4/4/2008 ~ Contest Entries
Thanks to everyone who entered
our "Name A Famous Musician Who Uses The Same Instrument
So Often That You Think Of That Instrument When You Think Of
That Musician" Contest!
The entries fell into two categories: 1) Musicians who use one
specific guitar, and 2) Musicians who use different versions
of the same model.
The top three submissions in
Category One were:
Nelson and his Martin Nylon String
Springsteen and his Tele
Young and his black Les Paul
Other players mentioned were:
Buck Owens and his red, white & blue Harmony Guitar
Prince and his "Symbol" Guitar
Sting and his beat-up `54 Fender P-Bass
Johnny Ramone and his modified Mosrite
and, of course, John, Paul & George!
My favorite answer came from Erin who suggested Leslie Feist
and her red Guild Starfire. Leslie likes her Starfire so much
that when she dropped it, she immediately came to Pittsburgh
Guitars to have the headstock repaired. Every time we see her
on TV using the guitar we feel proud!
The Top Three submissions in
Category Two were:
Young and his SGs
Clapton and his Strats
Hendrix and his Strats
B. B. King and his assorted "Lucilles"
Les Paul and his ... well...
James Burton and his Teles
Stevie Ray Vaughan and his Strats
Chuck Berry and his ES-335s, 345s and 335s
Keith Richards (with his original blood) and his Les Pauls
Keith Richards (with his 1980s blood) and his Teles
Keith Richards (with his current blood) and his ES-355s
And I'm sure there are lots more...
After looking at the list, I
noticed that many of these performers eventually signed deals
with the manufacturer of their favorite guitar, to create Signature
Models. Fender currently offers a Sting PBass, an Eric Clapton
Strat, a Stevie Ray Vaughan Strat, and a James Burton Tele. Gibson
makes more signature instruments than you could shake a Keith
Moon Authorized Signature stick at, including an Angus Young
SG and a B.B. King Lucille.
Thanks to everyone who entered!
Our randomly chosen winner is Justin B. Justin gets a Pittsburgh
Guitars $50 Gift Certificate good towards the purchase of any
guitar in the store. Hopefully he will use that guitar often
enough that it will become his Signature instrument!
With regard to amps, most people
don't know that Willie Nelson plays through a vintage Baldwin
amp... but it's easy to picture the association of Bruce with
his 1950s tweed Fender Bassman; Neil Young and his 1950s tweed
Fender Deluxe; and perhaps the greatest association ever, The
Beatles and Vox amps.
Speaking of Vox, a couple of days ago I saw the newly revived
B-52's on Jay Leno. They sounded great and looked great! Since
it seems that these days almost every band on Leno or Letterman
has at least one Vox AC-30 or AC-15, I expected to see a Vox
amp somewhere on stage... but it was really fun to see B-52's
guitarist, Keith Strickland, playing through THREE Vox amps!
See you soon,
PS: Speaking of Signature Guitars,
John with a vintage Harmony Buck Owens.
PPS: Here's John with a new Eastwood Johnny Ramone
PPPS: When Betsy was proof-reading
this week's letter, she questioned the apostrophe in "B-52's."
She thinks that it's grammatically incorrect. And they apparently
agree, since on their new album they spell their name "B-52s."
But the official spelling for the last thirty-two years has been
"B-52's" WITH the apostrophe, and I'm not yet emotionally
prepared to make the change...
PPPPS: Customer of the Week:
Average White Band
4/11/2008 ~ The Futurama vs.
The Duo Jet
It's fun to welcome out-of-town visitors
to Pittsburgh, and to Pittsburgh Guitars. Earlier this week we
had a great time talking about the history of the vintage guitar
biz with Colin Cripps, the guitarist for Kathleen Edwards. He just purchased a 1966
Rickenbacker 360 OS MG and brought it in to show us. We set it
up... and generally enjoyed being in its presence.
(The "OS" stands for
"Old Style." You see, Rickenbacker did something very
odd in 1964... FIRST, they gave a Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string
to George Harrison, the most visible guitarist in the world,
who promptly used it prominently in The Beatles' movie "A
Hard Day's Night." THEN, just as a huge demand for this
guitar started, they changed the design! George's 360/12 had
binding on the front and back of the guitar. Rickenbacker's new
version had a curved front edge, with only binding on the back.
