Email Specials from August 2008

Friday 8/1/2008 ~ The 1966 Gibson Catalog


Yesterday I spent some time with my 1966 Gibson guitar catalog.

As you might imagine, Gibson has been publishing catalogs of its instruments for decades. But for years and years (and years) they were boring black & white catalogs like this one from 1957. (Although, in their defense, in 1957 life was black & white...)

In 1966, though, encouraged by the significant increase in guitar sales since the 1964 arrival of The Beatles, Gibson published their most ambitious (and full color!) catalog ever.
(To give you a sense of the impact of The Beatles, Gibson's solid body electric guitar sales rose 181% between 1963 and 1965. Their acoustic guitar sales rose 81%.)

With the money pouring in, Gibson's 1966 catalog was forty-eight pages of gorgeous color photos of their entire guitar and amp line. The guitars were pictured vertically, in a beautiful, easy-to-follow format. Here are their top-selling solid-bodies. Even the various "chapters" in the catalog were separated by artistic photographs. For example, here's the photo that introduced the amp section.

(Re: The solid-bodies... If you recall from last week's email, Gibson discontinued the Les Paul body style in 1960. They redesigned their solid-body guitars into the double-cutaway, beveled-edge SG shape pictured in this catalog. The traditional Les Paul wasn't reintroduced until 1968.)

The photos scanned for this email are from my personal copy of the 1966 Gibson catalog, given to me in 1967 by Vic Lawrence at his shop, Victor J. Lawrence Guitar Studios, in Castle Shannon. My brother John took lessons at Vic's shop; and my mother bought our family's first electric guitar there, a used 1965 Gibson Melody Maker. (Vic was a friendly guy and great teacher. He even wrote a successful series of guitar method books. In the 1970s he retired, and sold the store. At the time I heard that he sold it to another family named "Lawrence"... I don't know if that's true... but it exists today, in the same location, as Lawrence Music. Vic has since gone to the great jam session in the sky...)

Anyway, I've admired this catalog for years. And I've always been intrigued by some of the odd models featured in it. My fascination recently led to me buying one of them. And its existence... and the reason for its oddity, goes back to 1961...

As mentioned earlier in this email, and discussed in greater depth in previous emails, the 1964 "British Invasion" had a significant effect on American guitar sales. But things had been happening just prior to that which helped set the scene for a guitar-demand-explosion. Since the 1930s, story-telling guitarists like Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers had been performing what could best be described as "American Folk Music." In 1961 and 1962 a revival of old folk songs started to spread across the USA... from New York's Greenwich Village, to college campuses around the country. Groups like the New Christy Minstrels and solo artists like Bob Dylan started to find commercial success. And this guitar-based folk music began to seriously creep into the consciousness of mainstream American baby-boomers in April 1963, with the debut of an ABC TV show devoted to folk artists, called "Hootenanny."

Watching the New Christy Minstrels sing "Green Green" and "This Land Is Your Land" on Hootenanny didn't cause every kid in the USA to suddenly want a guitar... that happened in February 1964, when John, Paul, George & Ringo appeared on Ed Sullivan... but it did plant the seed that guitar music could be fun. And it did inspire some kids to take up the instrument, which ultimately led to the American folk-rock music of 1965. Bands like The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Mamas & Papas, and many others, were started by former folk singers.

Getting back to the early 1960s, acoustic guitar music was sparking the public's interest. And Gibson decided that they really needed to cover all possible bases. They already manufactured several four-string tenor guitars, which allowed tenor banjo players to easily move to the guitar. The one thing missing in their line was a steel string acoustic that a classical player would feel comfortable with. After all, nylon string guitars sound beautiful by themselves, but if you're going to be playing "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore" in a college auditorium with six other players, you're going to need the volume of a steel string. And thus the Gibson F-25 "Folk Singer" was born! Here's the F-25 from the 1966 catalog.

The F-25, manufactured from 1963 until 1969, was a steel string guitar with a classical guitar's body, and more importantly, a classical width fingerboard. If Andres Segovia wanted to join The New Christy Minstrels, this is the instrument he'd play.

