Email Specials from March 2009

Friday 3/06/2009 ~ A Contest!


Hey!! You know what we haven't had for a long time? A contest!!

One reason that it's been so long is that darn Wikipedia. For example, in a contest from yesteryear I might have asked, "When did Fender make the incredibly rare 'Swinger' guitar?" Now, a few Wiki keystrokes... and 30 seconds later you'd have the answer. (Moments ago I randomly picked that model, wondering if it was on Wikipedia... How foolish of me! It actually only took 15 seconds to find it!) (Here's the link.)


So.... what kind of contest is Wikipedia-proof?


Below are links to ten photos (plus a bonus "I'll-be-impressed-if-someone-knows-what-THIS-is!" photo).

The contest is simple: Name the item in the photo! The items are guitar or amp related. You have probably seen each one before (...maybe not the bonus photo).

Please be as specific as possible in your answers. (e.g. "It's a little piece of rubber" is not quite enough of an answer.)

After reviewing all of the entries, we'll pick a winner based on the highest level of accuracy.

The prize is a brand new Vox AD15VT-XL amplifier. The AD15VT-XL is one of Vox's high-gain modeling amps, with eleven amp models and eleven effects built right in. The List Price is $330. Here's a picture of John with the amp.

Send in your answers soon! The contest only runs until next Friday, March 13th.


Item One...

Item Two...

Item Three...

Item Four...

Item Five...

Item Six...

Item Seven...

Item Eight...

Item Nine...

Item Ten...

Extra Credit Bonus Item...


These all seem pretty easy to me. (Of course, I've been looking at guitars for thirty years...) But they might be harder than I think. Who knows, maybe you'll be able to win with only five correct answers! Give it a shot!


Meanwhile, do you know what THIS is?


See you soon,


PS: On Saturday, May 30th we'll be celebrating the gala Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party at The Rex Theater. We'll have contests, prizes, and cake! But what about the music? Well, for months folks have been asking when we'll be holding the next "Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show." (Actually they started asking as soon as we shut the amps off at the end of the last show...) We've decided that the best way to celebrate the store's anniversary would be with Big Beatle Show #6!!! So, in addition to other activities (and cake!), our 30th Anniversary Party will also be our next Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show. Contact John here at the store, or send him an email to sign up!!

PPS: Customer of the week: Joe Bonamassa

Friday 3/13/2009 ~ The Answers to Last Week's Contest


Hey! Thanks for all of the responses to our picture contest last week! Some folks even wrote to say they had no idea what the items were, but they liked guessing anyway!

Here are the answers, along with additional, explanatory pictures:


#1: When Leo Fender designed the Telecaster he didn't want the oil (and sweat) from the player's picking hand to corrode the saddles and bridge pickup, so the guitar came with a cover over the bridge assembly. That's why the neck pickup on a Tele has a chrome cover for protection and the bridge pickup doesn't... the bridge pickup should be protected by the bridge cover. Naturally, this cover had to be removable, so you could set the harmonics. But once anyone took it off, and enjoyed the bright Tele sound you get when playing right over the bridge pickup, they rarely put it back on. Eventually Fender gave up and Teles haven't come with a bridge cover for years. (Except for vintage reissue models, of course.) Item #1 is a Telecaster bridge assembly cover. It is often referred to as an "ashtray" since more of them were used for that purpose than for protecting the saddles and pickup. Most contest entries got this one right.

#2: Kustom Amps made in the late 1960s featured padded cabinets in a variety of sparkle colors. Most folks knew this one, too. Item #2 is the side of a gold-sparkle Kustom amp.


#3: Except for Fender products, almost every electric guitar in our store has one of these. It's a bridge height adjustment wheel. This particular one is from a Gibson Tune-o-matic bridge. Almost everyone answered #3 correctly, and most even said that this is specifically from a tune-o-matic bridge. #3: bridge height adjustment wheel.


#4: Danelectro guitars are beautiful in their simplicity. Danelectro inventor Nat Daniel designed a bridge that was a flat piece of metal, with an almost flat piece of rosewood resting on top of it, as a saddle. To keep the saddle centered on the bridge plate a pin was inserted in the bottom of the saddle, and the pin rested in a slot in the bridge plate. #4 is a Danelectro saddle. The hole in the center is for the alignment pin. Sorry that I grabbed a saddle out of the "parts" drawer that was missing its pin. But since you can't see the pin when the saddle is in place, Item #4 is still recognizable as a Danelectro saddle. Half of those responding got this one.


