5/2/2008 ~ It's Never Too Late
to Learn How to Play the Guitar!
We buy guitars every day... but
this week one purchase gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
On Monday a lady walked into
the store with a Yamaha acoustic and told us that her late mother
bought it from us five years ago. She said her mother decided
to learn to play guitar when she turned 80 years old! On her
80th birthday she came to Pittsburgh Guitars, bought a guitar,
and we arranged for one of our teachers to visit her home for
lessons. Her daughter told us that her mother was very excited
about her guitar. She remembered times when she would be talking
to her mother on the phone and her mother would suddenly say,
"Oh! I have to hang up now, my guitar teacher is here!!"
Eventually her mother learned to play a few songs, and the entire
family loved it when she played "Happy Birthday" at
one of the grandkids' parties. It was heartwarming to hear the
Unfortunately, late in her 82nd
year, her mother passed away. The daughter kept the guitar for
a few years, but this week she decided to sell it back to us,
so it could be passed on to another new student. She said it
brought her mother a lot of happiness in her final years. Her
mother never became a great guitarist, but she did what she set
out to do: learn to play! And she loved it!
Here's a picture
of John with her Yamaha.
There are two messages here:
(1) It's never too late to start a new hobby, especially if it's
playing guitar! and (2) You don't have to play like a superstar
to enjoy it. Oh, and (3) imagine how cool it would be to have
your grandmother show up at your party with a guitar! We should
all hope to be a person that interesting when we get old!
Here's what John will look like when
Here at the Pittsburgh Guitars
International Institute Of Guitar Instruction we have students
from all age groups. (Some almost as old as Scott!) (He was at
the original Woodstock, you know!) Some of our students have
been playing for many years and want to learn a few new tricks.
Some of our students are complete beginners. All of them seem
to be having a great time.
This year it's interesting that
we have more young students than ever before. And it's good to
see young folks taking up the guitar. Maybe the "Guitar
Hero" video game has inspired them... Or maybe they've seen
their parents' guitars lying around the house. (No doubt purchased
at Pittsburgh Guitars!).... Or maybe it's that despite pitch-corrected
vocals, sampled drum loops, and computer-triggered-self-playing-keyboards,
there is still a need for actual guitarists in contemporary songs!
Whatever the reason, it's good
to know that music will continue through the next generation,
and guitars will be a part of it! (And that Rock & Roll Is
Here to Stay!)
Here's a new player, Richard, who bought
a guitar on Wednesday to celebrate his 21st birthday!
And we now have our first Father
and Son student team. Here are Joshua and Gerald.
During May, our Anniversary month,
we're having a Guitar Lesson Special: Sign up for at least four
one hour guitar lessons and get a Free Music Stand, a Free Guitar
Tuner and a Free Lesson Book! We've just added a new teacher, Ron Ziai,
so we now have three super-mega-excellent instructors. Whether
you're starting from scratch, or have already spent years on
the road, Ron, Rich Dugan or John Purse can expand your musical
See you soon,
PS: I've been thinking about
my earlier comment... Naturally the guitar is vital to rock,
blues and country music... but I believe that ALL music would
benefit from the addition of a guitar. I bet that even the early
classical composers, like Beethoven, would
have used a guitar in their arrangements if the guitarists of
their era had had the technology to be heard amongst the other
orchestral instruments. Think about the versatility and expressiveness
of the guitar: Other stringed instruments, like violins for example,
can be very passionate, but they can't match the flexibility
of the guitar with its multi-string chords. Keyboards can go
from a sharp attack to sustained notes, but they don't have the
personal, hands-on-the-strings connection of a guitar. And trumpets
can be loud and powerful, but not compared to a guitar through
a Marshall stack. I know I don't have to sell YOU, oh Reader
of the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special, on the merits of our
favorite instrument. But I think that every so often we take
the guitar for granted. I just wanted to take a minute to appreciate
it for the special instrument it is.
PPS: Speaking of Beethoven...
PPPS: Customer of the Week: Baby
Birds Don't Drink Milk
Friday 5/9/2008 ~ Martin Electric
Yesterday I got an email from
our second favorite customer. (Our first favorite is YOU, of
course!) He asked if I could identify a guitar in a youtube video.
If you can get past the two million
videos of guys playing soccer, there are some great music clips
on youtube. It's especially interesting to look at the older
videos `cause you never know what instruments are going to show
up... I've seen bands with one guy playing a mid-1960s Harmony
Rocket (2008 value: $595) and the guy next to him is playing
a late-1950s Les Paul Sunburst (current value: Hundreds of thousands
of $$$$). Of course, they weren't "vintage" guitars
back when the videos were shot, but they sure would be nice to
have now. In fact, sometimes when I see old videos of 1960s one-hit-wonders,
I hope that over the years the guys in the band kept their guitars....
since the guitars are now worth more money than they ever made
from the hit song in the first place...
Anyway, the video in question
this week was of a band called The Music Machine, doing
their super-cool hit "Talk Talk." It's one minute and
fifty-six seconds of pure 1966 punk-rock. The lead singer was
playing an easy to recognize Guild Starfire IV, and the bass
player was using an Italian-made EKO violin-shaped bass. And
sure enough, the lead guitarist was using an unusual guitar...
But I knew what it was immediately! A Martin GT-75.
First we must put on our "look-back"
goggles and visit the late 1950's... Gibson and Fender had been
successfully marketing solid-body electric guitars for nearly
a decade, and rock and roll was proving to be more than just
a passing fad. Music was becoming electrified, literally and
figuratively. As a 125-year-old acoustic-guitar-only company,
Martin wasn't quick to jump on any bandwagon, but by 1958 they
figured they'd better get in the game with something electric.
This, of course, was long before the development of the miniaturized
Fishman pickups that Martin and other companies use today...
so Martin opted to screw large pickups right to the face of their
acoustic guitars. In 1959 they introduced three models, the 00-18E,
the D-18E, and the D-28E. All
three were stock acoustic guitars with DeArmond pickups mounted
to their top. As you might imagine, the heavy pickups, knobs
and switches had a serious negative effect on the acoustic sound
of these instruments. And they didn't go over well. The D-18E
lasted for one year, and the 00-18E and D-28E struggled through
to 1964. The least successful of these unsuccessful instruments
was the most expensive one, the gold-hardware D-28E. In 1959
Martin manufactured 176 D-28Es, but only 62 more were made over
the next four years. Here's a picture of John with two of them (.84%
of the entire run!)... one from the first year and one from
Realizing that they couldn't
just modify their standard models, Martin decided to create an
entirely new electric guitar. They saw the success that Gibson
was having with their recently introduced ES-335 line, so they
decided to make a similar thin-body electric. Except they couldn't
make up their mind if it should have the new style double-cutaway
look of the 335, or if it should feature a more classic single-cutaway
design. Their solution: make both! After a handful of prototypes
in 1961, Martin officially introduced the new models in 1962.
They were the single-cutaway one-pickup F-50; the single-cutaway
two-pickup F-55; and the double-cutaway two-pickup F-65. Here's
John with two F-55s. (Yeah, I don't know why I have TWO of
those either...) The F-50 looked like this. And the F-65 looked like this.
Now, I bet you're thinking, "Wow,
a historic, well-respected company like Martin introducing quality
hand-made electric instruments? They must have been a great success!"
Well... er... no, they weren't. After the initial run of guitars
in 1962 sales figures fell dramatically.
Martin's R&D department rushed
back to the drawing board. Was the popularity problem with the
DeArmond pickups? The cutaway designs? The sunburst finish? Or
perhaps the traditional Martin neck and headstock design? Well,
they still had a lot of pickups left from the non-selling electric
guitars so far... And they didn't have any better ideas on the
body shapes... So, color and neck changes were ordered!!