When I saw one at a recent guitar show I remembered seeing it in the 1966 catalog. I was compelled by some unknown inner force to buy it. Here's John with a 1964 Gibson F-25 "Folk Singer."

But that's not what I really want to talk about...

The F-25 is not an earth-shaking concept. It's just a rare, funny looking guitar that I saw in Vic Lawrence's 1966 Gibson catalog. After I bought the F-25, I dug out the old catalog to check out the guitar's picture. Paging through the catalog, though, brought back distant mysterious memories! I suddenly had the vast realization of its important role in the development of my future! I began to realize the significance of that particular catalog in my life!!!


In 1967, when Vic handed me the Gibson catalog, my brother John was playing the 1965 Melody Maker that Vic sold us. Yet, when I paged through the catalog to find the Melody Maker, I was confused. John's Melody Maker had rounded edges and a black pickguard with black pickups. The catalog Melody Maker had a beveled-edge SG body, with white plastic parts. Gibson had apparently changed the design of the guitar.

Here's my brother John with his Melody Maker at our first ever public appearance. (The Whitehall Shopping Center parking lot... in 1967. I'm on drums behind him.) Here's the 1966 version in the catalog.
I filed this inconsistency in my brain for future use and moved on to other stuff, like girls. But then, in 1969, when John upgraded to a Gibson SG Standard, I pulled out the catalog again. (Yeah, I tend to save stuff...) And again, the guitar didn't match!! By 1969 Gibson had doubled the size of the pickguard, so it went above the pickups as well as below. Here's my brother John in 1972 with his SG Standard. Note how the pickguard differs from the catalog picture eighty-seven paragraphs above.

So, John had two guitars and I had a catalog, and nothing matched. Is it any wonder that I decided to devote my life to studying the model variations of Gibson guitars? (And that, of course, would lead to all brands of electric guitars as well...)


So, this recent F-25 purchase... inspired by a distant memory of an odd looking guitar... led me to dig out its picture... which led me to the realization that my entire career could be traced back to one 48-page publication... the 1966 Gibson guitar catalog.

And that's what happened this week


See you soon,


PS: Here are The New Christy Minstrels on Hootenanny. The lead singer on this song, "Green Green," is Barry McGuire. Two years later he was a solo artist and had a big hit with the tune "Eve Of Destruction." The Hawaiian guy on banjo, the third guy from the right, is Larry Ramos, who later played in the band The Association.

PPS: You may not know that during his "folk" years John (the new guy, not my brother) also played with The Kingston Trio. Here's a rare album cover photo!

PPPS: Customer of the Week: The Wood Brothers

Friday 8/9/2008 ~ A Mystery Solved!


Have you ever run across something that you were very curious about, but it was kinda mysterious, so you put it aside, and then 34 years later, you unexpectedly figured it out? Me, too!!
It all started this Wednesday when I was reading my favorite non-guitar magazine, "Wired." (I know it sounds like a boring computer magazine, but it's not. I heartily recommend it.) Among the many interesting stories in this month's issue was an article about how long things last.

Comparing animal life-spans, for example: Killer whales can live for sixty-five years; while the average life of a lion is fifteen years. With regard to the life-span of data recording, the Wired article compared the inscriptions on an ancient stone tablet found in Bulgaria (seven thousand years old), to info stored on microfilm (estimated readable life-span of one hundred years), to data recorded on home-burned CD-Rs (which some experts now say may only last for five years).

With regard to data-storage, they also mentioned floppy discs. While they don't rapidly degrade, the technology to read them is now so out-of-date that the info is inaccessible. (I have years worth of Pittsburgh Guitars files on large floppy discs... the ones that actually ARE floppy... and I don't have a machine or a program that can read them.)

When I started to think about methods of recording data, record albums naturally came to mind. No matter how far technology progresses, no specific "program" or "data-decoding" is necessary to play a record. I suspect that they will out-live CDs, at least as far as playability is concerned.

And when I started to think about albums, I thought about album covers... and how many times I bought a record just because the cover was cool. They were extra cool if there were guitars on the cover. Like "Having A Rave-Up" by The Yardbirds... or "Everything is A-OK" by The Astronauts.