If you (a) saw George, (b) ran to your local dealer and ordered
a 360/12, (c) yours would not match his. (d) Imagine the heartbreak
all over the country! The only way to get the right look... which
only a handful of folks did... was to place a special order for
the "Old Style" version. Colin's was only a six-string
360, but it was the "special order" double-bound version.)
Speaking of out-of-towners and
The Beatles, yesterday we had a visit from Jan Chvatal from Prague,
Jan plays in Czechoslovakia's most successful Beatle tribute
band, The Brouci Band. He's on a week-long tour
of the USA and stopped in to say hello. He was impressed with
the Pittsburgh Guitars Beatle Collection, and
he mentioned how hard it is to find vintage American guitars
in his homeland. He's currently playing a reissue Gretsch Tennessean
and he got a kick out of trying my original 1964 model.
Now, at this point I know just
what you're thinking... When you hear "Czechoslovakia"
and "The Beatles," three words come to mind: Resonet
Grazioso Futurama. I know! Me, too!!
In the late 1950s it was extremely
difficult, and expensive, to get American guitars in England.
So many young players used affordable European-made instruments.
One guitar that turned up regularly in Liverpool was made in
Czechoslovakia under the brand name Resonet. The original Resonet
model designation was "Grazioso," but the British distributor,
Selmer, thought it might be more marketable with a cooler name,
and they renamed it the "Futurama."
On November 20, 1959, George
Harrison bought a 1958 Resonet Futurama in Liverpool, and he used it exclusively
for the next two years. Here are some pictures of George with his Futurama.
Most of these were taken in Germany where the young Beatles played
for long hours, and jelled into a powerful band. (George is between
17 and 18 years old in these photos.)
The Futurama, as you can see,
was modeled after the Fender Stratocaster. Like the 1950s Strats,
the 1958 Futurama had a light colored maple fingerboard. In 1959,
when Fender changed to a rosewood fingerboard the Futurama did,
too. (Except that the Futurama actually had a beech wood fingerboard
stained to look like rosewood...) In the Pittsburgh Guitars Beatle
Collection, the closest we have been able to get to George's
guitar is a 1959 Futurama. Here are some pictures of our guitar. We're
off by one year... Eventually we'll find the correct one! (It
gives us something to live for!!)
Here's a picture of me (made in the USA) holding
a 1959 Resonet Futurama (made in Czechoslovakia) with Jan (made
in Czechoslovakia) holding a 1964 Gretsch Tennessean (made in
In 1961, George Harrison was
finally able to collect enough money to buy the guitar of his
dreams, a Gretsch. He bought a 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet and put the
Futurama aside for good. We all know what the Duo Jet sounded
like. He used it on the first Beatles album. But how did the
Futurama compare? We decided to do a test here at the store.
We plugged John into a 1959 Gibson GA-40 amp, exactly like the
one George used from October 1960 until July 1962, and we compared
the sound of a 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet exactly like George's with
a 1959 Resonet Futurama, almost like George's. Here is the video result. (Naturally this
video has sound, so be careful if you're reading this at work...
at the library.)
See you soon,
PS: The Futurama was an affordable
European guitar. During the same time frame, an affordable guitar
here in the USA was the Silvertone by Danelectro. Here is video of John comparing the Futurama
to a Danelectro.
PPS: Although they occasionally
tour other countries, The Brouci Band plays primarily in Czechoslovakia.
Last year they did 100 gigs in that country alone. It's hard
to believe, isn't it? That is the true power of the Beatles.
They've done more to bring the world together than any politician
has ever done...
PPPS: We'd like to put our email
special videos on youtube, but every time we try they look fuzzy.
Do you know the trick to getting sharp videos on youtube? If
so, give us a jingle.
PPPPS: Customer of the Week:
Erny's Recording Studio
4/18/2008 ~ 1979... and the L6-S
So, I finished my taxes on Tuesday...
And on Wednesday I decided to take this year's boxes of paperwork
to the usual place, the attic.
