Friday 12/4/2009 ~ The Gibson
Thanksgiving dinner with the
family last Thursday was very pleasant. But Friday night, by
myself, was pretty sweet, too.
It all started twenty-nine years
ago. During a break between sets, Cindy, the lead
singer in my band The Flashcats, was talking to several of us
outside the Liberty Lounge. (Like many of the places we played,
it's no longer there.) (And I don't mean that it's a different
business... It's an empty lot!) She said, "Now that we have
so many members in the Flashcat Fan Club, why don't we record
a Christmas song and send it out to all of them?" (She was
so young at the time, I'm not sure if she knew that The Beatles
had done that sixteen years earlier...) I said, "Yeah, that'll
Little did I realize that twenty-nine
years later we'd still be doing it. (Although, how often in life
do you look ahead twenty-nine years?) (From now that would be
2038, by the way.)
So, last Saturday, the band got
together to record "Flashcat Christmas record #29."
(I bet those folks who joined the Fan Club in 1980 for $5.00
didn't anticipate this either!) And since I didn't know what
kind of songs the band members
were going to bring, I spent the night before pulling out different
types of guitars to record with. Naturally, I grabbed a Martin
acoustic... and a Telecaster... and just in case, a Rickenbacker
12-string. Then, in the corner I noticed a guitar that I haven't
played in six months... my 1967 ES-345.
When I opened the case I was
struck by what a beautiful guitar it is. And when I plugged it
in, it played like a dream. Now, as I'm sure you know, I have
an appreciation for guitars in general. But this was a joyful
experience. It was like marveling at the visual impact of a work
of art, and then adding an audio dimension. Even with my limited
guitar playing skills, the guitar sounded wonderful. It made
me very happy. And it led to so many different intellectual associations.
First, I felt a personal connection with this guitar. (Every
instrument is different... some feel like strangers, and some
feel like life-long friends.) Then, I couldn't help but think
about the history of this model, and the family of models related
to it. And the many people who have played those models over
the years. And the state of the guitar industry in 1967, when
this one was made.... or for that matter,1959, when the first
345 was made... or 1958, when the 335 was introduced. Plus, I
contemplated my history, buying and selling and enjoying guitars
for the last thirty years... what they've meant to me, and still
mean to me.
Yep, strumming a few chords brought
with it a lot of stuff. It was nice. I'm glad I
opened that case.
Here's John with
my 1967 ES-345.
At this point you're probably
thinking, "Hey, you said '345' and then '335'... What's
up with that? And how can I tell them apart?"
I'm glad you asked.
In the mid-1950s Gibson's Les
Paul was catching on, but many players were still skeptical of
the new solid-body concept. And the only electric alternatives
Gibson offered were their large hollow-body guitars, which were
big and bulky and prone to feedback at louder volumes. So to
attract new players, in 1955 Gibson introduced new thinner versions
of their hollow-body electric guitars, called the "Thin-Line"
series. These were much more comfortable to play.
And slightly less feedback-prone. Then in 1957, Gibson perfected
a new double-coil pickup, which would be loud, powerful and wouldn't
hum when near other electric items. (Because it didn't hum like
the older single coil pickups, it was dubbed a "humbucking"
pickup.) Since this new pickup would allow even louder performances
(and with rock & roll gaining momentum, 'louder' was important!),
Gibson's design department realized that they needed a new Thin-Line
model for the humbucking pickups... one even LESS likely to feed
The R&D team, led by Ted
McCarty, came up with a great idea: a semi-hollow guitar. The
guitar would have a thin body with a solid block running through
the center, and it could be turned up loud without the feedback
issues of a completely hollow instrument.
Introduced in 1958, new guitar
was designated the "ES-335." Here's a picture of John
with a 1964 ES-335.
Gibson loved the design (and
spent a lot of money on the molds) so they immediately introduced
variations on the theme. The first option was a "Custom"
version. Just as with the Les Paul Custom, it featured gold hardware,
block inlays, an ebony fingerboard and a fancy, bound headstock.
Oddly, rather than call it an ES-335 Custom, they named it the
"ES-355." The 355 also featured a unique six-position
rotary switch called a "Varitone" which, thanks to
a series of capacitors, gives different tonal variations. (The
Varitone has a big circular metal piece numbered 1 thru 6 under
the switch. You can recognize it from across the room.)
