Email Specials from February 2008

2/1/2008 ~ New Stuff From NAMM, By Carl


NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants, and twice a year (January and July) hundreds of instrument manufacturers set up display booths and thousands of store owners (like me!) go to see them.

The January show, in Anaheim, California, is the bigger of the two NAMM shows... because right after Christmas store owners are low in inventory and ready to order. (It's also more popular because in January, like every month, the weather in California is warm and sunny! Ahhh.....) (Speaking of warm and sunny, while I was there I hung out with some guys who have a guitar store in Honolulu, Hawaii... Their shop windows look out over the beach... The owner said he likes to take a break every afternoon to play some beach volleyball... It really made me wonder why we live HERE!)


Anyway... I had a wonderful time looking at stuff to order for Pittsburgh Guitars. 2007 was a great year for us. We successfully made the move to our new building. The customers love the red ceiling and the comfortable vibe of the showroom. Scott loves his new giant repair shop. Our teachers, John and Rich, love the fact that the lesson rooms have windows. Everyone is happy. And most importantly, after twenty-eight-and-a-half years, the business is still fun! After all, that's the reason I started Pittsburgh Guitars in the first place.


As I wandered the aisles of the show I wondered what I could do to continue the fun. How could I increase the Fun Factor?
Then I turned a corner... and stumbled into the Eastwood Guitars booth. Eastwood makes reissues of the early-1960s Airline guitars. They have unusual shapes, plastic tops and lots of knobs. And definite FF (Fun Factor) so I ordered a bunch! Then I remembered that earlier in the day, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a company making repros of the old sparkle-top Goya guitars... They were wacky, too. I ran back to that booth... the company name is Italia... and I ordered some of those! AND mid-way through the order I saw that they also make an electric sitar! So, yes, yes, yes!!! The show turned out to be quite satisfying!


Yesterday, the Airlines arrived. Here's a picture of John with a couple of them. This morning we received the Italia guitars. Here's John with a few of those.

Just looking at these guitars makes me smile. I'm sure we won't sell a million of them.... that's what Strats are for. But let's face it, you probably already have a Strat. If, like me, you're looking to increase the Fun Factor in your life, stop in and check these out. They would be a nice addition to your guitar stash. And even if you don't buy one, just looking at them is entertaining.


Of course, if you don't have a Strat, we always have those. In fact, on Wednesday morning (during the wind storm!) I unloaded 80 boxes of Fender guitars and amps into the store. THAT was an experience. Here's me with a couple of dozen boxes in the hallway.



OK, so the plan is simple: In 2008 we will continue to have fun with music and guitars! And thanks to the new Airline and Italia guitars we're off to a good start! Plus, coming in a few months: the new Danelectro models, a new reissue of the plastic-top Hagstrom I, and maybe even a new guitar by our favorite amp company, Vox.


See you soon,


PS: More FF Links:
1) Danelectro's new plan is to limit their production to one or two models and change models every year. Last year's double cutaway "DC `59" (lovingly known as the "Jimmy Page" model, since he played one in Fred Zeppelin) is just about sold out. (I think we have one left.) The "new" one announced at NAMM is the Dano `63, modeled after the classic amp-in-the-case model. Here's a link to the Dano `63!

2) Hagstrom told me that this summer they were going to reintroduce the Hagstrom I. They don't have any pictures yet, but hopefully it will look just like this: John with a 1965 Hagstrom I.
We told them to count us in!

3) Vox surprised us with a brand new model, a super-deluxe, carved semi-hollow guitar called the Virage. It's available in a Les Paul size and a 335 size and it looks and sounds beautiful. Here's a link to more information.


PPS: There are more stories from NAMM. I'll try to recap those next week.


PPPS: Big Beatle Show #4... Saturday, February 16th at The Rex
Sign up soon, slots are filling fast. Hey, I may actually play guitar on a couple of songs!


PPPPS: Customer of the week, Lee Rocker!

2/8/2008 ~ Learning As You Go


Three things happened this week and at first I didn't think they were connected...
1) A friend of mine sent me a CD called the "The Best Of The Animals."
B) I watched my young nephew learn how to count (he's up to "nine").
iii) Tim stopped by the store to play the new Italia Electric Sitar. I requested every 1968 sitar song I could think of: "Games People Play" by Joe South, "Green Tambourine" by the Lemon Pipers, "Cry Like A Baby" by The Box Tops, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder, and more. He played them all. It was great.


Part The First:

The Animals were a 1964 British Invasion band. They had several hits from 1964 through 1966. (Eventually everyone quit and the lead singer, Eric Burdon, went on his own to have a few more hits. He's still around.) As I was driving home, and reaching to play my friend's CD in the car, I thought, "Well... the guitarist, Hilton Valentine, never did any solos, so there won't be a lot of flashy guitar playing on here... and I cringe every time I hear Eric Burdon's vocals on his later solo hit "Sky Pilot" (one of the flattest vocal tracks ever on a hit record, and so bad that it makes me almost not like his earlier stuff retroactively). So, I thought, do I even want to play this CD?" But I played it anyway...
During the first song, "House of The Rising Sun," I said to myself "Hey! I played this song in my first band during high-school!" (I played drums... my brother John played guitar.) Then I remembered that "House of The Rising Sun" was the first song I ever played in 6/8 time. And it was the song that taught me the 1-2-and-3-4-5-6 cymbal beat. (Brief Number Explanation: Imagine that the beat of the song goes 1-2-3-4-5-6-1-2-3-4-5-6, etc... thus the 6/8 time signature... well, there could be beats in-between those... and describing those beats, in drum lingo, you would call the in-between beats "and"... thusly: 1-and-2-and-3-and-4, etc.) If you listen to the cymbal pattern that the drummer, John Steele, is playing, there's an extra hit between 2 and 3. He's playing 1-2-and-3-4-5-6. In this song it's the same beat pattern the guitarist is playing. Click here to listen! (Since this is a 1964 recording, the drums are mixed pretty low... but if you listen closely to the cymbal, you'll hear it.) Well, THIS song is where I learned how to do that.


The next song on the Animals CD is called "I'm Crying," which is in typical 4/4 time. But the drummer plays another interesting beat. Instead of hitting the snare on the normal 2 and 4, every other time around he hits his tom-tom on the "and-4". (BNE: Imagine that the beat goes: 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, etc. Usually a drummer hits the bass drum on 1 and 3, and the snare drum on 2 and 4.) (The beat, where you SHOULD be clapping is on 2 and 4.) Click here and listen to the tom-tom on "and-4." Like the first song the drums aren't mixed very loudly, but he's doing this:
1(bass drum)
2(snare drum)
3(bass drum)
4(snare drum)
1(bass drum)
2(snare drum)
3(bass drum)
"and-4" (tom-tom)
THAT'S where I learned how to do that!!
THEN a couple of more songs into the CD was "We Gotta Get Outta This Place." On this song the drummer plays a dramatic single hit on the cymbal on the "1" for the first three measures, and then switches, and skips the "1," only playing "2-3-4." Here it is. THAT'S where I learned how to add dynamics and color to the intro of the song.


So, within a few minutes of listening to this CD I heard THREE songs that were instrumental in developing my young drumming skills. By learning these three songs as a kid, I greatly increased my drumming vocabulary.


Part Duo:
A day later I watched my young nephew count. He's one or two or something... you know, at that pointing-and-learning-how-to-talk age... He's remarkable to watch. The human brain is spectacular. Much to the dismay of his parents I already bought him his first set of drums. After all, he has that counting thing goin' for him!

When I saw him I tried to remember being that young myself, which I can't. But while I don't recall learning how to talk, I do remember learning how to spell. And I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "Wow, I know how to spell 50 words! But, gee, there must be a thousand words... How is my mother ever going to teach me ALL of them?" Well, it turns out there are more than a thousand words, but I didn't have to learn them all individually. I eventually realized that after you learn the first few hundred you start to get a sense of how a word is spelled based on how it sounds. Your brain searches your memory for how other words that sound like that are spelled... and you can start to formulate spelling options based on previous experience. (Of course, the English language, with words like "there," "their," and "they're" is a bit tricky... but as I said, the brain is pretty spectacular.)


Part (7 + 5)/4:

Then last Saturday, our good friend and regular customer, Tim H., stopped by and played the new electric sitar. I could tell that a few of the songs I requested were ones that he'd played before and were firmly etched in his memory banks. But some of the other tunes were melodies that he had heard before, but never played. It was fascinating to ask for a song, watch his eyes glance to the ceiling as he recalled the melody in his head, and then watch his fingers connect with his mind and find the appropriate notes on the fingerboard. A few seconds later, he was playing the song!

Last night I realized how these events are connected. Just as we learn to speak by mimicking our parents (the way my nephew does), we learn to play music by mimicking hit songs (the way I learned to play drums). And after our vocabulary (musical or otherwise) reaches a certain level, we can start drawing on our previous experience to do things that we've never done before (like spelling a new word, or, as Tim demonstrated, playing a song we've never played before). Yep, the human brain is pretty cool.

So, my advice: read a lot, learn a lot of new words, and learn to play a lot of cover songs. It'll be good for you!


See you soon,

PS: Oddly there was a FOURTH song on the Animals CD that had an effect on me as a youth. They did a cover of a Sam Cook song called "Bring It On Home To Me," and it's a nice example of how to build dynamics in a song. The first verse is just the vocals, piano and bass. Then they bring in the band, then they add an organ that answers the vocals, and eventually they add a harmony line. It's nice the way it builds. I thought it was powerful when I first heard it and I still like songs that "build." Here is "Bring It On Home To Me."

PPS: Hey, I just noticed that the cymbal pattern in "Bring It On Home To Me" is the same as "House Of The Rising Sun"!

PPPS: One of Eric Burdon's no-original-band-members-left hits (credited as Eric Burdon & The Animals) was a song called "Monterey." It featured an electric sitar.

PPPPS: I've never considered myself a big Animals fan, but it's interesting how much I learned from playing their songs. When my brother John & I started our first band we played songs by acts like The Animals and the Rolling Stones because they were musically and vocally simplistic and easy for beginners... unlike the far more challenging songs written by our favorite band, The Beatles.

PPPPPS: Speaking of The Beatles, The Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #4 is next weekend, February 16th at The Rex. We have lots and lots of great acts lined up, including a doctor, a lawyer, and... maybe you! Showtime is at 8PM. The cover is only $5.00. Come and join the fun! Some performers are seasoned professionals... some are nervous beginners... everyone has a good time! Plus, we will also be displaying the giant Pittsburgh Guitars Beatles Instrument Collection.

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Adam Marsland

2/15/2008 ~ Beatles-Related Tidbits


- Last night I stopped at a bar. One of our customers, Paul Tabachneck, happened to be performing there. He was great... and his vintage, small-bodied Martin 00-18 sounded wonderful. In addition to some very nice original tunes, he sang a slow, beautiful version of "In My Life" by The Beatles. Everyone in the bar stopped to watch. I started to think about what a fabulous song that is... and it crossed my mind that if that was the only song you ever wrote in your entire life, people would have respect for you as a songwriter. And yet, that was just an album cut for The Beatles.


- On Wednesday, our longtime friend Billy O'Connor stopped to visit. Billy (who was the original drummer in Blondie) is now playing with Scott and John (the new guy), in a band called The Elliotts. Click Here for their myspace page. The Elliotts play a lot of 1960s stuff, including many Beatles songs. In fact, this summer they will be playing at a Beatles festival in Louisville, KY, called Abbey Road On The River. As we were chatting, Billy told me that it has been a real challenge to learn Ringo's drum parts exactly like the record. To the man-on-the-street Ringo's drumming sounds very simple. But, like a lot of art, the genius is in the details. Even Ringo's seemingly simple rolls are hard to duplicate... due in part to the fact that although he played drums the way right-handed drummers play, he is actually left-handed. He starts many rolls with his left hand, rather than his right, and this leads to a different sounding roll.


- Did you see Tom Petty at The Super Bowl? Here's one of the many youtube versions. Yep, behind him were six Vox Super Beatle Amps! Coincidentally, that's the same number we'll have at the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show tomorrow (Saturday 2/16) at The Rex Theater. If you couldn't make it to the Super Bowl, and want to hear how fabulous those amps sound, come to the Rex tomorrow!


- And speaking of The Beatles, someone just emailed me this video: It's a baby singing "Hey, Jude." And that's why their music spans the generations!



I know that sometimes we here at Pittsburgh Guitars seem to be a bit too Beatle-obsessed. But the more you examine their recordings, the more impressed you get with their songwriting and musicianship. And the more you examine their impact on the world, the greater respect you have for them as a cultural phenomenon.


OK, I gotta go... I have to pack up nine amps, three sets of drums and a couple dozen guitars for tomorrow's show!


See you soon,


PS: A lot of folks wrote back about last week's email on The Animals. We'll get to that next week!

PPS: Big Beatle Show #4
The Rex
Saturday 2/16/08

PPPS: Customer of the week: Winger

2/22/2008 ~ Rickenbackers


This week Karen called me out to the street to see the lunar eclipse.

She said, "You won't be able to see another one of these until 2010!"

I said, "So, you mean that if I order a new Rickenbacker 4003 Bass today, when it arrives I'll be able to look up and see this again?"
I now judge any length of time by its relationship to Rickenbacker's delivery schedule...

Rickenbacker is a small, family-owned company. And they make a super fine product. But a few years ago, because of steadily increasing worldwide demand for their guitars, they started to get a little behind with their manufacturing schedule. And then they started to get more behinder. And then, even more behinderer. It's reached the point that now, in 2008, their average delivery time for new orders is two years! And for vintage reissues, like the John Lennon 325C64, or the George Harrison 360/12C63, the expected delivery is two and a half years! At this year's NAMM show we placed orders for those models that won't arrive until 2010!!

Fortunately, we have been placing Rickenbacker orders steadily for the last five years. And those instruments dribble in on a regular basis. And it's always fun because we never know what to expect... since we don't remember what we ordered back in 2006! This week we received a beautiful 660/12 MG VP. Click here for a picture of John with the guitar. You may not get to see it at the store because Rickenbackers don't stay here very long. They are so hard to find that they tend to sell as soon as we get them. We'll get more throughout the year... we just don't know what... or when!
Now, I'll admit that being two years behind with your deliveries is a bit unusual. But Rickenbacker is not your typical guitar manufacturing company. And here's why: Although most people are not aware of this, Rickenbacker is the ONLY major U.S. guitar company to only sell American-made guitars! Gibson, Fender, Paul Reed Smith, and many others, sell instruments made here in the good old U.S.A., but to fulfill demand they also import guitars from other countries. Even Martin, one of our favorite they've-been-here-forever companies now has a factory in Mexico to make their least expensive instruments. Rickenbacker could open a Chinese factory and sell a thousand guitars on the first day. But they have decided to stay here, and make a high-quality U.S. instrument. And that takes time. And... they're a little behind. It may not be the best way to sell as many guitars as possible, but I admire them for it. They've got a plan and they're stickin' with it. And we're happy to sell their guitars.


See you soon,


PS: We often get comments about the pictures of John in the Email Special. As I looked at the picture Betsy took today I thought, "I wonder what goes on in John's head during these photo sessions?" You've probably wondered, too. Let's have a contest!! Here's this week's photo again, only with a "What-is-John-thinking?" bubble: Click Here. What do you think he's thinking? Send in your suggestions. The person with the best "What-is-John-thinking?" response will get to be in next week's picture!! You'll come to the store and we'll pose you with whatever guitar I'm talking about next week! This is your chance to be seen by thousands of people around the world!

PPS: Thanks to everyone who made last week's Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #4 a tremendous success!! The performers were fabulous and the crowd was bigger than ever. And everyone had a great time! We'll have some pictures next week.

PPPS: Customer of the week: Gene Loves Jezebel

2/29/2008 ~ "That Thing You Do!"


This week I got a copy of the newest DVD release of "That Thing You Do!" a movie about a one-hit-wonder band from Erie, PA, written and directed by Tom Hanks.

This new DVD version features not only the original theatrical release of the 1996 film, it also contains an earlier edit that's 34 minutes longer. And it's really fascinating.

(First a quick synopsis: The movie is set in 1964 and The Wonders are an unknown band. Right before their first gig, a "Battle of the Bands," their drummer breaks his arm. They enlist Guy, a drummer who works at his dad's appliance store to fill in. At the Battle of the Bands, Guy plays their original song "That Thing You Do!" twice as fast as it was written... and while that doesn't go over well with the lead singer/songwriter, it goes over very well with the audience. The song is a hit, the band goes on tour, and they end up in Hollywood... where they break up.) (It's the usual: boy meets song, boy plays song too fast, boy gets song... and girl... band breaks up.)

The beauty of this new longer version is that it shows dialogue, and entire scenes, that were later cut. And the wisdom of those cuts shows the brilliance of Tom Hanks as a movie-maker.

For example, the second scene in the longer version takes place at Guy's apartment. He's with his beautiful girlfriend, played by a then unknown Charlize Theron. Their conversation makes it clear that she doesn't care very much about his musical interests, only his future in his dad's appliance store. It's a perfectly fine scene and I'm sure it cost thousands and thousands of dollars to film. However, four scenes later, when Guy is setting up his drums for the Battle of the Bands, the girlfriend turns to another girl with the band and says, "Do you know how long this will take?" That one line says everything that the earlier five-minute scene said. Despite writing, producing and directing the previous apartment conversation, Tom Hanks realized that "Do you know how long this will take?" perfectly sums up the relationship between Guy and his girlfriend, and he cut the earlier scene. Self-editing is an art. It's impressive to see someone do it so well.


Another impressive thing about this movie is the super-accurate band performances. Tom had the actors learn the guitar parts perfectly, so in every shot their hands are exactly where they should be for each chord.

And the guitars are accurate, too. When the band is unknown, the lead singer plays a `50s Les Paul Junior, the lead guitarist plays a Silvertone Danelectro, and the bass player plays a Danelectro Shorthorn Bass. Just what a young group would be using in 1964! Then, when they became famous, they all got brand new instruments. As could be expected, the bass player moved to a beautiful new Fender Jazz Bass. And in keeping with the Beatle-ish era, the lead singer changed to a Rickenbacker double-bound 360/12. But what impressed me the MOST was the instrument choice for the lead guitarist! Most directors would have given him a shiny new Strat... but Tom Hanks was wise enough to know that he more likely would have gone with Fender's top-of-the-line model, which in 1964 was the Fender Jaguar!


It all started back in 1958. After his success with the Telecaster and then later the Stratocaster, Leo Fender decided to expand his customer base with the first solid-body jazz guitar, the Fender Jazzmaster. The Jazzmaster featured wide, flat, single coil pickups, and a more mellow tone that the Strat or Tele. And, as Fender's most expensive guitar, it also had a new updated wiring system... with two completely different circuits... that allowed for both a rhythm setting and a lead setting. Here's a picture of David, last week's "What Is John Thinking?" Contest Winner, holding a new 1962 Reissue Jazzmaster. If you scroll down you can see a close-up of the controls on the upper cutaway, which feature a vertical switch and two thumb-wheel controls. If the vertical switch is in the down position, the lower volume, tone and pickup selector switches work as you would expect. If the switch is in the up position, only the neck pickup comes on; all of the bottom controls are by-passed; and the upper thumb-wheels become tone and volume controls.

Unfortunately, the jazz players of the world did not embrace the Jazzmaster. Going back to the drawing board, Leo decided to keep the dual-circuit wiring, but brighten up the guitar with new pickups for rock & roll (and surf music) use. This new top-of-the-line model was introduced in 1962 as the Fender Jaguar. Here's David with a 1967 Jaguar.

By the late-1960s the Stratocaster was the clear winner in the Fender guitar line. HOWEVER, I think it's great that Tom Hanks used a Jaguar in "That Thing You Do!" It's an example of the care and research that went into this film. Rent or buy this movie today. You won't be disappointed. It is a joy!


See you soon,


PS: Thanks to everyone who entered last week's "What Is John Thinking?" Contest! Some of my favorites were: "Twice as many strings, twice as many girls!" sent in by Jim C. and "Yeah, you're right, I'm thinking about the Beatles!" sent in by Bill S.

Click here to see our winning phrase. Meanwhile, click here to see what John was REALLY thinking!

PPS: The Jaguar was discontinued in 1975. The Jazzmaster, despite its lack of success in the jazz field, was kept in Fender's product line until 1982. Both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster were reintroduced over the years by Fender of Japan, and in 1999 Fender made them both part of it's American Vintage Reissue Series. The `62 Reissue Jazzmaster and the `62 Reissue Jaguar both do well for us here at the store.

PPPS: In the early 1990s both models were out of favor with mainstream musicians and could be purchased cheaply. Perhaps for that reason they often ended up in the hands of young alternative rock bands. Kurt Cobain used a Jaguar with Nirvana.

PPPPS: Here are The Wonders with their original instruments.

PPPPPS: Here are The Wonders on youtube. The new guitars look great!

PPPPPPS: Here's another youtube video, from a band called Shakka Labbits. I'm not sure who they are, I can't figure out their website... but I love their version of "That Thing You Do!"

PPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Lez Zeppelin

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