While I was there I noticed a box labeled "1979," the
year I opened Pittsburgh Guitars. (I don't like to throw stuff
out...) I decided to take a break and look through some of the
paperwork from my first year in business. It was interesting.
I still have the first sketches Cindy did for the Pittsburgh
Guitars logo. I still have my first lease for the storefront
in Bloomfield. The rent was $180 a month! My first phone bill:
$19.05. And the car expenses were really an eye opener... the
price of gas: 93 cents a gallon! (For comparison, I just filled
the tank on my current van, and it cost $94!!)
1979 was an interesting
time to open a guitar store. "Vintage" guitars hadn't
been defined yet. I was just selling "used" guitars.
But there was a market for "used" guitars, due in part
to the status of "new" guitars in the late 1970s. And
that all goes back to those darn baby boomers...
On February 10, 1964, the day
after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, every 12-year-old
in America wanted a guitar. Guitar companies were making money
hand over fingerboard for the next four or five years. But let's
face it, not everyone takes the time to actually learn to play
guitar (only the special people, like you!). Ten years later,
by the time those same baby boomers were 22, many instruments
sat gathering dust under a bed. Guitar sales were WAY down. Furthermore,
the mid-1970s music sensation, Disco, didn't really encourage
many new guitar players. (Quick test: what kind of guitar did
the guy in KC & The Sunshine Band play? I don't know either!)
To deal with lower sales figures, Fender cut expenses wherever
they could. Unfortunately, this led to them using less than optimal
wood, and consequently in 1978, they produced some of the heaviest
Strats ever made. Cutbacks also led to some finish issues, and
many 1978-79 Fender guitars have cracking and peeling finish
Gibson, meanwhile, figured that
the way to win new customers was with new models. In 1974 and
1975 they introduced the L6S, The L6S Deluxe, the Marauder, and
the S-1...none of which lasted to 1980.
With Fender making "is-that-the-price-or-the-weight?"
guitars, and Gibson veering from their classic models, folks
were looking for a nice old used guitar. And Pittsburgh Guitars
And now, 28.9 years later we're
still here. (Well, not in Bloomfield...) (That's a nice place,
of course, but The South Side is The South Side!)
One last interesting thing about
my old receipts: Like gas, guitars were much cheaper in 1979...
but oddly guitar strings weren't.... Or more accurately, guitar
strings have not significantly increased in cost in nearly 30
years! When I opened Pittsburgh Guitars we sold a set of Ernie
Ball Slinky guitar strings for $3.75. Today we sell that set
for $5.00. Only $1.25 price increase in three decades!!!
Next month, May 2008, will be our 29th Anniversary... and I'm
sure we'll have some fun stuff planned... (Hopefully, there will
be cookies!) To get us in a retro frame of mind, this week's
email special features Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys at our 1979
See you soon,
PS: The Gibson L6S story features
one of Gibson's secret models... a guitar that was never in a
Gibson catalog or price list: The Midnight Special!
Here's the story in many confusing parts:
(1) In late 1973 Gibson announced a new guitar model. It featured
a thin, solid-maple body; a six-position rotary switch for different
in and out-of-phase pickup combinations; a tune-o-matic bridge
with a stop tailpiece; two new Gibson Bill Lawrence-designed
"Super Humbucking" pickups; the option of an ebony
or maple fingerboard, and, like every other Gibson, a glued-in
neck. It was called the L6S. 181 were sold in late 1973 and 5044
in 1974. It was a hit. At least in `74.
(2) Because of the success of the model, Gibson decided to offer,
in 1975, a less expensive version. The new version featured the
same body and neck, but with standard wiring and a typical toggle
pickup selector switch. Other differences were a rosewood fingerboard,
instead of the ebony or maple; black plastic pickup covers, instead
of chrome; and strings-thru-the-body construction, instead of
the stop tailpiece.
(3) The new guitar was called the "L6S Deluxe," and
the original model was named, retroactively, the "L6S Custom."
(4) However, in late 1974, before the introduction of the new
L6S Deluxe, Gibson decided to experiment with the original model.
They had been developing two bolt-on neck guitars, serious departure
from their long history of glued-in necks. The new models were
scheduled for 1975 and were called the Marauder and the S-1.