Then, a year later, they decided
"Hey, let's make something in-between the 335 and the 355!"
And in 1959 they introduced the ES-345. It wasn't quite as fancy
as the 355 (no binding on the headstock), but it did have gold
hardware and the Varitone switch. And it also had really cool
split-parallelogram inlays on the fingerboard.
So, there are three very similar models, utilizing the same body-shape
and semi-hollow design: the ES-335, the ES-345 and the ES-355.
To the man-on-the-street they
may look the same. But YOU can tell the difference!
Despite the fact that some features have been modified on all
three models over the years (different tailpieces, for example),
the neck and headstocks will always allow you to determine the
model. The ES-345 will have split-parallelogram inlays and an
unbound headstock. And the ES-355 will have block inlays and
a fancy bound headstock. (And 99.5% of the time both the 345
and 355 will have the rotary Varitone switch, not found on the
Feel free to use this, if the
conversation lags when the family gathers for Christmas dinner!!
See you soon,
PS: In 1959 Gibson decided they
could make yet another model using the 335 body. The new version,
which was less expensive, skipped the center block and it featured
P-90 single-coil pickups instead of the ES-335's humbucks. This
completely hollow model was designated the ES-330. Here's John
with a 1968 ES-330.
PPS: Gibson also figured that
they could use the 335 body for a bass, and they did. It was
called an EB-2. Here's John with a 1958 EB-2.
PPPS: So, in the space of a few
years Gibson used its new body design on the ES-335, the ES-345,
the ES-355, the ES-330 and the EB-2. Later, in the 1970s, Gibson
added to the collection with the ES-320 and ES-325 (different
pickups) and the ES-340 and ES-347 (different wiring). That's
a lotta guitars with the same body! But, you're probably wondering,
could there be more? Yes!! In 1957 Gibson bought the Epiphone
name, and during the 1960s, Gibson manufactured Epiphone guitars
in the same Kalamazoo factory as the Gibson guitars. Some Epiphone
models were unique to the brand, but several were almost identical
to Gibson models. Except for cosmetic details, the Epiphone Casino
was the same guitar as the ES-330. Likewise, the Epiphone Rivoli
Bass used the same body and electronics as the Gibson EB-2.
PPPPS: Customer of the Week:
Friday 12/11/2009 ~ Big Bands,
Brass Bands, and Songs of the Seasons
Have you ever stood next to a
Man, those guys are loud. The
first time I heard a 1940s-style Big Band play live I was blown
away by their power
and volume... and all without amps. No wonder our grandparents
got so worked up by those bands. And no wonder our great-grandparents
thought swing music was evil. (Thankfully the great-grandparents
didn't live long enough to hear rap music!)
Anyhow, last week I had a chance to see a holiday show by an
all-brass band. There were twenty or twenty-five of them, and
they only used solid-metal-mouthpiece horns like trumpets, trombones,
tubas, etc... no strings (violins, cellos...) and not even reed
instruments (saxophones, clarinets...). (Although, they did have
a couple of percussionists. But, hey... you gotta have drums!)
So I expected them to be super-powerful.
I expected to get the chills... but I didn't.
And I'm still wondering why.
It wasn't the over-all volume. They had that. And they used everything
from piccolo trumpets to tubas, so they had the highs and lows
covered. There was just something missing. Perhaps it was a frequency
thing. Perhaps saxophones and violins fill in some frequency
range that you can't get with just brass instruments, even if
they are hitting the
same notes. I keep thinking about one of my favorite powerful
classical pieces, the Lone Ranger Theme. (It's really the "William
Tell Overture" by Gioachino Rossini.) The trumpets blare
at the beginning (not the real beginning of the original Overture...
you'd recognize that from Bugs Bunny) when the Lone Ranger first
appears on the screen. But after the horns catch your ear, it's
the violins that get things moving. And when the horns and violins
combine, the real power of the piece is achieved. So even though
one trumpet could easily drown out one violin, it seems that
you really need them both for maximum aural satisfaction. I wonder
how this relates to our field... rock & roll?