In 1965, as they were selling
off the last of the "F" series, Martin introduced the
two new models: the single cutaway GT-70 and the double cutaway
GT-75. These guitars came in black, burgundy or red, and featured
a new, larger, pointy headstock. NOW they would have a hit on
their hands!!! Except that... no, they didn't. The GT-70 lasted
for two years. The GT-75 made it to three. By 1967 Martin had
had enough and decided to get out of the electric guitar business
(Or DID they????)
(More on that next week!)
Despite their lack of commercial
success, Martin electrics did show up on-stage occasionally.
the youtube clip of The Music Machine with their GT-75.
a picture of Skip Spence playing a GT-75 with Moby Grape.
In 1960 Tony Sheridan, a British
singer who was quite successful in Europe, played a D-28E. He
met the very young Beatles in Germany and their first recording
sessions were as his backup band. Here's a picture of Tony Sheridan with a D-28E
and the lads.
later Kurt Cobain used a D-28E during Nirvana's MTV "unplugged"
See you soon,
PS: Saturday, May 17th we'll
be celebrating Pittsburgh Guitars 29th Anniversary! Stop in for
cookies and one-day-only specials!
PPS: I met Tony Sheridan in Liverpool
a few years ago. He's a very nice guy. One of the songs he recorded
in Germany in 1961 with the Beatles was "My Bonnie."
That 45 record, with Tony on lead vocals, led to Brian Epstein
hearing about the band, becoming their manager and leading them
into history. Tony said he would never have believed he'd still
be singing that song over 45 years later!
PPPS: Customer of the Week: Working
Friday 5/16/08 ~ Our 29th Anniversary!
It was a very strange Wednesday...
Early in the morning some construction
workers accidentally cut into a nearby phone cable. There were
500 phone lines in the cable, and fortunately only 40 were damaged... but one
of them was our DSL line.
Here at Pittsburgh Guitars we
have four phone lines and all of our regular phones worked fine,
so it was business as usual with our local customers. But with
the DSL line dead, and no internet connection, we were cut off
from the rest of the world.
It was amazing how odd it felt.
We have become so accustomed to instant communication with anyone
anywhere, that without it we felt like we were alone, on an island.
Since it's our 29th Anniversary weekend I tried to put this internet-less-ness
in perspective... after all, we didn't have the internet for
the first 16 years of our Pittsburgh Guitars history. But once
you know something, you can't go back and un-know it. The internet
and email is now so much a part of our daily routine that it's
hard to imagine what life was like before it.
I know we existed... But how??
We wandered aimlessly that day.
Betsy vacuumed the entire second and third floor. I straightened
up my desk, and tried to write a letter or two. But even the
letters seemed odd... as the computer stared back at me, mockingly...
as if to say, "Sure, you can type all you want, but it's
not going anywhere..."
Needless to say, we were relieved when things were fixed by Thursday
morning. The first thing I did was sell a Rickenbacker to a guy
in California; then I exchanged emails with Gregg at Get Hip
Records concerning the equipment he'll need for the upcoming
Cynics European tour; then I paid my employees' Pennsylvania
Quarterly State Withholding Tax (you can ONLY do that on-line
these days)... Oh, and then I won a million dollars in an Indonesian
While it's true that I can't
fathom how we conducted business before the internet (and even
before computers!) I do remember the state of the guitar industry
in the late 1970s.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, anyone who could attach
strings to wood was selling guitars like mad in the late 1960s.
But by the mid-1970s many of the Beatle-inspired guitar-buying
Baby Boomers had put their instruments aside, and guitar sales
fell rapidly. All of the major guitar manufacturers were suffering.
Including the world's most famous acoustic guitar maker, Martin.
Last week I talked about Martin's
early experiments with electric guitars. In the early 1960s business
was great. In 1964 they even built a new, larger factory. Their
1965 venture into the electric world was based on a "let's-see-if-we-can-capture-some-of-this-market,-too!"
But by the late 1970s times were different... and desperate measures
were called for. In 1979 they decided to seriously enter the
electric field, and this time they would totally break from tradition
with their first-ever solid body guitar.
For their inspiration they didn't
look to Gibson or Fender, who at the time were semi-out-of-date
"old school." Instead they noticed the young upstart
companies, who were using combinations of fine natural wood.