Then I started to think about LPs that made me laugh... not in a ha!-ha! sense... but in a what's-up-with-that? sense. The first one that came to mind was the the final album by a band called The Outsiders. It's a fake "live" album, with audience applause added to studio recordings. If that's not what's-up-with-that? enough, by the time the album was released there had been so many personnel changes, that no one was sure who was in the band. So, the front cover features two guys with their heads turned so you can't see who they were. AND they're BOTH playing bass! Here's "Happening 'Live!'" by The Outsiders.

When I thought about The Outsiders LP, I remembered a record I bought 34 years ago, just for the cover. It's called "Hep Stars On Stage" and it features a very odd photo of a band, with guys standing on top of amps, striking strange poses. When I bought it I couldn't quite decide if it was a joke. The songs are all cover tunes, so I thought it might be a studio band, with fake musicians posed for the cover shot. The liner notes didn't help... they're in Swedish. Here is the album cover.

But now that it's 2008, and all information known to man is at our finger tips, I figured I'd go to YouTube, to see if the Hep Stars On Stage really existed.

Not only did a band called the Hep Stars exist, they had a wild and crazy stage show. And they actually did stand on top of their amps! And do weird things like the amp poses! And the YouTube video was from the same 1965 show as the album! Here are the Hep Stars doing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" on YouTube.

With a little more internet searching I found that they were actually a very successful band. Their "International Official Website" calls them the "Biggest and most popular pop group during the years 1964-69 in Sweden!" Reading a little further, I discovered that after leaving the band the keyboard player had just a bit more success in the music biz... He's Benny Andersson, and after the Hep Stars he formed ABBA! And now, he's a gazillion-billionaire.

So, it turns out that an LP that I thought might be a fake-band-joke, actually features the guy who wrote "Mama Mia!" Another one of life's mysteries solved!!

Here's what John would look like if he was Swedish. He's even playing a new Hagstrom "Swede" guitar. We ordered a couple of dozen Hagstroms in January to try them out, and sold them all... so we ordered more. They're starting to arrive now.


See you soon,


PS: Last night I figured I should dig out my copy of "Hep Stars On Stage" to photograph it for this email. I have my hundreds of LP filed alphabetically, but I couldn't find it under "H." I sat and thought for a minute...trying to figure out how my mind was working when I filed it. I thought to myself, "Someday you're going to want this record... and you'll remember the strange cover... but you might not remember the name of the band... So, no sense in filing it under their name... But what will you remember?... I bet you'll remember that they were Swedish!!... SO file it with a Swedish band you WILL remember: Locomotiv GT!" Sure enough, in the "L" box, right next to Locomotiv GT was the Hep Stars! And THAT'S how I file stuff!

PPS: I just looked up Locomotiv GT, and apparently they were Hungarian! Good thing I didn't know that when I was doing my filing! I bought one of their albums in the late 1970s (the cover looked interesting)... and I really enjoyed it. I subsequently bought four more, although two are the same album, one in English and the other their native language, which I'm now guessing is Hungarian! Locomotiv GT LPs.

PPPS: Here's the Hep Stars International Official Website.

PPPPS: We have two spots left for our First Ever Pittsburgh Guitars Golf outing on Sunday August 17th. If you're interested, please email John , and we'll sign you up!!

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Steel Battalion

Friday 8/15/2008 ~ Logo Cover-Ups


A few weeks ago I mentioned Victor J. Lawrence, who once owned a music store in Castle Shannon. Several folks wrote to say that they, too, had fond memories of old Vic Lawrence. In addition to running his store and teaching there, he also published numerous guitar lesson and theory books. Someone even sent in one of his music books, the "Play Today Guitar Primer." Here's a link. Notice that the bottom line of the cover says, "Pittsburgh, 34, Pa." It was published before the implementation of the Zip Code. (Five points: What does ZIP Code stand for?) (Ten points if you answered without looking it up in Wikipedia!)

