Email Specials from September 2008

Friday 9/5/2008 ~ A Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song!



This week, as I was contemplating the mysteries of the universe, I thought, "Life is good."

After thirty years, I still enjoy looking at guitars! And Pittsburgh Guitars is still fun!
Spending the day talking to folks about music is always nice. And everyone seems to enjoy the email special pictures and stories and contests. And events like next week's Pittsburgh Guitars' Big Beatle Show #5 are a blast. (BBS #5: Saturday, September 13th, The Rex, 8PM)

But then I thought, "Hmmmm.... It is fun! But I wonder if we can make it even more funner..."


At that moment I remembered last week, when I talked about the the theme song from The Partridge Family TV show, "Come On, Get Happy," and the theme from The Monkees, "The Theme From The Monkees." It occurred to me that while Pittsburgh Guitars is a fabulous guitar store, the one thing we are missing is a Theme Song!!


Here's our newest contest: We need a Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song! We'll put it on our web sites; we'll play it in the store; we'll use it at Pittsburgh Guitars events; it will be forever linked to Pittsburgh Guitars!!
I don't have a style in mind. From an up-tempo music perspective (and the Rickenbacker 12-string), I always liked the theme from "Friends." From a story-telling perspective, you can't beat the themes from "Gilligan's Island" and "The Beverly Hillbillies." And themes from movies like "A Hard Day's Night" or "That Thing You Do!" are very cool. I'm open to suggestions. Instrumental themes can be pretty effective ("Jaws," "Star Wars," etc) but it should probably have words. (Although we don't have to go as far into it as "Creeque Alley" by The Mamas & Papas.) (Unless you WANT to mention that Scott was at Woodstock!)
You don't have to worry about a super fabulous recording. We can do the final recording later. For now we just need the song. I'll start rounding up some great prizes for the winning tune.

Writing a song this brilliant might take a while, so let's shoot for picking the song in November, and having the recording done by December 1st, right in time for the holiday season. Start now! Send in your song at any time. In any format. And as many as you'd like. The only requirement is that it is an original song. (I like parodies, and I'm a big Weird Al fan, but the paperwork will be much simpler if it's original.)

OK!!! Our biggest contest ever!! This is your chance to write the Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song!!! And make all of our lives just a little bit better!!!!!!


See you soon,


PS: Next Saturday, Sept 13th!!!
The Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #5!!!!
8PM * The Rex
Only $5 for a seventy-five Beatle songs, by twenty-five different acts!!

PPS: Customer of the week: From Nova Scotia: Pogey

9/12/2008 ~ Sound Waves and Modeling Amps



I don't have time to write much today... I have to rush off to load the truck for tomorrow night's Big Beatle Show #5!

Last night I plugged in the six Vox Super Beatle amps that we'll be using tomorrow... just to make sure they all still work... and I was reminded how cool it is to play through a big amp!! I had those things cranked!!! There's certainly something to be said for standing in front of an amp that's almost as tall as you are!

Of course, a giant amp, whether it's a Super Beatle, a Marshall stack, or ANY stack (John's first one was an Ampeg V4 with two 4x12 cabinets!!) isn't practical. They're far too heavy... it's hard to fit them in your car... and there's a good chance the rest of your band will be annoyed when you're too loud... BUT they sure are fun.

As I was entertaining the neighbors last night, I thought about the new "modeling amps" being marketed by many companies these days. I'm not a scientist, but as I understand it, they've taken a wavospectrogizmometer, and analyzed the actual sound waves coming from a variety of amps. Then, using modern computer technology, they've replicated those sound waves. So one small amp can now offer "models" of a variety of large, small, new and vintage amps. It works fairly well, and is certainly economical. For example we have a small Vox amp with eleven different amp models... and it's only $134.


As practical as the modeling amps are (for example, you don't hurt your back when you lift them), to me they still don't sound exactly like the originals. As previously mentioned, I'm not a scientist, but here's my guess... I think the difference is the air. When you're standing in front of a big amp, you hear the sound waves, but you also feel the air pressure change... as all of those speakers force the aforementioned sound waves at you. Maybe one of our email special readers, who actually does know something about science, can clarify things. If a modeling amp can duplicate the sound waves of a bigger amp... in other words, the waves look the same when analyzed... do they really sound the same? Or does my "air pressure" theory hold water? (Not that air can hold water...) (or CAN it??)

OK, I'm off to lift heavy amps....
(Owwwww, my back hurts already!)


See you soon,


PS: Tomorrow, Saturday, 8PM at the Rex:
Now twenty seven acts! Sixty-four Beatle songs!
Plus: the Pittsburgh Guitars vintage Beatle instrument collection!
See you there!

PPS: I just had an idea! I'm sending this at noon, so I haven't started loading the truck yet. But if Betsy creates a link... and put's it HERE... we can load a picture later this afternoon. SO, if it's before 4PM on Friday, 9/12/08 when you're reading this, don't bother to click HERE yet... but if it's now after 4PM Friday (and, by "now" I mean when you're reading this...), then click!
(I wonder if that will work???

PPPS: To the hundreds and hundreds of people who got duplicate emails last week, please accept my apologies. I sent the original email, as usual, on Friday afternoon... but apparently we have a "server"... and apparently the email special got "stuck" in the server... and only a portion of the folks on the email special list got the email special. I have no idea how this all works (did I mention, me not scientist?) but by Tuesday, we figured out that if we cancelled the previous email and hit "resend," it might go through... which I believe it did. So, sorry again, that you either received it late, or twice! And hopefully THIS one will work properly.

PPPPS: If YOU are a computer expert, and can help us with our "server" problem, please let me know! We'd appreciate it.

PPPPPS: Oh yeah, last week I mentioned the new "Write A Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song Contest!" I thought it would be nice if we had a theme song. We can discuss it more next week. But start thinking about it!

PPPPPPS: Customer of the Week: The Pittsburgh Steelers

Friday 9/19/2008 ~ Discontinued Island!


Whew! The Big Beatle Show #5 last Saturday was a blast! There was a large, enthusiastic crowd, and the dozens bands and solo performers were great! Even the people who played the wrong chords (me) were enthusiastically received. It was so nice to see so many people having a such good time together. You know, I think the world would be a better place if people from different countries would get together to play Beatle songs. (Maybe we should suggest that to those political candidates!)
Many thanks to John, the new guy, for organizing the show; to Betsy for keeping things running smoothly backstage; and, of course, to The Beatles for writing such great songs!

(And, yes!!, we were able to get the giant amps out of The Rex, into the truck, and back into storage, without any serious injury!) (No, really, I've always walked like this...)


Now that things are back to "normal," I asked John what we should do next... to keep ourselves entertained here at the store. He said, "Remember a couple of years ago when we set up 'Discontinued Island' in the middle of the store?" And I said, "Yes, I do. And, how long have you been working here?? Has it been 'years' already??? Come on... it couldn't be more than a year and a half... maybe two. Could it? Really??? Is life moving that fast???"

Anyway, sometimes manufacturers release new models and discontinue current ones. And some companies, like Danelectro and Hofner, just make one batch of a particular model, and then they're gone. A few years back we used our center-of-the-store display island to put extra discounted prices on discontinued, only-one-left, items. We sold a bunch of stuff (which made us happy) and at great sale prices (which made the customers happy).

So, we're resurrecting "Discontinued island!" We're going to empty the center display (currently holding our Classical guitars), and create a Special Sale area.
And setting up an island is particularly appropriate today, September 19th, since this is "National Speak Like A Pirate Day"??? Awrrrrrrrr.... it's true!


See you soon,


PS: Things are always fun here at the store, but you know what would make our lives even more better??? If we had a Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song!!! "Here We Come... Walkin' Down the Street..."
We've started a New Contest: Write a Pittsburgh Guitars Theme song! You don't need a fantastic recording, we can do that later. All we need is a hum-able, catchy theme, that we can use on our web sites and at Pittsburgh Guitars sponsored events, like The Big Beatle Show #6! Send in your theme... in a any format... We'd like to pick one by November. And besides the Universal Fame and International Notoriety, we'll also have prizes for you!!! So far Fender has contributed a Fender "Classic Vibe" Squier Strat! And Betsy contributed a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20!! If you need any background info please check the Pittsburgh Guitars History page... or stop in the store and interview John, the not-so-new-guy...


PPS: Now that September's BBS#5 is behind us, we can move on to our next massive production: "Night Of The Singing Dead, #16." Yep, for the last sixteen years we've written and produced a new musical extravaganza every Halloween, starring dead rock stars. Here are pictures from 2007's "Night Of The Singing Dead #15." This year's show is Saturday, October 25th at The Rex.

The show isn't written yet, so I don't know much about it... but with such funny cast members as Monty & Zeke, Larry Richert, and Steve Hansen, I know that hi-jinks will ensue. Mark your calendar now. Tickets will be available beginning next week.