#5: This small accessory was invented way back in the 1920s when Hawaiian music was popular. It's a slotted metal replacement nut that fits over your regular nut. It raises the action, so you can play slide guitar. It's easily removable, so it's a great way to experiment with slide playing without making any other modifications to your guitar. They still make this piece today, exactly as it has been made for decades. Item #5 is an extension nut, to convert a regular guitar to a slide guitar.


#6: Unlike most Gibson and Fender pickups, which are spring mounted, Rickenbacker screws its pickups right to the face of the guitar. To provide vibration insulation (and help prevent feedback) Rickenbacker places a one-piece foam pad between the pickup and the wood of the guitar. The foam pad, though, is a relatively new modification (the last ten years or so). From the 1950s through the 1980s Rickenbacker used little rubber grommets under the pickups. Although I'm sure the foam pad is easier for them to install, I think the old rubber grommets look cooler. Item #6: Rickenbacker pickup mounting grommets.


#7: In mid-1960 Fender made significant changes to three amps in their line. The Bassman, Bandmaster and Tremolux, were separated into two cabinets, one with the chassis, and another with the speakers. This created the now familiar "piggy-back" design of an amp head with a speaker cabinet. To connect these two pieces Leo used a short brown speaker cable, with a plastic cap featuring Fender's "F" logo covering the back of the plug. The plastic cap with logo is the kind of cool attention to detail that you rarely see anymore. Item #7 is the back of a Fender old-style speaker cable.


#8: Amplifiers today have separate volume controls for their pre-amp and power amp sections. This allows you to turn your pre-amp volume up to 10 (or 11!)... overdriving the pre-amp... and giving you massive distortion. Meanwhile, you can turn your power amp down, and hear the aforementioned distortion at a low volume level, saving your ears. It was not always thus. Way back in the 1970s amps generally had only one knob controlling both the pre-amp and power amp. To get massive distortion you also had to be massively loud. In 1975 an inventor living in Watertown, MA was working at Polariod during the day, and writing, producing and recording an album in his basement at night. He designed a gizmo that allowed him to crank his Marshall amp all the way up, without bothering his neighbors. The box, eventually called a "Power Soak," was a series of capacitors wired between the amp head and the speaker cabinet. The loud, overdriven sound would come out of the amp head... and the capacitors would heat up, and burn off some of the power... lowering the eventual volume coming from the speaker cabinet. The inventor was Tom Scholz. And the album he recorded in his basement went on to sell a trillion copies... under the band name "Boston." Item #8 is a Tom Scholz Power Soak.

#9: In 1937 one of Epiphone's sales reps, Herb Sunshine, patented a new style of tailpiece. Epiphone's ad campaign claimed that this new design, the "Frequensator," (which attached three strings to a set of short arms and three strings to a set of longer arms) provided, "Greater Clarity. Truer Tone" and "Eliminated Deadspots." None of that is really true. But it is a nice design! Item #9 is part of an Epiphone Frequensator tailpiece.


#10: Chet Atkins had a lot to say about the design of Gretsch guitars that carried his name. The adjustable string mute, the on-off switch and the fake F-holes (to reduce feedback) were all his ideas. Of those three, the painted-on F-holes were the most practical. It actually did reduce feedback. The on-off switch just confuses people. And the string muting system required a complicated internal series of levers that could not possibly be installed through the pickup holes in the top. The only way Gretsch could build a guitar with the muting system was with an access hole in the back of the guitar. Gretsch, though, had the clever idea of hiding the access panel with a snap-on back pad. The comfortable back pad could even be promoted as another benefit of the guitar. Item #10 is the access panel under the back-pad on the back of a Gretsch Nashville. (The access panel and back-pad were used on all Gretsch's that featured the string muting system, including the Country Gentleman.) Even though these are hidden from sight, half of our contest participants have looked under a Gretsch back pad, and answered this item correctly.



