Email Specials from January 2009

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. (With pickup!)


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: Walk Of Shame

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!

However, 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 sound."

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 the studio 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 G. !!!

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, wrote 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: Co-musings

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 sleeves!


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 time.)

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,


PS: 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.
Electric guitars... 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 paint.

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 paint.

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 never seen!

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 scratches.

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 Steelers
I noticed on GoogleMaps that 70% of the world is covered by water. The other 30% is covered by Troy Polamalu.

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