PPPS: You know, as I listened to the songs last Saturday, I was struck by some of the cool lyrics. I'm a big fan of songwriters. And while there's certainly nothing wrong with simplistic lyrics like "Love me do, You know I love you, I'll always be true," I particularly enjoy songs that tell mini-stories... Songs, that in the space of two-and-a-half minutes, create a scenario in your mind... For the next couple of weeks, as a tribute to songwriters, I'm going to end the email with song lyrics. No particular band, or writer... just things I heard, and liked, during the week:

"I don't want to spoil the party, so I'll go.
I would hate my disappointment to show.
There's nothing for me here, so I will disappear,
If she turns up while I'm gone please let me know.

I've had a drink or two and I don't care.
There's no fun in what I do if she's not there.
I wonder what went wrong, I've waited far too long
I think I'll take a walk and look for her.

Though tonight she's made me sad, I still love her
If I find her I'll be glad, I still love her."

"I Don't Want To Spoil The Party"
@1964 John Lennon, Paul McCartney


PPPPS: Customer of the Week: The Screaming Orphans!

Friday 9/26/2008 ~ Kustom Amps


Yesterday, as I was fast-forwarding through some TV commercials, a guitar caught my eye.

So, I backtracked the ol' DVR, to see what was happenin' in the ad. (If only advertisers would realize that we'd stop and watch every TV ad, if they'd just put guitars in them!) It turns out that it was a commercial for the Pennsylvania Lottery.
The ad involved two Lottery guys interrupting a band rehearsing in a garage. I didn't really pay attention to what the guys were saying, because I was too preoccupied with the band's equipment. (Oh, wait, I guess that negates my earlier recommendation that advertisers use instruments to get me to watch...) The guitar was a modern-day Strat, which was certainly nice, but not something that would leave a lasting impression. HOWEVER, behind the guitar player were two late-1960s Kustom amps! One appeared to be a PA, and the other was a 100 watt head on a 2x15 cabinet. Now THAT'S the kind of quality entertainment that's next-day-around-the-water-cooler-conversation worthy.

Kustom amps hold an interesting spot in Rock & Roll history. For a few years they were the hippest, coolest thing to have. They were big and powerful and came in six sparkle colors (plus the old stand-by: black). It's easy to recognize a Kustom amp (even in the background in a commercial) because they were covered with padded, pleated, "tuck and roll" Naugahyde.
The company actually started in a garage... Bud Ross's garage in Chanute, Kansas, to be exact. That's where, in the early 1960s, Bud first re-covered an old Fender bass amp with colored vinyl. The instant local popularity this re-covered cabinet led to orders for more, which eventually led him to develop his own line of distinctive amps. By 1966 he was marketing Kustom amplifiers nationally.

And like many stories of success, timing played an important role. Had he only manufactured guitar and bass amps he would have found a certain amount of success. After all, the 1960s were a wild and innovative time fashion-wise; and his bright colors and padded cabinets fit right in. BUT, what really made Kustom a household name (or at least garagehold), were the Kustom PAs!

Like many Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special stories, it all goes back 1964, The Beatles, and the baby boomers... After that fateful February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan appearance, every kid in America wanted to play guitar and start a band. By the late 1960s many of them had... there were bands on every block. And while Fender, Gibson and dozens of other companies were providing great guitars for this generation of new musicians... and Fender and a few other manufacturers were offering great amps... no one was making a decent, mobile PA system. (Many bands were actually plugging mics into their guitar amps, along with their guitar!) Finally, one of the world's best microphone companies, Shure, developed an easy-to-move PA, the Shure Vocal Master. And quick as you can say, "Hey, let's put some sparkle padding on that!" the Kustom PA was born. Like the Vocal Master, the Kustom PA had a 100 watt head, with two speaker columns. But unlike the conservative Vocal Master, which looked like it should be used in a church (and many of them were), the Kustom PA looked Rock & Roll.

Here's the Vocal Master.

Here's John with a Kustom PA.

The Kustom PAs were an immediate hit. Even bands who couldn't afford the Kustom guitar and bass amps bought the PAs. Here in Pittsburgh, Jim Hollowood Sr., who at the time was teaching guitar lessons out of the basement of his house, bought a number of the PA systems... and rented them to every band in town. And the rental charge, for the Kustom PA head and two speaker columns, was $10 a night! I remember often driving to the back streets of McKees Rocks, and going down his driveway, around back to the garage, where we'd load the columns into the back seat of the car. And, you know, I don't think we paid him the $10 until the next night when we brought them back! Wow, that was a different era!

The PAs put Kustom on the map. And if you could afford one of their big guitar or bass rigs, there were a lot of options available to you. One of the most dramatic was a vertical bass cabinet with three 15" speakers. It was BIG! And heavy! Here's a picture from the catalog. They also offered a guitar cabinet with a 15" speaker and a 15" horn! Like this. And one amp set-up listed in their catalog was a 200 watt bass head, with FOUR 2x15" speaker cabinets! Imagine this as your bass rig!

Kustom's glory days were the years 1968 thru 1971. By mid-1971 the company was purchased by Baldwin... and it was downhill from there. (Much like what happened when Baldwin bought Gretsch.) Although, in this case, you can't totally blame Baldwin for Kustom's eventual demise. Anything that has such a unique appearance... and is the hippest, coolest thing around... faces a rapid decline the moment that its moment passes. A gold sparkle padded amp was something to be proud of in 1969... but looked pretty out of date by 1974. The padded Kustoms fell out of favor for decades.

But you know, they were and still are, great sounding amps. The PAs have been technologically eclipsed, but the guitar amps, and especially the bass amps, still pack a punch.

Here's some of the Pittsburgh Guitars Kustom Kollection.


Hey, you know what would look good with your colorful Kustom amp? A colorful, coiled guitar cable! Like this!


See you soon,


PS: After Baldwin, the Kustom brand name changed hands several times. It was eventually purchased by a wholesale company from Cincinnati. They are making new amps under the Kustom brand today.

PPS: We've already received a couple of entries in the "Write A Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song" contest. And I must say, they are pretty good! There's still time for YOUR song, though. Like most theme songs, it should be a minute to a minute-and-a-half long... and catchy... And it should mention the store! This is your chance to go down in history!! Write a theme song, and we'll link it to everything associated with the store.

PPPS: Speaking of big cabinets, I found two in the basement that are in my way. They are both vintage Fender cabinets. And they're both empty. Although they are the same size, one holds two 12" speakers and one holds two 15" speakers. They're both a little dirty, but there aren't any major tears, and the grill cloths are decent. Here's a picture of John with the cabinets. The one with the aluminum channel around the edge of the grill cloth (which dates it to 1969) is the 2x12 cabinet. Today's sale price: $125 each. (Sorry, this is pickup only. They are too big to ship.)

PPPPS: We like to lend a hand to travelling bands and last month we helped a band called The Secret State with an emergency guitar repair. They just sent us a nice thank you note, and this photo of them on-stage in Florida with the Pittsburgh Guitars "Go For The Neck" bumper sticker prominently displayed.

PPPPPS: Last week I mentioned my admiration for songwriters. Chuck Berry not only inspired generations of rock & rollers with his guitar playing, he was a brilliant lyricist. How can you not admire a phrase like, "She moved around like a wayward summer breeze..."


As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat,
I thought I saw my future bride walkin' up the street,
I shouted to the driver, "Hey conductor, you must slow down.
I think I see her, please let me off the bus."

Nadine, honey, is that you?
Oh, Nadine, honey, is that you?
Seem like every time I see you,
Darlin' you got somethin' else to do.

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back,
And started walkin toward a coffee-colored cadillac.
I was pushin' through the crowd tryin' to get to where she's at,
And I was campaign-shoutin' like a southern diplomat.

Nadine, honey, is that you?
Oh, Nadine, honey, where are you?
Seems like every time I catch up with ya,
You're up to somethin' new.

Downtown searchin' for her, lookin' all around.
Saw her gettin' in a yellow cab, headin' uptown.
I caught a loaded taxi, paid up everybody's tab.
Flipped a twenty-dollar bill an' told him, "Catch that yellow cab."

Nadine, honey, is that you?
Oh, Nadine, honey, is that you?
Seem like every time I catch up with ya,
You're up to somethin' new.

She moved around like a wayward summer breeze.
"Go, driver, go, go'on, catch her for me please."
Movin' thru the traffic like a mounted cavalier.
Leanin' out the taxi window tryin' to make her hear.

Nadine, honey, is that you?
Oh, Nadine, honey, is that you?
Seem like every time I see you,
Darlin' you up to somethin' new.

© 1964 Chuck Berry


PPPPPPS: Customer of the Week: Adam Marsland

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