The S-1, with it's three single-coil-pickups and bolt-on neck,
was clearly designed to steal some of Fender's customers.
Getting back to the mystery
guitar, in late `74 Gibson took some of the upcoming bolt-on
necks and attached them to an L6S body. They used the upcoming
L6S Deluxe strings-thru-the-body design, and standard wiring,
but the original L6S pickups. They sold these to their dealers
as "The Midnight Special." Essentially, it's a cross
between an L6S Custom and L6S Deluxe, with a neck from an S-1.
If you're confused, imagine what the public was thinking. And
the dealers probably never knew what they were getting! The confusion
no doubt attributed to Gibson never putting this model in their
catalog. BUT, now you know!
if you see a guitar like the one John is holding here, you
might first say, "Well, based on the wiring, I'd call it
an L6S Deluxe... But it has chrome covered pickups (like the
L6S Custom) and a bolt-on neck (like The S-1)... Why, it must
be the elusive L6S Midnight Special!!!"
PPS: Here's a picture of John with a 1975 S-1.
It was meant to give the Strat a run for its money. But despite
early publicity featuring Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones
playing one, the guitar never took off. It was discontinued in
PPPPS: Customer of the Week:
Friday 4/25/2008 ~ 1974 and How
We Got Here
It's odd how life works... Sometimes
things happen that seem bad at the time, but eventually lead
to good things...
As I mentioned last week, I was
in the attic stashing this year's taxes, when I took a moment
to look through other boxes up there.
The "1974" box was
interesting. Apparently I tend to save things. So I scanned some
stuff for today's Email Show and Tell:
The story starts a year earlier,
1973 to be exact, when I bought my first car, a 1966 Pontiac
Catalina Convertible. Man, was it powerful! When you stepped
on the gas the entire front of the car lifted up, like a roaring
lion. And this was leaded gas... not that wimpy unleaded gas.
Plus, the convertible roof was cool, even if it did mess up my
hair. Here's the owners card.
In early 1974 I used the car
to haul my band's equipment to gigs. The back seat was huge and
the trunk was huger. Here's
a picture of us at Carnegie Mellon on April 19, 1974. We
had a flexible line-up and used several band names. At this gig
we were going by "Dita Beard." (She was an ITT lobbyist
who figured in the Nixon Watergate scandal.) We had four guitar
players, including Jamie Bell, my brother John, Mitch Weissman
(who I played with in 1972 in New York City) and Gary Hodill.
(Gary recently played at the "Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle
Show #4" with his current group, The Rock-It Band.) Here's
the contract for the CMU gig. $125! (Although in 1974 you
could buy a house for $150...)
That summer I moved to Columbus,
Ohio. I had been driving there regularly during the school year
to visit Annamaria, a girl I met in New York in `72. She was
attending Ohio State University and it was a quick trip, since
in 1974 the speed limit on Route 70 in Ohio was 80 mph. By the
summer I decided to move there, and maybe form a band... which
I did. (Both.)
One day in July 1974, I walked out of my apartment to find an
empty parking space where
my trusty `66 Catalina had been parked. I was crushed. My first
ever car... stolen! Here's the stolen car filing. It was sad.
And, of course, there's nothing sadder than being in Columbus,
Ohio, with no car and a new band.
Since I was always moving equipment
with the Pontiac, I decided that I'd replace the stolen car with
a van. I checked the local classified ad paper, the "Tradin'
Times," and found something unusual: a used 1966 International
US Mail truck! Here's the actual ad. It had a lift-up back
door, sliding front doors, and even had the steering wheel on
the right-hand side.
I drove it for the rest of the
summer and used it to move my stuff back home to Pittsburgh in
September when the Columbus band broke up (and Annamaria moved
to Italy to go to vet school). I got back together with John
and Jamie and we formed a new Pittsburgh band.
In late September I got a call
from Dino Bradley, a guy I met in a music store in Columbus.
He wanted the mail truck for his band and offered me a trade:
a Strat, a Leslie speaker cabinet, and a Vox Super Beatle Amp
for the truck. I said, "Sure." Here's the trade agreement between me and Dino.
