3/7/2008 ~ Switches
We're very happy here at our
new Pittsburgh Guitars International Headquarters building.
One thing puzzles us, though.
A light switch on the second floor. It just doesn't seem to do
anything. I know what you're thinking... somewhere there's a
garage door going up and down. Yep, we suspect the same thing.
Still, it's a mystery.
For the sake of explaining mysterious
switches, I was happy when several folks responded to last week's
email special and said they now finally understood the switches
on a Fender Jaguar.
Here's a recap... Click here for a picture of John with a 1963
Jaguar. (Last week David, our contest winner, was holding
a near mint condition 1967 Jaguar that's for sale here at the
store. THIS one is from my personal collection. I've always been
fascinated with instruments that have played a million gigs.
As you can see, this one has played a song or two... thousand!)
here for an explanation of the switches.
Other guitar switches that often
mystify folks are those on your basic Gretsch hollow-body. Here's
John with a new Gretsch Nashville. Chet Atkins designed the
wiring system on the Nashville and many other Gretsch hollow
bodies, and he had some interesting ideas. First of all, all
of the knobs are volume controls. The only "tone" control
is one of the two toggles on the upper cutaway. In the center
position the switch does nothing, when you move it up it brings
in a capacitor to make the guitar bassier. In the down position,
it's even more bassier. To hear this switch in action, listen
to the guitar solo in "Michele" by The Beatles. It
almost sounds like a bass guitar.
The other upper switch is a normal
pickup selector switch.
In the lower section of the guitar, the switch near the two rear
volume controls is an unusual "on/off" switch. Chet
felt that if you had all of the other controls set exactly where
you wanted them, you should be able to turn the entire guitar
off when you take a break. This switch generally just confuses
people. Tonight I'm going to see a Beatle tribute band called
1964. To avoid any on-stage issues they permanently disconnected
the the "on/off" switch on their Gretsch Country Gentleman.
Lastly, the odd lever near the
bridge adjusts a mute that presses against the strings. It's
not something that you would use often, or ever, but it's nice
to know that if you want to completely deaden your strings, you
Click here for a pictural explanation
of Gretsch switches.
I don't know if this kind of
thing happens anymore, but remember when you were a kid, and
your grandfather had a workshop in the basement, and if something
broke in the house he'd just grab some nuts and bolts and wire
and fix it? Ten (or twenty) years ago I bought a Gretsch Electromatic
that a guy inherited from his grandfather. This guitar started
out as a non-cutaway, single pickup, sunburst archtop guitar.
After grandpa made a few alterations it looked like this: John
with slightly modified guitar. It even came with a schematic:
here. Aww... those were the days...
See you soon,
PS: Next week we should investigate
the most mysterious of guitar controls, the Rickenbacker "Knob-Of-Confusion."
The small 5th knob on a Rickenbacker.
PPS: Dr. Ken sent us some nice
pictures from our recent Big Beatle Show #4. We put a couple at the
top of the home page. That was a fun night! People are already
asking about the next one...
PPPS: Speaking of CarlsGuitarCorner.com,
our friend Paul has been putting some cool stuff on his CarlsGuitarCorner
blog. He's compiling interesting music stories from all over
the internet. Go to "Paul's Blog" from the link on
our home page.
PPPPS: If you have anything you'd
like to add to our second site, CarlsGuitarCorner.com... pictures,
videos, songs... and of course, gig posters... send `em in!
PPPPPS: Customer of the week: 1964 The Tribute
3/14/2008 ~ Rock & Roll
Monday night VH1 featured a live
broadcast of this year's Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame inductions.
It was an interesting show... some parts more than others. I
appreciated, for example, that John Mellancamp could (a) accept
his award, (b) give a speech, (c) then walk a few feet to the
center of the stage and... (d) rock. If you're a performer being
inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you should be
able to perform, and it should be Rock. Which made Madonna's
induction rather odd. (I think it was Madonna. The parts of her
face that haven't been pulled back to her ears kinda looked like
her...) I agree that she's certainly made a lot of money in the
music business. And if they had a "Makes Millions And Millions
Of Dollars By Dancing Around In Strange Outfits While Lip Syncing
To Pre-Recorded Dance Club Music Tracks" Hall Of Fame, she
should be a charter member. But her appearance at this event
seemed to be due to her commercial success, rather than what
she's been commercially successful at doing. She did mention
three times in her speech that she plays guitar... but afterwards
she opted to not actually do that. Instead, Iggy Pop appeared...
and really did rock... performing his versions of a couple of
I'm not the world's biggest Iggy
pop fan... that would be Sam, here at the store... but I am the
biggest fan of his contract rider. Click here for a one page sample. Click here for the entire contract rider.
Getting back to John Mellencamp, during his acceptance speech
he still seemed upset about the whole "Cougar" thing.
The history: Back in the late 1970s, at the insistence of his
management company, his first six albums were released under
the stage-name John Cougar. It wasn't until he had #1 hits with
"Hurts So Good" and "Jack & Diane" that
he had enough pull to change to his real name... almost. His
seventh and eighth albums were released under John Cougar Mellencamp,
and by his ninth LP he was finally just John Mellencamp. I can
understand having pride in your original name, but he wasn't
the first artist to perform under shorter, easier to spell, nom
du plume. A brief sampling:
* Bob Dylan - Robert Zimmerman
* Les Paul- Lester Polfuss
* Gene Simmons - Chaim Witz
* Freddie Mercury - Faroukh Bulsara
* Axl Rose - Bill Bailey
(OK, that one's not shorter or easier to spell... but it's not
as rockin as "Axl.")
* Jon Bon Jovi - John Bongiovi
* Flea - Michael Balzary
* Pat Benatar - Patricia Andrzejewski
even the guy on stage right before Mellencamp...
* Iggy Pop - James Osterberg
Mellencamp should come to grips with the fact that during the
late-1970s, it was probably a lot easier to market a young, good-looking
guy with a name like Johnny Cougar. If you look at the Big Picture,
it got him where he is today.
It reminded me of a situation
with The Beatles. (It doesn't take much...) In late 1963 their
manager Brian Epstein made a bad business deal that haunted him
for the rest of his life. As The Beatles were preparing to come
to America he licensed the U.S. merchandising of their name and
likeness to a man named Nicky Byrne (under the company name of
Seltaeb). The Beatles merchandising royalty was agreed to be
10%. When Brian met Nicky in early 1964, he was handed his first
check for $100,000.00. He said, "So, 10% of this is ours?"
And Nicky said, "No, that IS your 10%." Brian was crushed.
He felt that he had let the band down and he should have asked
for a higher percentage.
In Brian's defense, however,
his main concern was The Beatles' record sales and performing
income. Merchandising wasn't what it is today and it wasn't considered
a major source of income. Furthermore, if you look at the Big
Picture, I believe that Nicky Byrne's company, when they saw
the huge profit potential, worked harder at creating a mass-Beatle-marketing
campaign than they would have otherwise. Sure, The Beatles music
was wonderful, and they would have been phenomenally famous anyway....
but thanks in part to people like Nicky, in early 1964 they were
EVERYWHERE! Not just songs on the radio, but faces and logos
supplies, on wallpaper, on bubblebath containers, even little doll figures... hundreds of merchandising
items. 1964 was an event, and Beatle dolls, Beatle wigs and Beatle
board games were a part of it. I think that in the long run,
historically speaking, Brian's deal worked out. And so did Mellencamp's.
But that's not what I really
wanted to talk about...
After Mellencamp rocked, and Iggy rocked, and Madonna didn't,
came the final presentation: the induction of the Dave Clark
Five. They were introduced by Tom "That Thing You Do!"
Hanks. (That's what *I* would call him!) (And they did play the
song as he entered the stage). Tom gave a WONDERFUL speech. It
was heartwarming and funny and beautiful. He touched upon all
that was special and magical about 1964. He talked about the
music and the Ed Sullivan Show. He talked about listening to
songs on his transistor radio and on the AM radio in his parent's
car. And he talked about the feeling of joy that the bands from
England brought to the children of America. He described the
power and beauty of the early recordings of the Dave Clark Five
and their integral position in the 1964 "British Invasion."
He perfectly alluded to The Beatles but didn't mention their
name. It was all you could ask for in both an introduction and
a history lesson.
Three members of the Dave Clark
Five then came to the podium. As you may know, the keyboard player/lead
singer of The Dave Clark Five, Mike Smith, passed away last week.
Their sax player, Denis Payton, died a year ago. The other three,
Dave Clark, Lenny Davidson and Rick Huxley, accepted the induction
statues and gave humble thanks. It was nice to see them.
With 2/5 of the band gone, including the lead singer, they obviously
could not perform (unlike Madonna, who is 100% alive...) So,
to do one of their hit songs, "Bits & Pieces,"
was the fabulous Joan Jett ! (Her original name: Joan Larkin.)
And it was great! Paul Schaffer joined in on a Vox organ just
like the one Mike Smith used, and Joan's vocals were rockin'
and powerful. (And it was cool to see her still using her refinished,
pickups changed, white Gibson Melody Maker.)
Tom Hanks' speech, the appearance
of the remaining members of the Dave Clark Five, and Joan Jett's
kickin' performance would have been a great way to end the event.
BUT... in the age-old tradition of "let's-bring-everyone-back-out-for-one-last-tune-to-close-the-show!"...
that's what they did. And it was an audio mess. The song was
another Dave Clark Five tune, "Glad All Over." It featured
John Cougar Mellencamp and John Fogerty on dueling lead vocals,
with Joan's band as backup. Earlier in the day, during rehearsal
(the rehearsal video is on youtube), Paul Schaffer played the
Vox organ again, and it sounded good. However, for the broadcast
version of The Big Finale someone had the idea to bring out earlier
presenter Billy Joel, to take Paul's place on keyboards, and
another earlier presenter James Cotton, to play harmonica. Unfortunately,
for all of us, "Glad All Over" is not just a simple
1-4-5 song. Starts with that standard rock pattern, but in the
bridge it goes to a Flatted 6th chord... and after the second
bridge it modulates up a half step. You could see one of Joan
Jett's guys trying to yell the chords to Billy Joel, which helped
a little. But there was no hope for James Cotton. I don't even
think he had the right key harmonica for the song in it's original
key, let alone after the modulation. But he kept playin'.
But, ya know... that's Show Biz!
See you soon,
PS: During his performance John
Mellencamp used an attractive vintage Telecaster Custom. Strangely,
Fender used the words "Telecaster" and "Custom"
on two different models. From 1959 through 1972 they offered
a Telecaster with white binding around the edge of the body.
It's decal said "Custom Telecaster" but it was generally
known as the "Telecaster Custom." Here's John with one from 1960. Then, in
1970, they introduced a Tele with a humbucking pickup in the
neck position and called it a "Telecaster Custom."
That's the model that John Mellencamp was using. Here's John with a Telecaster Custom from 1974.
(This particular guitar was previously owned by one of our favorite
Pittsburgh songwriters, Ed Masley.) Two different guitars...
almost the same name...
PPS: On a different topic altogether,
we have a bunch of scratch & dent guitar cases that are taking
up space in the back room. Many of them have broken latches or
broken handles, but still fall into the "better than nothing"
category. On Sunday, as soon as I recover from my St. Patrick's
Day green-beer headache, I'm going to build a display stand in
the store. Starting Monday, for a week or so, we're going to
have super-sale prices on these "better than nothing"
cases... Like a hardshell dreadnought case (with a broken handle)
for $10... That kinda stuff. If you need a case for something
that doesn't deserve a new $89 case, stop in to check these out.
PPPS: Next week: Rickenbacker's
PPPPS: Customer of the week: Punchline
3/21/2008 ~ Guitars-From-My-Favorite-Pittsburgh-Musicians
Last week I mentioned John Cougar
Montana Mellencamp using a Fender Telecaster Custom, and to demonstrate
the model I reached into my Guitars-From-My-Favorite-Pittsburgh-Musicians
The picture we used was John
holding a 1974 Fender Telecaster Custom previously owned and
operated by Ed Masley in the fabulous Frampton Brothers, as well
as in his earlier band, Johnny Rhythm & The Dimestore 45s.
is the picture again. (Actually, that's the original photo...
the one we really used was John's body with a John Lennon Beatle
Doll head... like this.)
I like to visit my Guitars-From-My-Favorite-Pittsburgh-Musicians
Closet. As I may have mentioned once or twice, I like guitars.
And although it's always nice to see a been-under-the-bed-since-it-was-new,
mint-condition instrument, my personal favorites are guitars
that have been on stage... a lot. Just like with people, I think
experience is a good thing. Many of the guitars in my personal
collection have been heavily used, and I think they have a better
feel because of it. When I see their nicks and scratches, I visualize
the many times they've been thrown in the back seat of a car,
and carried into a smokey bar, and leaned against an amp... and
had "Proud Mary" played on them. (Seriously, is there
a guitar in the world that hasn't at least once played "Proud
Getting back to the closet...
over the years I've occasionally had a chance to buy guitars
from some of my favorite local musicians. Guitars that I've seen
played on-stage, and whose contributions to Pittsburgh's musical
history should not be forgotten. Here are a few:
1) Norm Nardini has to be one
of the area's hardest working musicians. He puts on an energetic
show night after night, year after year. Back in the 1980s his
band was called Norm Nardini and the Tigers. Their instruments
were all painted with tiger stripes. Here is one of the guitars Norm played.
2) The first Pittsburgh band
I ever heard on the radio was called The Fenways. In the mid-1960s
radio DJs actually had the freedom to choose what they played.
(Unlike now, when everything is pre-determined by corporate headquarters.)
The Fenways were a rockin' Pittsburgh group who had a local hit
in 1965 with a song called "Walk." In 1967 they changed
their name to The Racket Squad. Here is a 1966 Rickenbacker used by band leader
Sonny DeNunzio in The Fenways and The Racket Squad. (This
is a rare 6/12 converter model. I'll tell you more about it next
3) Another mid-1960s Pittsburgh
band, The Contrails, had a hit record with a slow dance tune
called "Someone." Here is a 1966 Fender PBass used in The Contrails.
4) Speaking of the radio, you've
probably heard this bass a hundred times: The Jerry Jones Longhorn used by Greg Joseph
in The Clarks.
5) There is an rare Fender model
called a Maverick/Custom that is so unusual that it deserves
an email all on its own... And here is one that was heavily modified by
Karl Mullen and used in the band Carsickness. (He told me
that at one point he covered the front with tiny pieces of broken
mirror... and it looked great... until the first song, when he
noticed that his hand and arm were bleeding. He peeled them off
but left some pieces on the headstock.)
6) You may have seen this guitar on TV. It was
played by Marty Lee in Donnie Iris and The Cruisers, and used
on record and in a couple of their MTV videos.
7) One of our favorite guitar
players is Warren King. Here is the Hamer Sunburst he used in The SIlencers.
8) In the mid-1980s my band,
The Flashcats, played every night. Since it's my belief that
playing music should be fun, we often added humorous bits to
our act. One involved Pete, our trumpet player, pretending to
play guitar. We'd have a taped solo going through the PA and
he'd pretend to play. Halfway through he'd stop to comb his hair
while the solo kept going. (Hey, I guess these days entire bands
could do that, and the music would keep going!) This is the guitar we used.
To me, all of these instruments
are permanently linked to the musicians who used them. And it's
nice to see a guitarist who uses one guitar often enough that
it becomes part of their look. It's as if they have a relationship
with that instrument. A relationship that they are sharing with
us, through their performance. If someone uses a different guitar
on every single song, it's like going home with a different person
every night. And what fun would that be?
See you soon,
PS: On this same topic, last
week I mentioned that it was heartwarming to see Joan Jett still
using her white Melody Maker. Let's have a contest. Send in the
name of a musician who plays the same guitar often enough that
you associate the performer with that specific guitar. We'll
pick a winner at random. The prize will be $50 Pittsburgh Guitars
Gift Certificate, good toward any guitar in the store.
PPS: Next week: Rickenbacker,
The Fifth Knob, and the 6/12 Converter!
PPPS: While I was in the closet,
looking for the above pictured guitars, I found an old box full
of early Pittsburgh punk gig fliers. We scanned a bunch and put
them up on carlsguitarcorner.com. Go here, and click on the "Vintage Pittsburgh
Gig Posters" button.
PPPPS: Customer of the week: Ascend The Fallen
3/28/2008 ~ Rickenbacker's 5th
A few weeks ago I mentioned the
mysterious switches on 1960s Gretsches (and their current reissues).
To recap quickly: Unlike 99% of the other electric guitars in
the world, these Gretsches do not have a rotary tone control.
Instead their only tone control is a "tone toggle switch."
In the middle position it is "normal" and in the up
or down positions the guitar sounds mellow. Also, whereas 99%
of the other electric guitars in the world tend to stay "on,"
Gretsch guitars from that period have an "on/off" toggle
switch. (It was Chet Atkins' idea...) (And it's the same type
of three-way switch they use elsewhere on the guitar, so it's
really an "on/off/on" switch.) (Although I believe
I've had a couple over the years that have been "off/on/off.")
(They were probably made on a Friday.) The primary effect of
this switch is to confuse people who have never played a Gretsch
guitar before. (And now that I think about it, most likely 99%
of the people in the world have never played a Gretsch guitar.)
(Actually, to be realistic about it, it's more likely that 99%
of the people in the world have never even HEARD of Gretsch guitars...)
But getting back to YOU, the important 1%, next time you're at
a birthday party at a friend's house and everyone goes down to
the basement to jam and someone hands you a Gretsch Country Gentleman
and you turn the amp on and the knobs up and still don't hear
anything, check the toggle on the lower front of the guitar back
by the input jack... it might be in the "off" (or as
Gretsch calls it the "standby") position. Or just print out this chart.
Meanwhile, it's also possible
that at that same party someone might hand you a Rickenbacker
guitar. And as you glance down at the normal-everyday two volume
knobs and two tone knobs, you might notice an odd, smaller, fifth
knob. Here's a picture of Rickenbacker controls.
This fifth knob has been a regular feature on Rickenbacker guitars
since 1961, and very few people understand it. Here, for the
first time, is the truth about the Rickenbacker fifth knob!
(*Before we begin this Message-of-Truth, we should briefly mention
the optional functions of a potentiometer... (I would use the
shortened version of this word, but I'm afraid that this email
might get automatically sent to the trash by some folk's "At-Work-Bad-Word"
filters.) The potentiometer is the thing under your pickguard
that actually does something when you turn a knob. And unless
you have an "active" wiring system with a battery built
into your guitar, all the potentiometer can do is subtract. (Like
an odd math student who only mastered one function.) The tone
controls subtract high end by directing the signal through a
capacitor. The volume controls subtract volume by directing the
signal to the ground wire and shorting it out.)
Now, getting back to the fifth...
In one sentence: The Rickenbacker fifth knob is a second volume
control for the neck pickup. Your question is probably: why?
Well, like most non-Fender guitars, a Rickenbacker has a pickup
selector toggle switch that allows you to choose (1) the bridge
pickup, (2) the neck pickup, or (3) both. But with most other
guitars, in the middle toggle position (both pickups on) there
is not a lot of pickup blending potential. You may have noticed
that with your guitar. When you put the selector switch in the
middle, both pickups are on, full volume.... but if you try to
turn one pickup down, even slightly, to adjust the blend between
the two pickups, the sound of the one that you turned goes out
of the mix completely. I'm not sure why. I asked Scott about
it, and he said, "The potentiometers are wired to Ground.
That's how they lower the volume and turn the pickups off. If
both are on, and you turn one down even a little bit, you can't
hear it anymore." I didn't understand, but I nodded `cause
he seemed very sincere. But it is a factor of the way guitars
are wired. You cannot actually change the blend of the two pickups
when they are on together.
Except on a Rickenbacker.
The fifth knob on a Rickenbacker allows you to put the toggle
in the middle position (which puts both pickups on at full volume)
and then gradually fade out the volume of the neck pickup. This
fifth knob is not "wired to Ground" and therefore can
never turn the neck pickup completely off. Instead it's wired
directly to the regular neck pickup potentiometer... kind of
piggy-backed off of that potentiometer, wiring-wise. It can lower
the volume of the neck pickup smoothly, even when both pickups
The reason that this fifth knob
is particularly useful on a Rickenbacker is that Ricks are mainly
used for their bright "jangly" sound. Obviously the
bridge-pickup-only position will give you the brightest sound.
But as an option, you might want to mellow it out just a little
bit. With a regular four-knob system, as soon as you moved the
toggle switch to the center position the mellowness of the neck
pickup would tramp on your jangle. (And we all know how painful
that would be!) But with the fifth knob you can set the middle
position to have just a little of the neck pickup.... giving
you a hair more bass, without losing the jangle.
It's actually a clever, if misunderstood, concept.
See you soon,
PS: Speaking of "concepts,"
one of Rickenbacker's wackiest was the 6/12 Converter. (In their
defense, it was the 1960s...) The plan was that you could play
the guitar as a 12-string, and then, when you needed just a six-string
sound you could adjust a metal "comb" which would pull
the six-skinny strings down, out of the way. Here are pictures of the "comb" in
action. The impractical aspects of this concept are: your
left hand still has to fret both sets of strings, making soloing
quite awkward; and your right hand has to deal with six strings
that are spaced strangely. Plus, in addition to the tuning issues,
it's just plain scary to stretch those already tight six strings
down towards the body.
PPS: We spent so much time here
at the store today talking about the Rickenbacker fifth knob,
that I'm running late with this email... So I'm going to save
our "Name-A-Musician-Who-Plays -The-Same-Guitar-Often-Enough-That-You-Associate-The-Performer-With-That-Specific-Guitar"
contest results until next week. Thanks for all the entries!
PPPS: Hey, thanks to everyone
who shopped at our Scratch & Dent Guitar Case Sale! We were
able to clean out the back room, and hopefully you're enjoying
your $5 case!
PPPPS: Customer of the week: Roger McGuinn