Meanwhile, during the show the
conductor introduced "Winter Wonderland" by saying
that although it's thought
of as a Christmas song, it really doesn't mention any holidays.
(The lyricist, Dick Smith, was merely describing his fondness
of the winter weather in his home town of Honesdale, PA, near
Scranton, PA. He was in the hospital when he wrote it, so perhaps
the drugs enhanced his appreciation for northern Pennsylvania
As I contemplated "Winter
Wonderland" as a "Winter" song, it made me wonder
about other songs featuring seasons. Let's make a list! I'll
1. I Am A Rock - Simon & Garfunkle
"A winter's day, in a deep and dark December..."
1. Summer In The City - Lovin' Spoonful
2. Hot Fun In The Summertime - Sly And The Family Stone
3. Anything by The Beach Boys
4. Dancin' In The Street - Martha And The Vandellas
"Summer's here, and the time is right, for Dancin' In The
Speaking of Winter, don't forget
to keep your guitar humidified. Dry air in your house is very
bad for the wood in your guitar, and last winter we saw a lot
of cracked instruments. As the temperature drops, and the furnace
runs constantly, your guitar can dry out. And bad things will
happen! We recommend a guitar humidifier... and they are featured
as this week's email special.
Here's John with
a properly humidified guitar.
what can happen if you don't use a humidifier!
(OK, it won't really get THAT
bad... but first you'll notice sharp fret edges...ouch!... and
then cracks... double ouch!!)
See you soon,
PS: Other "Christmas"
songs that don't mention Christmas: Jingle Bells, Frosty The
Snowman, and Sleigh Ride.
PPS: Customer of the Week: Barenaked
Friday 12/18/2009 ~ End-Of-The-Year
I see by the ol' calendar on
the ol' wall, right behind the ol' desk (seriously... I've been
using this same desk for 30 years), that this year Christmas
and New Year's Day are both Fridays.
that means that this will be the last Email Special of the year!
AND the last Email Special of the decade!!
Or am I counting wrong? Is the upcoming year, 2010, the start
of a new decade, or still part of the last one? Hmmmm... Well,
you usually start counting things with "one." It doesn't
sound right to say: "I wonder how many apples are in my
basket? After counting them I see that I have zero apples."
So that would lend credence to
the "start with one" argument... and the next decade
would start with 2011.
But, when I think back to December
31, 1999 (when we were partying like it was...), most people
considered January 1, 2000 to be the start of the new century.
(I know that's what our store computer thinks. It's so sentimental
for the old days that it won't work with any date prior to 12/31/99.)
(Hey, I wonder if it'll start working properly once the last
two digits become "10"? Were the Y2K issues related
to the fact that the first digit in the old two-digit year format
SO.... if 2000 was the start
of a new century, then ipso facto, 2010 should be the start of
a new decade! That makes *THIS* the last Email Special of the
decade! Whew... OK, now that's settled.
Anyhow, thanks to everyone who
wrote in last week (and every week!). We received lots of lists
of seasonal songs. Well, at least lots of songs mentioning Winter,
Summer and Fall... Spring was a bit light. Perhaps most songwriters
are so happy to see Winter end, that they skip Spring, and turn
their lyrical sights to Summer.
Here is a sampling of the many
songs folks sent:
1. I Am A Rock - Simon & Garfunkle
2. California Dreamin' - Mamas & Papas
3. Hazy Shade of Winter - Simon & Garfunkle / The Bangles
4. Sometimes In Winter - Blood, Sweat & Tears
5. Song for a Winter's Night - Sarah McLaghlan / Gordon Lightfoot
6. Winter of A Broken Heart - Alison Krauss & Union Station
7. Winter - The Rolling Stones
8. Winter & My Soul - Grand Funk Railroad
9. Baby, It's Cold Outside - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan
/ Dean Martin / Michael Buble / Jessica Simpson
10. A Long December - Counting Crows
1. Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles
2. Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring - The Four Freshmen / The
3. Southland in the Springtime - Indigo Girls
8. At least it mentions Springtime: The Rain Song - Led Zeppelin
9. At least it mentions Springtime: If Ever I Would Leave You
- Robert Goulet
10. At least it mentions Springtime: Springtime for Hitler -
1. Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochran / Blue Cheer / The Who
2. Summertime - written by George Gershwin, performed by 6,523
people, including Janis Joplin
3. Summer Breeze - Seals & Crofts
4. Dancin' In The Street - Martha And The Vandellas
5. In The Summertime - Mungo Jerry
6. School's Out - Alice Cooper
7. Boys Of Summer - Don Henley
8. Hot Fun In The Summertime - Sly And The Family Stone
9. Summer In The City - Lovin' Spoonful
10. Yankee Doodle Dandy ("Born on the 4th of July")
- George M. Cohan
... and anything by The Beach Boys
1. Moondance - Van Morrison
2. September In The Rain - Dinah Washington / Frank Sinatra /
The Beatles (1960)
3. Autumn Leaves - Nat King Cole
4. California Dreamin' - Mamas & Papas
(The lyrics in this song say:
"All The leaves are brown, And the sky is gray
"I went for a walk, on a winters day..."