And this brings us to the Bonus Picture! Although this item came with a thousand amps, it was hardly ever used. I imagine that 99.999% of them have been lost or thrown out. (Yet, somehow I have two...) You are most likely familiar with Vox amplifiers. If you've been to one of the five Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Shows you've seen the six Vox Super Beatles that we use on-stage. Well, the Super Beatles, and most other amps in the Vox line came with a chrome stand. And, though it's unlikely that one of these amps would fall from the stand, Vox provided a way to attach the amp to it's supporting stand. The smaller combo amps, and the heads on the large models like the Super Beatle, all have a small threaded hole in the bottom. The Bonus Item is a clamp to secure a Vox amp to its stand. <>Here are pictures of the clamp in action on a Vox Cambridge Reverb amp. I agree it's not something you'll see every day. Or ever. But now you have!!


Congratulations to our winner: Michael G. who answered nine of the ten correctly, plus he was the ONLY one to get the Bonus Question. I'm impressed!!! I have to meet this guy! Thanks Michael! You win a brand new Vox AD15VT-XL amp.


Congratulations to our runner-ups: Jim M., Hank L. and Art D. who answered seven correctly, and to Rob S. and Sean L, who all got six right. You guys win an official Pittsburgh Guitars T-Shirt and our eternal respect!


See you soon,


PS: With regard to Rickenbacker's rubber grommets, although they no longer use them as pickup mounting insulators, they still use them as spacers on the guitars that feature a second, raised pickguard.

PPS: With regard to the Tom Scholz Power Soak, Tom wasn't the first person to think of this idea and other types of power attenuators have been on the market. But his Power Soak was the best designed one; the safest for your amp head; and certainly the biggest seller. Tom also invented the Rockman Headphone Amp, which makes your guitar sound exactly like "More Than A Feeling."

PPPS: Note that it's "More Than A Feeling" not "More Then A Feeling." Thank you!

PPPPS: With regard to the Vox amp bracket, I have four British Vox amps and ten USA-made Vox amps, and only the American amps have the threaded hole on the bottom to attach the bracket. Based on this sampling, I'm going to guess this bracket system was only used on the Thomas-Organ-made USA amps. But I could be wrong.

PPPPPS: May 30th!!! Pittsburgh Guitars Gala 30th Anniversary Party!!!!
PLUS: Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #6!
Saturday, May 30th at The Rex!!
Music, song, Vox Amps, and cake!
Contact John here at the store, or send him an email sign up!!

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Mother Mother

Friday 3/20/2009 ~ A Phone Call from Iceland


So, yesterday I got a phone call.

I was sitting at home reading, when my cell phone chirped. And the incoming number looked a bit weird.

Weird also describes the book I was reading. It's called "Slash" and was written by Slash. It's the story of his life from childhood, through Guns `N Roses, and up to Velvet Revolver. I can summarize the book in one sentence: First he was hooked on heroin (like the late Sid Vicious); then he was hooked on cocaine (like the two dead guys in The Pretenders); then he was hooked on alcohol (like the famous French-gravesite resident, Jim Morrison); then he was hooked on heroin-plus-cocaine (like the more talented Blues Brother, John Belushi); and then he was hooked on oxycontin (like Rush Limbaugh).

Considering he needed to be high (on something) before even being able to go on-stage, he's not much of a role model as a musician, or a person. But, I guess you have to give him credit for still being alive...

It's actually a shame... really. Just a few days ago someone was trying out a guitar here in the store by playing the intro to Guns 'N Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine." That's a very cool lick, and Slash sounds great playing it on the original record. And yet, in his book, he regularly refers to himself as a "junkie." I'd hate to think that those two things are related.

Hmmmm... lemme take a second to ponder the most famous of the trying-out-a-guitar-licks-played-in-Pittsburgh-Guitars-over-the-last-30-years....

First, of course, there was "Stairway To Heaven."
Then, briefly, "Iron Man."
Then a flashback to "Sunshine Of Your Love."
Then that Heart acoustic song.
Then "Crazy Train."
Then "Enter Sandman."
Then "Sweet Child O' Mine."
Then "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
Then that other Nirvana song.

Now... were all of those guys hopped-up when they wrote those licks? I wonder. Help me out here... Do you have to be drugged-up to write a famous guitar riff???

I hope not.


Oh, yeah, getting back to the phone call... The reason the number looked so odd was that it was from Iceland! Yeah, the country! (It's a little island near Greenland.) Three years ago we sold a Vox Bass to a guy there, and he loves it. Next week he's using it at a gig with the Icelandic Orchestra. He was calling because he had just seen an early 1950s Hofner Club 60 in a store (in Iceland), and he wanted to get my opinion.