I was now thrilled to have my
first piece of Beatle gear, a big beautiful amp! Here's a picture of the band with the Super Beatle
in the back, on the left.
Shortly afterwards I saw an ad
in the Post-Gazette for a Hofner Beatle bass... for $100.
I drove to Homestead and bought it. My second Beatle item! Here's
the actual newspaper ad. Here's a picture of our band with the bass.
(We were playing at a Fire Hall in West Mifflin that night.)
As the band gigged through the
end of 1974 and throughout 1975 I was inspired to look for more
Beatle-ish stuff. In mid-1975 I found a second Super Beatle.
(I didn't look through the "1975" box yet, so I don't
have its receipt for today's visual presentation...)
Jumping ahead to mid-1976, I
was in New York hanging out with Mitch (see "Dita Beard"
pictures, above) when we saw an ad that said: "Wanted: Beatle
look-a-likes" Mitch had been a Paul McCartney look-a-like
his entire life, so we went to the audition and he easily passed.
I had been an Ozzie Ozbourne look-a-like my entire life, so I
did not try out for Ringo. BUT when the guy running the show
said, "Do you know where we can get any Beatle equipment?"
I said, "How about two Super Beatles and a Hofner Bass?"
He said, "I'll take `em!"
Those early auditions eventually
led to a massive Broadway production called "Beatlemania."
And they asked me if I could round up as much appropriate equipment
as possible. I spent the next two years driving around, buying
guitars and amps, and delivering them to the Wintergarden Theater
on Broadway. And although I was not a guitarist, I grew to truly
love guitars. One thing led to another and by 1979: Pittsburgh
Then, one year led to another,
and now it's 2008! And Pittsburgh Guitars is still my second
So, you see... as sad as I was
that my Pontiac Catalina Convertible was stolen, its theft led
to me buy the mail truck... And that led to me trading the truck
for a Super Beatle... And even though I didn't play guitar or
bass, the Super Beatle led to me buying a Hofner bass... And
I sold the amp and the bass to the Beatlemania Show... And that
got me started buying and selling guitars... and that led to
where we are today... next month's 29th Anniversary of Pittsburgh
I'm glad I found the "1974"
box... it was fun to remember how everything came together...
I wonder if we're doing anything today that will lead to something
29 years from now, in 2037?
See you soon,
Mitch went on to star in Beatlemania for years. He has performed
all over the world. He was in Rolling Stone, Time Magazine and
on "Joanie Loves Chachi." He still does
Beatle shows today. Here's another shot of Mitch in my basement.
He sounded like McCartney, too! And I always loved that ES-335.
PPS: The guitarist in my Columbus
band was Mark Chatfield. He now plays lead guitar for Bob Seger.
he is on David Letterman playing a nice 1950s Les Paul Junior.
PPPS: Annamaria eventually became
a vet, moved back to America, and is now the Director of the
National Pork Producers Council. We obviously went in different
directions... me with guitars, her with animals. As much as I
like pork, it's best that that relationship didn't work out!
PPPPS: I found out much later
that the guy who sold me the $100 Hofner bass was Dave Rusnak,
now an old friend of mine! We had known each other for years
before we compared "Hofners-I've-owned" stories, and
we discovered our connection. It's that old "it's-a-small-world"
thing!!! Dave is an avid Beatles fan and has performed at a couple
of the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Shows.
PPPPPS: Last week I mentioned
the effect (or more accurately, the lack of effect) that disco
music had on the public's interest in playing guitar. I said,
"Quick test: what kind of guitar did the guy in KC &
The Sunshine Band play? I don't know either!" Well, it turns
out that one of the readers of the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special
knows!! Dave R. wrote to say that when he was a high schooler
in Florida he and his garage band friends would jam and talk
about how they'd be famous some day... and one of them actually
succeeded! Dave's childhood friend, Rick Finch, was the co-founder of KC &
The Sunshine Band. Rick played bass and drums, and co-wrote most
of the band's hits with Harry Casey ("KC"). Rick played
a Fender Jazz Bass exclusively. And the Sunshine Band's guitarist,
Jerome Smith, played a Fender Telecaster. And now we know!!
PPPPPPPS: Customer of the Week:
Night! This Saturday/ Sunday!