He says it's a winter day, but if the leaves were brown it could
have been fall. I read John Phillips autobiography, and I'm pretty
sure he was too stoned to know what season it was. This one's
5. Autumn Goodbye - Britney Spears
6. See You In September - The Happenings
7. Shine On Harvest Moon - Ruth Etting (1935) / Leon Redbone
8. Wake Me Up When September Ends - Green Day
9. Autumn Almanac - The Kinks
10. Fall Is Just Something That Grownups Invented - The Hives
Last week I also mentioned Gioachino
Rossini's "William Tell Overture." It's most famous
for its use as the theme song to the 1950's "Lone Ranger"
TV show. But that section was only part of the original 12-minute
Overture. Other sections were often used in cartoons in the 1940s
Here's a section of Rossini's
"William Tell Overture" that was often used in dramatic
ocean scenes. Picture Donald Duck attempting to steer a boat,
surrounded by giant, dangerous waves, and click here.
another section of the 12-minute overture that was used for peaceful
morning-in-the-meadow scenes. Picture Bugs Bunny waking up in
the morning, yawning, in a quiet field... and click here.
And here's the end of the Overture...
as used by the Lone Ranger.
Yep, all of those musical bits
are from the same piece of music, Rossini's "William Tell
Overture." Hey, at least we're ending the year on a Classical
piece!! No one can accuse us of only knowing rock & roll!!
See you soon,
PS: Speaking of songs about seasons,
Rob S. suggested songs with "season" in the title.
So far we have two:
Season Of The Witch - Donovan / Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll
/ Bloomfield, Kooper & Stills
Seasons In The Sun - Terry Jacks
PPS: This has nothing to do with
seasons or Rossini, but I was just cleaning out my desk and found
a guitar article by Dave Barry. It's five (or ten) years old,
but still relevant... and still funny. Here's the article.
PPPS: From the Just-When-You-Think-You've-Seen-Everything
In February 1964
The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan Show three Sundays in a row.
Yet, they were only in America for a week. The trick: They filmed
their third Sullivan appearance, which was broadcast on Feb 23,
1964, in the afternoon on Feb 9, 1964. So their Ed Sullivan appearances
- Feb 9, 1964 Live at 8PM from New York
- Feb 16, 1964 Live at 8PM from Miami Beach, FL
- Feb 23, 1964 filmed before a live audience at 4:30PM on Feb
Now, of course, we've all known this for years (decades, actually).
That explains why John Lennon is using his old Rickenbacker 325
in the first and third shows, and his shiny new 325 in the middle
show. And we've also known that they performed their current
big hit, "I Want To Hold You Hand," on all three shows.
BUT, someone has recently analyzed the camera angles from shows
1 and 3, and it's really cool to see that the Ed Sullivan director
used the exact same camera blocking on "I Want To Hold You
Hand" for both shows. Of course, nowadays, this would all
be done by computers and would be nothing special. But in 1964
it was some guy sitting at the video mixing board with a piece
of paper. It's fascinating. Check out this youtube video. Just when you
think you've seen everything!
PPPPS: Hey, it's been a great
year here at Pittsburgh Guitars. I hope things are well with
you. And I hope you get to spend the holidays with the people
you love. Merry Christmas!