After all, wood was Martin's field of expertise! Two high-profile
new companies were Alembic on the West Coast and Kramer on the
East Coast. Here are some folks with Alembic instruments.
Here are some Kramer guitars.
In 1979 Martin introduced three
new electric guitars. Well, two-ish actually... (Remember those
hollow-body electrics from last week's email? And they couldn't
decide if they should make a single-cutaway or double-cutaway?
So they made both?) The first two models were the E-18 and the
EM-18... and they were nearly identical. The only difference
was a mini coil tap switch. Here's a picture of John with a Martin EM-18.
The other model was a bass, the EB-18. Here's John with an EB-18.
January 1981 Martin introduced a new, fancier model, the E-28,
along with an accompanying bass, the EB-28. The E-28 featured
neck-thru-body construction, with a carved top. It was a beautiful
guitar. Here's John with a 1981 Martin E-28.
Unfortunately, just as with their
previous electrics, Martin was not able to find a place in the
market. They made a quality guitar, with nice wood and lots of
switches... but they couldn't get past their reputation as an
acoustic guitar maker. In February 1982 they discontinued all
of their electric solid-bodies.
So.... Martin's 1979 trip to
electric-guitar-land didn't last very long. But apparently Pittsburgh
Guitars' 1979 trip to guitar-selling-land has worked out! Tomorrow
we're celebrating our 29th Anniversary. I'm not quite sure how
it has lasted this long. But if it's any indication, when I decided
yesterday to talk about these Martin electrics, I couldn't wait
to go through our big pile of cases and find them. It was exciting!
Even after 29 years it still gives me a thrill to pick up a guitar.
On Monday we'll begin our 30th year of sharing our love of guitars
with Pittsburghers... and, thanks to the internet, folks around
See you soon,
PS: We take a lot of photos for
the email special. Do you ever wonder what goes on behind the
scenes? Stuff like this...
PPS: Customer of the Week: Reverend
Thursday 5/22/08 ~ Happy Memorial
I'm sending this on Thursday,
since you'll be off tomorrow. (I talked to your boss and he said
you could start the holiday weekend early!)
Thanks for helping us celebrate
our 29th Anniversary last weekend. It's been a blast talking
about guitars with you these many decades. And it always feels
nice when someone says they bought their first guitar at Pittsburgh
Last Saturday one of our Anniversary
party customers, Todd, brought in a photo of him holding the
Tele copy he bought during our first year in business. So we
asked him to pose for an updated version. Here's Todd in 1979 with his band... and in 2008
with his son!
And THAT'S why we're in this
Have a safe and happy Memorial
Day Weekend. Stop in on Saturday if you need some strings (or
maybe a tambourine!) for your backyard cookout and sing-along.
We'll be closed for the holiday
on Monday, but first thing Tuesday we'll be ready to start Year
#30 at Pittsburgh Guitars!!
See you soon,
PS: Customer of the Week: Karl
Friday 5/2/2008 ~ Organizing
This week I spent some time at
a warehouse over on the North Side.
I was hanging with a friend of mine, Gregg Kostelich, who owns
and runs Get Hip, Inc. Get
Hip is both a record label and a distribution company for other
labels. They have customers all over the world and they carry
thousands and thousands (and thousands) of records and CDs. Get
Hip handles every conceivable musical genre, but Gregg's true
love is garage-band rock & roll... and he's toured the globe
playing that kind of music with his band, The Cynics.
Next month The Cynics are setting
off on a small US tour, before heading to Europe this summer
to promote their new CD. Their drummer is currently in Los Angeles
and Gregg wanted to put a new drum set together before the tour...
and thus my appearance. I offered recommendations on the correct
drums, stands and cymbals; and once he bought them, I helped
him set them up. As you may know, although I own a guitar store,
I've spent most of my life playing drums. (I love guitars. But
I'm a better drummer than I am guitar player. A LOT better...)
(What do you call a guy who hangs around with musicians? A drummer.)