There's a really cute picture of a super young Vic Lawrence on page five. And an even cuter picture of a beautiful Gibson semi-hollow body on page four. In a wonderful understatement, the heading simply says: "The Guitar" (For Five points: What model is the Gibson? Five more points: How can you tell so quickly? Plus an extra Twenty points if you remembered the details from a previous Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special, where I outlined the visual distinctions between the different Gibson models that share the same semi-hollow design.)

It's interesting that Vic, on page five, is holding his personal Guild X-150, but in the photo the "Guild" logo on the headstock has been airbrushed out. I'm going to guess that since The Victor J. Lawrence Music Studio was a Gibson guitar dealer, removing "Guild" was the politically correct thing to do.

I've seen logo cover-ups, before... both on TV and in print ads. For some reason in the early days of Saturday Night Live several bands used black tape to cover their guitar or amp logos. I distinctly remember The Smithereens on SNL with tape covering the Rickenbacker logos on their guitars. (I'm sure there was a story behind that!)

And, of course, print ads and catalog photos often remove competitors logos. Here's a Vox catalog cover, for example. Note that John's Rickenbacker logo has been shaded out, and the bass drum no longer says "Ludwig."

My favorite ad ever, though, is one where the logo was NOT airbrushed... when it should have been! Check out this Fender promo ad featuring Jeff Healey!! Scroll down in the page for a close-up.

(Twenty points if you can send an ad or catalog page... or a link, of course... to a photo with a guitar or amp logo removed.


See you soon,


PS: A few weeks ago I linked to the cover page of the amp section in the 1966 Gibson catalog. It's an artsy, outdoor shot of a Gibson amp. Our friend Susie, who grew up near the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan, recognized the area. She wrote: "The photo of the Gibson amp had to have been snapped on the beach of Lake Michigan (we Kalamazooians would go there to swim, you know)."


PPS: Speaking of a gal from Kalamazoo, Glenn Miller's big hit "I've Got A Gal In Kalamazoo" featured lyrics that spelled out the name of the town. For Ten points, name another Glenn Miller song, that featured counting instead of spelling. Twenty points if you can name it without looking it up on the internet.

PPPS: OK, have you tallied up your points? (The honor-system is at work here!) Send in your answers/point totals, and the winner will get an assortment of logo-branded T-shirts from Martin, Ernie Ball and Vox... and Pittsburgh Guitars!

PPPPS: In the above email I used the term "airbrushed" to refer to photo changes. That's from the days when a photographer would physically re-touch a photo or negative. For a contemporary photo, of course, we'd say "Photoshopped"!

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Both shows at The City Theater were customers this week!

Friday 8/22/2008 ~ I'm A Believer


I was recently at a family reunion. Since we were going to have a big crowd, I took a few guitars... and amps... and a set of drums. (My brother John brought the PA.)

As you may know, drums are my main instrument. At the reunion, though, I spent some time playing guitar... and, as always, I loved it! One of the things that differentiates the guitar from the drums is that if you don't know a part, you can just stop playing! If I got to a chord I didn't know, I would confidently stop... and it looked like I was just adding dynamics!

Naturally, at the jam I suggested simple songs: "Gloria" (three chords E-D-A); "Hang On Sloopy" (three chords G-C-D); and, of course,"Louie Louie" (three chords A-D-Em) (the third one is a minor chord, but it's an easy one!). At one point I thought I'd get adventuresome and add a four chord song, The Monkees' "I'm A Believer." (G-D-C...and F).

Kids were dancin', siblings were bobbing their heads, it was a hit. In fact, it was oddly popular. I was surprised...

It turns out that three different family generations were enjoying the song for three different reasons. (1) My older brothers and sisters remember the original Monkees 45. (It sold eight million copies. We bought two)... (2) Several 35-ish-year-old family members are Neil Diamond fans. (He wrote the song and it's on his Greatest Hits CD)... (3) And the kids liked it because apparently it's featured in the Shrek movie! (Recorded by the band Smash Mouth).

I knew that the series of Shrek films were kids' cartoon movies, but I wasn't familiar with them. After watching the kids dance to "I'm A Believer" I looked up the movie soundtracks... and there are some rockin' songs on there! In addition to "I'm A Believer," the first film includes a cover of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation." And the third movie has songs by The Ramones and Led Zeppelin! I'm glad DreamWorks is teaching the kids to rock!


See you soon,


PS: The Monkees "I'm A Believer"

PPS: Smash Mouth "I'm A Believer"

PPPS: I mentioned this story to someone from England and they said, "Don't forget about the version by EMF, Oiy!!" I didn't understand the "Oiy!!" until I heard it. Now it's hard to forget it!
EMF "I'm A Believer"

PPPPS: The winner of last week's "Count Your Points Contest" is Bill M. Bill wins and assortment of logo T-Shirts from Martin, Vox and others. Thanks to all who entered our first ever honor-system contest!

PPPPPS: The answers were:
1) ZIP- Zone Improvement Plan
2a) The guitar pictured is a Gibson ES-355.
2b) You can tell quickly by the bound headstock. The ES-335, 345, and 355 all use the same body, but the 355 is the fanciest, with binding on the headstock, just like the headstock on a Les Paul Custom.
2c) I discussed those models in the Email Special from 04/27/07. Here's the Archive Link.
3) Several folks sent in ads with removed logos. Here's a State Farm ad from the August 22nd issue of Entertainment Weekly.
4) The Glenn Miller song with counting: "Pennsylvania 6-5000"


PPPPPPS: Last week I mentioned Vic Lawrence who used to have a music store in Castle Shannon. Many people wrote to say they remembered Vic fondly. John C. never met him, but was influenced by Vic just the same. Here's John's response to last week's Email Special:


I enjoyed hearing about Vic Lawrence in your email. And when I saw the back cover of the instruction book, it triggered a memory. I have one of those chord finder charts listed on the back. Actually I have two, and it has been a great tool for teaching me guitar.

Here's the story. I grew up on the North Side in the 50's and 60's. At that time the only place to see guitar stuff on the North Side was Volkweins, other than the pawn shops on East Ohio Street, which I frequented also. Anyway, we teenage boys would stop in Volkweins from time to time and admire the guitars and amps that we could never afford.

They had a glassed off playing room beside the showroom, and occasionally someone would have a guitar in there with all the amps, trying it out. We would stand outside and watch.

One day I'm outside the playing room watching and the guy inside motions for me to come in and listen. Turns out he plays for the Vogues, and he tells me "Here's a song you'll hear on the radio next week". He plays and sings the song, and it's "5 O'Clock World." I tell him I'm just learning to play and would he recommend anything. He says to go downstairs and tell them you want Lawrence's chord finder, which I did. It was only a buck, and this guy says it's all you need.

It was a great tool and I used it a lot.

OK, fast forward to about 5 years ago. Now Volkwein's has moved to some industrial park out parkway west. And I happen to be out there on business and notice the store. I go in and browse around and remember my old worn, now lost, chord chart. I ask the guy in the sheet music section if by chance they have the Lawrence chord chart. He goes to the file cabinets, same way they catalogued things when they were on the North Side, and he brings me a brand new chord chart, looks exactly like the one I had. Last one in the store. I ask him how much, he turns it over, and it says $1.00, same as it did in 1942, so that's what he charges me!

When I went looking for the new one to send you a picture, I found the old one. Here's a picture of my original Lawrence Chord Chart.

Just thought you'd enjoy sharing another great memory of a life touched by the great Vic Lawrence. When you mentioned him last week, I didn't make the connection. Until I saw that instruction book cover this week. Never met the man, but he's had a profound effect on my self-taught guitar playing.

Keep up the good work. Hope to see you at the next Beatles show.

John C.


PPPPPPPS: Today Dave E. came to the store, and surprisingly he brought in another version of the Lawrence Chord chart! Vic's earlier version was published by Volkweins. The newer one was published by Vic himself in the 1960s... and twenty years later it cost 75 cents more than John C.'s! Dave also brought in his original Vic Lawrence method book, along with a copy of "Flight Of The Bumble Bee" that he bought from Vic. Dave said he could never master the song, but that Vic was so good and could play it so fast that it actually sounded like a bumble bee! Dave also told us that one of Vic's students was the great Joe Negri.

PPPPPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Euphonic Brew
Euphonic Brew MySpace Page

Friday 8/29/2008 ~ Songwriters


I was sitting on the couch last night, playing guitar... and I decided to open some song books and play actual songs.

As I strummed along, humming the melodies in my head, I was reminded how much I admire songwriters. I don't know how folks can start with simple D, A and G chords and end up with melodic, catchy, songs. It's miraculous to me.

Last week I mentioned that The Monkees' "I'm A Believer" was written by Neil "Pardon-Me-I-Have-A-Sore-Throat" Diamond. Neil, of course, is a famous performer as well as a writer. The flip side of that multi-million-selling record is also a great song, "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." "Steppin' Stone" was written by two guys that you may not be familiar with, Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart. As performers Boyce & Hart had a #8 hit in 1968 with "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight"... but their biggest songwriting success was with songs they wrote for the Monkees, including 1965's "Last Train To Clarksville" and "The Theme From The Monkees." ("Here we come... Walking down the street...")

Boyce & Hart got their start in 1964 with a #3 hit for Jay And The Americans called "Come A Little Bit Closer." "Come A Little Bit Closer" was a collaborative effort, written by Boyce & Hart and songwriter/producer Wes Farrell.

Wes Farrell was making money in 1964 from a song he wrote in 1960 called "Boys." "Boys" was originally recorded by The Shirelles, and released as the flip side of their #1 hit "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." In 1963 The Beatles covered it on their first album, and the royalty checks are still coming in. (The LP was called "Please, Please Me" in England and "Introducing The Beatles" in America.) ("...and now, here's Ringo!")

In addition to the Beatle royalties, Farrell did OK for himself with another tune written in 1964: "Hang On Sloopy." "Sloopy" was co-written by Wes Farrell and another songwriter/producer, Bert Berns. (Bert's middle name was Russell, and he often wrote under the the name Bert Russell, as well as Bert Berns.)

Bert Berns should be more of a household name than he is. With assorted songwriting partners, he has certainly left his mark on rock & roll. In addition to "Hang On Sloopy," Bert wrote "Tell Him" for the Exciters, "Twenty Five Miles" for Edwin Starr, and in 1967, he co-wrote the classic "Piece Of My Heart" for Erma Franklin. (Aretha's sister.) Erma's version was a minor hit on the Pop Charts, but a year later Janis Joplin covered it, and the rest is history.

Now, you're probably saying, "Wow, with 'Tell Him,' 'Twenty Five Miles,' 'Piece of My Heart' and 'Hang On Sloopy' Bert Berns has written some big songs! Could there be more??" Well, there's "Everybody needs Somebody To Love" co-written with, and recorded by Solomon Burke (1965); and covered by The Rolling Stones (1965), Wilson Pickett (1967) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

And there's actually one more: in 1961, with Phil Medley, Bert Berns wrote a song that is probably being played somewhere this exact moment, "Twist & Shout." "Twist & Shout" was recorded by The Isley Brothers in 1962, covered by The Beatles in 1963 (on the same album as "Boys") and played by a million-billion bands since.

And what does all of this mean? I dunno... I'm just ramblin'... I like music, and since there are only a finite number of chords, we need songwriters like these folks to add melody to those chords, and add songs like these to our lives.

So I like songwriters. And that's what I'm sayin'.

Have a great holiday weekend!


See you soon,


PS: Bert Berns' writing partner on "Piece Of My Heart" was Jerry Ragovoy. Ragovoy has lots of other songwriting credits, but the tune I'm most familiar with is one he wrote in 1963, and was covered by The Rolling Stones in 1964, called "Time Is On My Side."

PPS: Wes Farrell, who wrote "Come A Little Bit Closer" with Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart in 1964, must have been inspired by their success with the "Theme From The Monkees." In 1970 he wrote the theme song for the Partridge Family Show, "Come On, Get Happy."

PPPS: Last week's First Annual Pittsburgh Guitars Golf Outing was a blast. Here are some pictures. We'll definitely do it again!

PPPPS: Speaking of doing it again: Saturday Sept 13th:
The Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #5 at The Rex!!!

PPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Old Mill
Appearing 8/30/08 at Club Cafe

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