray-using, eyeliner-wearing, spandex-dressing bands of the era. (Cinderella, Whitesnake, et al). I'm a firm believer that music should be fun, and Poison seemed to be having some.

Just as I was wondering about the 2008 marketability of an all-green instrument, Betsy said, "How about this one?" John #2.

Now even though we have this item for sale in the store, I must admit I don't know much about Traben basses... But it does have a lot of metal on it!

This, of course, would not be the best bass to play outside during a thunderstorm. But it might offer added protection if a gun-fight broke out in the bar you were playing...
And that reminded me of a guitar that we had around fifteen years ago. It was a Telecaster with a bullet hole right through it. It came from Nashville, Tennessee. (I'm not sure who shot the guitar, but I'm pretty sure you get a free gun with any guitar purchase in Nashville...) It was a nice, clean shot, too, right around where your forearm goes over the guitar. I should have kept it, but sadly we sold it. I wish I still had it. (By the way, that sentiment applies to 90% of the guitars that have gone through this store in the last thirty years.)

After Betsy's first two choices, I finally had an idea! If you've been watching Comedy Central lately, you have probably noticed them promoting this Sunday's Stephen Colbert Christmas Show. In the ads Stephen is dressed like a cowboy and playing a Martin "Cowboy V" guitar. I'm not sure what the "cowboy" motif has to do with his Christmas special... but we DO have a Martin Cowboy V guitar in the store. I told Betsy to put a cowboy hat on John and take a picture with that guitar.

Well, it turns out that our official store cowboy hat was packed away with the Halloween Show props. But we did have this!


Since I have to get back to loading the truck, we better stop the picture-taking now. I'll try to have something actually organized for the NEXT Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special!

Meanwhile, stay warm!


See you soon,


PS: Since we have the above pictures of odd guitars, we should also have one of a truly beautiful instrument! After a two year wait, we finally received this Rickenbacker 660/12 AFG! It may be the most attractive Rick we've ever had. It features an "Amber Fire Glo" finish, which was Rickenbacker's "Color Of The Year" in 2006. (We ordered it back then. They're a little behind in production...)

PPS: You're probably wondering why I mentioned Stephen Colbert, after he ruined my birthday last year. (Here's the link.) Well... he really is funny. I'm going to accept his claims that he had nothing to do with the grammatical error that bothered me so much. (Although he has YET to send me a new copy with a correction!)

PPPS: I just remembered one of my favorite show openings: At the start of each episode of The Colbert Report he does three, overly dramatic, teasers of the upcoming segments, and he ends with an introduction to the show. On one episode the introduction comment was: "I don't proof-read my copy, so I have more time to bring you the turth!!" Sometimes it's worth staying up until 11:30 just for the intro!

PPPPS: Do you know why the 1932 bass drum has a light bulb built into it? (Besides the super stylish look of a lit-up bass drum?)

PPPPPS: Next week is Thanksgiving, so the Email Special may take a week off. If that happens, have a happy Thanksgiving and I'll talk to you in December!

PPPPPPS: We'll pick a winner in the "Write-A-Pittsburgh-Guitars-Theme-Song" Contest then! If you've just joined this mailing list, check out our archives (here) for more info on the contest. If you haven't sent in your song yet, do it now. Thanks!

PPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: The Gabe Dixon Band

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