(A frog is walking down Carson Street, and coming toward him
is a trombone player. What is the difference between them? The
frog might be on his way to a gig.) (A guy stops in to Pittsburgh
Guitars to chat, and leaves his accordion in the back seat of
his car. Five minutes later he remembers that he forgot to lock
his car. He rushes out and looks in the back seat, but he's too
late! Someone put another accordion in.)
I enjoyed my visit to Get Hip.
It was great to see SO MANY records and CDs... and so neatly
organized! I always have trouble organizing my records. I've
opted for the traditional
"alphabetical" approach, but where do you put Elvis,
for example? Under "E" between Elastica and Roky Erickson?
Or do you put him under "P" between Wilson Picket and
Primus?? And what about Weird Al Yankovic? File under "W"
or file under "Y"? And what about Eminem? File under
"E" or file in the trash?
And what about people whose name
you might not remember in a hurry? For example, I have a couple
of Buffalo Springfield albums, but I also have solo albums by
the individual members, Steve Stills, Neil Young, Bruce Palmer
and Dewey Martin. Needless to say, Stills and Young are under
"S" and "Y," but what about the other two?
If I put them under their respective names, I may never find
them again... Should I file them next to the Buffalo Springfield
albums? But then what about the fifth member of the group, Richie
Furay? His next record after the end of Buffalo Springfield was
with Poco, and I have them under "P."
Maybe the philosophy should be:
if you leave a band and don't become at least as famous as the
original band was, then your solo album should be filed with
the original band. So, my Holly Johnson album should be filed
next to my Frankie Goes To Hollywood album...
And then there's the issue of
different styles. For example, I have always filed my country
albums in a different section... and I'm not sure why. After
all, I have the rock, blues, and soul music intermingled. (Although,
I do also separate comedy albums...) (Which
makes it doubly hard to file Weird Al...) (Or is that "triply"?)
I guess when I first started organizing things, the country twang
and the banjo and the pedal steel drew a clear-cut line: these
are "country" bands. As opposed to other acts, like
Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, or The Rolling Stones, which
may be slightly different genres, but not enough to subdivide.
Do you keep your country on a different shelf?
Actually I just watched the Country
Music Awards, and Carrie Underwood opened the show with a song
that was so far from "country" I don't even think anyone
in the band was wearing a cowboy hat. And a couple of nights
ago, on another awards show, I saw Rascal Flatts and one of the
guys (maybe "Rascal") was playing a Gibson SG Junior!
That can't be legal! If these country folk are gonna start using
SG Juniors, I may as well file their albums in with everyone
Hey, speaking of the guitar you
SHOULD have in your country band, this week's email special is
a super package deal on Fender Squier Telecasters. This week
only, if you buy a new Fender Squier Affinity Tele, you'll also
get a Free Fender Gig Bag (List price: $39.95), and Free Sabine
Nextune Chromatic Guitar Tuner (List price: $34.95) and a Free
Ernie Ball Guitar Strap. (List price: $6.50) (Here's a picture of John with the package deal.)
So... buy a guitar and get lots of Free stuff!
See you soon,
PS: Gregg at Get Hip says that
sales of actual vinyl LPs are higher than they have been in years,
especially with younger buyers. If you think about it, it's easy
to see why. Over the last decade the mini-covers of CDs have
removed much of the tangible magic of buying music. And now that
downloading has taken off, most music only exists in its audible
form (and in some digital 0s and 1s, that you can't see or feel).
It's an exciting change of pace to buy an album and get a giant
cardboard cover, covered with art and pictures and information.
With a vinyl LP you have a physical connection with the artist
and their music.
PPS: Also LP covers can feature
some fine guitar photos. Like this. Or this. Or this!
PPPS: Here's The Cynics myspace page.
Seventeen years ago they appeared on "BONOGRAPH... Sonny Gets His Share,"
an album I produced for my label, Bogus Records. "BONOGRAPH..." is
a tribute to Sonny Bono, featuring 16 bands from across the USA
performing Sonny songs. Here The Cynics video for "I Got You Babe."
PPPPPS: Customer of the week: