Friday 11/7/2008 ~ Suite: Judy
Yesterday I was standing in the
Bank Bar, waiting for my soup, when I suddenly remembered June
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
The June 6, 1969 memory was triggered
by a song on the Bank Bar's radio: "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"
by Crosby, Stills
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
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
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
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
PPPPPPPPPPS: Customer of the
week: Richard Shindell
Friday 11/14/2008 ~ The Fender
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.
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
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
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
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
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 other Darrin: We STILL think there is something to be learned
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.
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
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
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:
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
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
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.)
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.
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
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
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?)
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: