Friday 1/9/2009 ~ Nat Daniel
& Early Acoustic/Electric Guitars
Last night I came home after
working eleven hours at the guitar store... and threw myself
on the couch.
(I didn't really HAVE to spend
eleven hours at the store, but I've been analyzing
last year's sales figures. It's time to place our 2009 orders,
and it's interesting to see how things went in `08. I worked
up a bunch of charts and spreadsheets with lots of percentages
and stuff. I really like numbers, so it was fun!)
Anyway, I turned on channel 209
and they were showing David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust &
The Spiders From Mars" concert from July 3, 1973. He was
using a mini-jumbo 12-string acoustic guitar, with a DeArmond
pickup across the soundhole. At first I thought it was a late
1960s Guild F-112, but then I saw that it had an adjustable saddle,
like a mid-1970s Epiphone... The lighting at this show was very
stark, perhaps to compliment Bowie's heavy-eye-make-up-with-no-eyebrows
look, so there was never a clear shot of the guitar's logo. At
one point, though, the headstock was silhouetted against the
white bass drum head, and it appeared to have a "horned"
headstock, like the body of a Burns Bison. (I mentioned the Burn's
guitars a few weeks ago. Here's a picture of a Bison.) Since Burns
didn't make an acoustic 12-string I was mystified.
So... I fired up the old internet,
and after an hour of searching I found nothing! Here's a picture of the guitar, but I can't
find anything that indicates the brand.
As I was rummaging around cyber-space,
I started to think about Bowie's soundhole pickup. He added the
DeArmond to his yet-to-be-identified instrument
because in 1973 there weren't a lot of options for amplifying
an acoustic guitar.
That got me thinking about guitar
manufacturers who tried to fill this need... by adding pickups
to their regular acoustic models. In previous email specials
I discussed Martin's attempt to 'go electric.' Here's John with a 1964 Martin D-28E. And
then of course, there was Gibson's approach... with the model
made famous by The Beatles, the J-160E. Here's our John with a 1968 Gibson J-160E.
(As a side note: over the years
Gibson has tried different approaches with their pearl logo.
In the late 1960s they used a block of pearl, and painted the
outline of the "Gibson" logo over it. On this particular
guitar someone scratched off the outline, to reveal just the
pearl block. Here's a close-up.)
The D-28E and the J-160E reminded
me of the one guy who approached the
electric/acoustic concept from the OTHER direction: the late
great Nat Daniel!
Nat was a non-guitar-playing
inventor, and the genius behind the Danelectro company. Nat introduced
an amazing number of "firsts" with his Danelectro guitars,
including the first electric 12-string, the first six-string
bass, the first electric sitar, the first tilt-adjustable neck,
the first shielded electronics on an electric guitar, and more.
The original Danelectro company was in operation from 1954 until
1969; and they made guitars under their own name and under the
"Silvertone" brand for Sears. Nat's instruments were
designed to be inexpensive, yet they were so well constructed
that they work as well today as when they were made.
(If you go to the bottom of the
home page and do a search in CarlsGuitarCorner for "Nat
Daniels"... or "Nat Daniel"... his name really
doesn't have an "s" but I've erroneously spelled it
that way... it will take you to the other times I've mentioned
Danelectro over the years.)
Nat came to mind last night because
of his unique version of the electric/acoustic. His Danelectro
guitars appear to be solid-bodies, but they actually feature
a hollow pine wood framework, with a masonite front and back.
In 1959 Nat realized that if he cut a round hole in the top of
one of his guitars, it would become an acoustic. Not a great
sounding one... but an acoustic! Of course, this instrument couldn't
compete with the all-wood acoustics being made by everyone else
in the world... but Nat had a plan! He offered the guitar as
an "acoustic" with pre-cut holes (covered with metal
inserts) so that you could (at some later time) add one of his
regular pickups. Or as an option, you could buy the guitar with
the pickup already installed.
Since the guitar was available with or without the pickup, he
called it the "Convertible." (It's a little bit of
a misnomer. Unlike a "convertible" car, where the roof
regularly goes up and down, you wouldn't really take this pickup
in and out. But strictly speaking, you could buy it as an acoustic,
and "convert" it to an electric.)
Here's a catalog
photo from 1965. The
Convertible was $45 without the pickup, or $65 with a pickup.
The pickup, with wiring and controls, was available separately
for $20. This model was available from 1959 until the company
closed its doors in 1969, and in every catalog I have it's the
same price. Those were the days!
Here's John with
a 1963 Danelectro Convertible.
I've always been amused by another
Danelectro model, which is also pictured on that 1965 catalog
page... the Danelectro Double-Neck. It's a six-string guitar
neck paired with a short scale bass neck. Here's John with a 1960 Dano Double-Neck.
See you soon,
PS: Nat Daniels also made amps.
(Darn, I did it again! It's "Daniel.") And like his
guitars, they were available as Danelectros or Sears Silvertones.
I have a Danelectro DM25 that I've been using for thirty years
without ever changing as much as a tube. It has been left in
cold rehearsal halls, backs of bars, and corners of basements,
but it always works when called upon. It may be made out of pressed
fiber-board and masonite, but it's been a faithful friend for
decades. Here's a video of John with my DM25. He's
playing my Danelectro/Silvertone Amp-In-The-Case guitar.
PPS: If YOU know what 12-string
David Bowie was using in 1973, please send
me an email!
PPPS: For the trivia buffs in
the audience, the little known model numbers for the Danelectro
guitars mentioned above are:
*Convertible Without Pickup: Model 5005
*Convertible With Pickup: Model 5015
*Double-Neck: Model 3923
*Two Pickup Amp-In-The-Case Silvertone: Model 1457
PPPPS: Customer of the week:
PPPPPS: Welcome to 2009!!!!!!!!!
Friday 1/16/2009 ~ Danelectro
Basses and NRBQ!
Twenty years ago a guitar dealer
friend of mine looked at a 1950's Fender decal, and said, "That
logo looks like it was written with spaghetti." (Here's an example.) He started calling Fender
instruments from the 1950's "spaghetti logo" guitars.
Today that term has become commonplace and is universally accepted
as a description for that type of decal.
That kind of nickname nomenclature
happens in many fields. ("Adam and Eve on a raft, and put
legs on `em.")
But last week when I was talking about Danelectro guitars it
occurred to me that one of the Danelectro nicknames is particularly
odd... because it's true. For decades folks have referred to
Danelectro pickups as "lipstick tube" pickups. It's
a justifiable nickname, because they certainly look like lipstick
tubes. The funny part is that they actually ARE lipstick tubes.
The ever-clever Nat Daniel realized that the top of a lipstick
tube was the perfect size for half of a guitar pickup. And the
solid metal covering offered great shielding. (Here's a picture of a Danelectro pickup,
actually constructed from lipstick tube covers.
As I was thinking about Dano
pickups, Joey Spampinato crossed my mind. Many folks have used
Danelectro guitars over the years, perhaps the most famous being
Jimmy Page in Fred Zeppelin. (Jimmy
with his Model 3021.) But MY favorite Dano player is the
wonderful Joey Spampinato from the super fabulous NRBQ.
NRBQ has been around for decades,
and although they've never had a radio hit, they have legions
of faithful followers. I've seen them over a dozen times. And
because of their eclectic musical style and never-working-from-a-set-list
approach, every show is a new experience. I love `em!
the very FIRST time I saw them I wondered about the bass. (Actually,
my concerns only lasted for two songs. By the third song I was
a life-long fan.) But for those first six minutes, my very very
first impression was: "These guys are great! But Joey's
bass playing is so fluid that there is no 'traditional' bass
I didn't immediately realize
that NRBQ is truly a unique band. And being traditional is not
their plan. You see, I was temporarily stuck in 'this-has-to-be-commercial'
land. NRBQ plays for the love of the music, and they
are all on the same plane... and it's a plane headed for wackyville.
And I wouldn't want them any other way.
So, getting back to Joey, and
his Danelectro... The question that came to mind this week is
this: Is Joey's unusual bass sound due to the bass he uses, or
the unique way he plays it?
Joey's bass for many years was
a 1959 Danelectro/Silvertone Model 1444. To hear Joey's bass
in action, and to get a taste of the Q, first let's listen to
recording of NRBQ's "I've Got A Rocket In My Pocket."
Now here's a youtube
clip of them playing it live.
So... I figured that the best
way to know how much of Joey's sound is courtesy of the lipstick
tube pickup, would be to compare that bass to other basses. I
just happen to have a 1959 Model 1444 exactly like Joey's. (I
know, what are the odds?) Here's John with the bass.
My plan was to play that bass,
side by side with a couple of other brands.
And that's what we did! Here's the video!
I know it's hard to judge the
sound of a bass guitar through computer speakers.... but what
do you think?
See you soon,
PS: Did I mention how much I
LOVE the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Specials? Last week I asked
what guitar David Bowie used on the 1973 Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars tour. I couldn't even find the answer on
the INTERNET!! Well, one of our Email Special readers wrote back
and explained that it was a Harptone guitar! Michael G. not only
knew the guitar brand, he used to have a music store and he used
to sell them! Harptones were made by Sam Koontz in Linden, NJ.
George Harrison had one. Here's a picture of the one formerly owned by
George. Since The Beatles knew David Bowie, it may even have
been Harrison's guitar that Bowie was using! Thank you Michael
PPS: I mentioned earlier that
Joey Spampinato used his Danelectro/Silvertone Model 1444 for
many years. He stopped
using it in the mid-1990s when he had a Dano Shorthorn repro
made by Jerry Jones in Nashville. The Danelectro company had
been out of business for many, many years when Jerry opened his
shop. Jerry wanted to capture the magic of the old Danelectros,
and he hand made high-quality USA replicas. Joey commissioned
him to make a one-of-a-kind Lionel-train-orange one-pickup-shorthorn.
I couldn't help myself, and I begged Jerry to make another one
for me. Here's my Joey Spampinato Jerry Jones bass,
autographed by NRBQ.
PPPS: Yes, you're right,"Spampinato"
is an unusual name. In fact, NRBQ's keyboard player, Terry Adams,
a song about it!
PPPPS: I got an email this week
from Adam, telling me that he'd picked up a ukulele here at the
store when he was in town over the holidays. He and his girlfriend
Irene used it to record the song "Major Label Debut."
He sent the link to their myspace page where you can hear it!
And they're our....
....PPPPPS: Customer of the week:
Friday 1/23/2009 ~ Musings On
The NAMM Show, The Yardbirds, and Why We're Here
So..... It was a bit cold here
in Pittsburgh last week. -7 degrees. (For our international readers,
that's -21.66 degrees Celsius.)
Unfortunately, I missed it. I
was in Anaheim, California, for the NAMM Show, where it was 80
degrees. (That's "Really Warm" in Celsius.) But hey,
I had weather issues too: it was so hot I had to roll up my shirt
I like NAMM (which stands for
the National Association of Music Merchants). Imagine a large
convention hall with
thousands and thousands of instruments... It always inspires
me to add new guitar lines to our store. So I did! I ordered
twenty different models from a company that I know you'll recognize.
(Yeah, there is the question of where to put them... but I figure:
order the guitars first, then worry about where to display them.)
We haven't completed the paperwork
yet, so I probably shouldn't mention the company's name... but
as I was ordering the first few I started to wonder if I'm too
old. The first three guitars I ordered were signature models
of guys I didn't recognize... Mark Tremonti, Paul Allender, and
Mike Mushok. Do you know them? The sales rep told me that they
sell a lot of these models... and I believe him, since the first
guy was at the booth signing autographs and there were a hundred
people in line waiting.
Now, of course, there's a lot
of music out there, and it's hard to keep up with every guitarist
from every genre. So, I expect there will be people that I don't
know. It was just odd to be hit with three in a row! But I'm
always glad to see new guitarists inspiring new players. In fact,
this week I'm going to take a survey of our many guitar students
here at Pittsburgh Guitars, and see who inspired them to take
lessons. Maybe I'll learn a few more names.
I was still feeling a bit dated
on the flight back to Pittsburgh, but as I was driving home from
the airport an interesting thing happened. I was listening to
the fabulous you-never-know-what-you'll-hear-next satellite radio,
when they played "I'm A Man" by the Yardbirds from 1965. (Here's
the song.) The first thing that crossed my mind was: I really
like the sound of the "da-da da-da" riff. (it's actually:
G C Bb G) I wondered if it was just the harmonica, or a blend
of the harmonica and a guitar. Fortunately I only had to wonder
for 24 seconds, because right at the 00:25 mark, Keith Relf forgets
to play the harmonica part and you can clearly hear the guitar
notes. (Here.) (You can't blame Keith. After all,
he was singing lead and playing the harmonica riffs at the same
And Keith's missing that one
line made me appreciate how cool older recordings are, when things
weren't always perfect. If that song was recorded today, the
producer/computer operator would have simply cut and pasted the
harmonica riff from somewhere else in the song. (And I wouldn't
know if the guitar was playing too!)
After all of that rattled through
my brain, I thought: You don't hear the Yardbirds mentioned much
these days, but there is something truly significant in their
history. During their brief four-and-a-half year moment in the
spotlight their line-up included three of the world's top lead
guitarists: Eric Clapton (from 1964-1965), Jeff Beck (1965-1966)
and Jimmy Page (1966-1968). And for four months in mid-1966,
BOTH Beck and Page were in the band. I'm not sure any other band
can claim that kind of musical heritage.
THEN I thought, at the NAMM Show,
Martin just introduced a new Eric Clapton Signature guitar. And
Gibson just released
a new Jimmy Page Les Paul. And Fender already has a Jeff Beck
Signature Strat in their line. All three of those guys, from
way back in the Yardbird days, were represented at this show!
And two of them have brand new 2009 models!
They've been around for decades,
and they are STILL inspiring new players.
So... even if I am sometimes
out of touch with the latest rock hero, the folks who motivated
me to open Pittsburgh Guitars in the first place still hold a
valid place in the music industry. And ergo, ipso facto, quid
pro quo, so do we!!!
OK! I'm convinced! We'll stay
in the guitar biz!!! And I have to-- Since this May will be Pittsburgh
Guitars' 30th Anniversary! Let's do some fun stuff!! Let's have
a party!! I'll start working on it.
See you soon,
When I mentioned three famous guitarists in one band, I said:
"I'm not sure any other band can claim that kind of musical
heritage." Of course I wasn't counting The Beatles. John,
Paul & George inspired more future guitar players (and future
guitar store owners) than anyone else.
PPS: If you have any cool ideas
for our 30th Anniversary celebration, please send `em in! We'll
start working on it now!
PPPS: Customer of the week: The Jades
Friday 1/30/2009 ~ Relic'd Guitars
and The Fender Body-Guard
As the UPS man was delivering
some boxes yesterday, I said, "Just throw those in the corner...
If they get scratched, it will make them more valuable!"
It all goes back to the early
1950s... and rock & roll.
well, archtop acoustic instruments with pickups added... have
been around since the 1930s. But in the `50s, with the introduction
of solid-body electric guitars, and a more aggressive style of
playing, guitars were being "rocked" like never before.
The instruments and electronics could certainly withstand rock
& roll... but the guitar's weak point was soon discovered:
the finish. In fact, if you had to list the biggest change in
electric guitars since the 1950s, it would be the paint.
Today's guitar manufacturers
use a polyester/polyurethane finish that is extremely durable.
But from the 1930s (when spray guns came into use) until the
late 1960s, guitar makers used the best finish material available
at the time: nitrocellulose lacquer. And while nitrocellulose
lacquer looks good,
it does not wear well with extensive use. On instruments like
Fender Stratocasters, Jaguars and Jazzmasters, where the player's
forearm rubs over the top of the guitar, the lacquer often wears
right through. It's not unusual to see vintage guitars with worn-off
Since vintage guitars have such
a high value, both monetarily and coolness-etarily, they are
in great demand. But not everyone can afford a vintage guitar.
And many folks who DO own one are hesitant to take it out to
a drunken bar. So, to capture the look and feel of vintage instruments,
Fender, Gibson and other companies have opened "Custom Shops,"
to make new instruments with vintage specifications. And the
Custom Shops not only make guitars with vintage specs, they make
guitars with replicated vintage-style nicks, scratches and worn
As you might guess, the words
"Custom Shop" are very close friends with the words "it's expensive,"
so we've never carried pre-worn vintage reissues here. But this
month Fender released a new series called "Road Worn."
Unlike the Custom Shop instruments, these are affordable, and
to be honest they look great! I know it's still a questionable
concept... buying a new instrument that's already scratched...
but I think I like these. Here's a picture of John with a couple of them:
new Fender "Road Worn" `60s Reissue and `50s Reissue
Strats. (I wonder if years from now we'll be looking at a used
version of one of these and saying, "I don't think that
third scratch on the lower corner is original.")
Looking at these guitars, and
thinking about the many vintage guitars in the Pittsburgh Guitars
collection, brought something to mind... An item you may have
In 1964, after years of dealing
with worn lacquer issues, Fender introduced something to help
protect their guitars. The Fender Body-Guard! The Body-Guard
was a molded plastic piece designed to be mounted on the back
of your guitar. It didn't do much for the beveled front area,
where the lacquer would be worn off by your forearm, but it did
protect the back of the guitar from belt buckle wear and other
The Fender Body-Guard was available
in red, white, black and see-thru. I have seen them for Strats,
Jazzmasters and Jaguars. Other models may have been available
as well. Here's John with two of them: a white Jaguar
Body-Guard and a red Jazzmaster Body-Guard. The Body-Guard was
not a successful accessory. In my 30 years at Pittsburgh Guitars
I've only ever seen ONE actually installed on a guitar. (The
installation itself may have been one of the reasons for its
failure. The Body-Guard
was designed to be held on by your strap buttons. But it did
not come pre-drilled. So, you had to take-off your strap buttons,
hold the Body-Guard in place, estimate where the holes should
be, remove it and drill holes through the plastic, and then reinstall
your strap buttons, hoping that everything would line up.)
And the irony of this product
is that if you DID use it, it ultimately damaged your guitar
anyway! To protect the sides of the guitar the Body-Guard came
with a piece of foam mounted along the inside edge. Unfortunately,
the type of foam available in 1964 eventually deteriorated (here's
a close up), and in doing so melted the lacquer it was in
contact with. If you find a guitar today that previously sported
a Body-Guard, its back may be free from wear, but there will
be a messy line all the way around the edge!
Fenders initial stash of Body-Guards
lasted for several years. By 1968 they gave up on the colors
and only offered the clear version... (during installation it
was easier to find the strap button holes!) By late 1969 they
were off the price list. Now, they are just another odd-ball
part of Fender's history. But I thought you'd like to know!
See you soon,
PS: I'm not sure how Fender wears
off the finish on new Road Worn Series guitars... but they are
painted with vintage style nitrocellulose lacquer. (Perhaps they
have an automated robot-guitar-playing machine, that does solos
for 10 days straight!) (Or maybe an assembly line of little old
ladies with sandpaper...)
PPS: Speaking of guitar finishes,
today is the 40th anniversary of The Beatles last public performance.
On January 30, 1969 they set up on the roof top of Apple Headquarters
in London, and played five songs from the new album they were
working on. And John Lennon used his formerly-sunburst 1965 Epiphone
Casino. A few months earlier, in the summer of 1968, under the
impression that the wood would "breathe" better (and
perhaps under the impression of mind-altering substances), he
sanded the finish off of the guitar. Here is the original finish. Here's
John 40 years ago today, with the same guitar, with the finish
removed. Here's our John with a used natural Casino Reissue.
PPPS: Customer of the week: The Pittsburgh
I noticed on GoogleMaps that 70% of the world is covered by water.
The other 30% is covered by Troy Polamalu.