I was impressed for several reasons. First of all, the connection on my iPhone was perfect. He sounded like he was calling from a fjord right down the street. Secondly, I'm happy that he's happy with the bass from years ago. And third, what a small world it is now!! Remember the days when a phone call would come in, and you'd hurry to it, because it was "long distance"? "Long distance" used to be a significant phrase. Now we can have casual cell-phone-to-cell-phone conversations from around the world.

(Oh, and third and a half, it's wacky how I ended up being a 1950s Hofner guitar and bass expert. That was never my plan. I guess I ended up as an authority in that field because I didn't burn my brain out being hopped-up...) (And as an added benefit, with the money I saved not buying drugs, I bought old Hofners guitars!) (So, I guess that worked out!)

Anyway, we chatted for a while, he described the guitar to me, and it sounded nice. And since he appreciates the classic Vox Bass, I know he'll enjoy the Hofner. I told him to go back to the store, (Reykjavik Guitars?), and buy it.


And that's what happened to me yesterday.


See you soon,


PS: Yes, although "fjords" are generally associated with Norway, Iceland has them too.

PPS: And I knew how to spell it!

PPPS: Although I did look up "Reykjavik."

PPPPS: But, hey, I bet most Pittsburghers couldn't spell "Reykjavik." For that matter, many Americans can't spell "Pittsburgh." Especially those folks from Pittsburg, Kansas; Pittsburg, California; Pittsburg, Texas; Pittsburg, New Hampshire; Pittsburg, Tennessee; or Pittsburg County, Oklahoma.

PPPPPS: When the Icelandic guy called I was needle-deep in Slash's life, so I didn't catch his name at the beginning of the call. As I started to type this, I remembered that I mentioned him in an Email Special when he bought the bass back in 2006. So, I went to and did a search in the Email Special Archives. It turns out I didn't mention his name then either. But in that email from three years ago I said:

"Last week I got an email from our former guitar teacher Korel from inside Abbey Road Studios in London! He was there recording with the Goo Goo Dolls, and between takes he sent us an email! Then a few days ago, I got an email from the Iceland guy. His band is on tour in England, and he just had his picture taken, walking across Abbey Road in London! What a small world!"

The odd part is that just last night I watched Korel playing guitar on the Ellen DeGeneres show! Korel is currently playing with Katey Perry. She was great on Ellen, and Korel was quite impressive, too.

So... three years ago I mentioned the yet-to-be-named Iceland guy and Korel in the same email, and then yesterday the y-t-b-n Iceland guy called, on the same day that I watched Korel on TV! Is there a cosmic connection between those two? Time will tell....

PPPPPPPS: Thanks again to everyone who entered the "Name-this-item" photo contest. Yesterday our winner, Michael G., picked up his prize, a Free Vox Amp! Here are pictures.

PPPPPPPPS: Speaking of pictures, last weekend I went to Disney World, and look at the size of the guitar at my hotel! Good thing I wasn't on heroin when I saw THAT!

PPPPPPPPPS: May 30th!!! Pittsburgh Guitars Gala 30th Anniversary Party!!!!
PLUS: Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #6!
Saturday, May 30th at The Rex!!
Music, song, Vox Amps, and cake!
Performance slots are filling up fast. If you'd like to play, email John soon!

PPPPPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Paula Nelson

Friday 3/27/2009 ~ The Hofner Club Guitar


Last week I mentioned getting a call from a "guy in Iceland." He bought a Vox bass from us three years ago.

I don't want to be rude... and since we all have names.... even Icelandicerers... I looked through my old files and found his receipt. His name is Richard Korn. And his band is called Cynic Guru. Here's their web site. Here's their myspace page. Here's their facebook page. Here's their page. Here's their page. (Wow, remember when all a band needed was an 8x10 glossy?)

When Richard called last week, he asked if he should buy a 1959 Hofner Club 50. I said, "Of course!"


After I found his name for this week's email, it occurred to me that I may have also been rude to not explain what a 1959 Club 50 was! I hope you didn't spend the week walking the streets... with a dazed look... confused and disoriented... wondering about this mysterious guitar!

Well, if you did (and if you're from the USA), it's understandable. The heydays of the Hofner "Club" guitars were the late 1950s and early 1960s, when they were very popular in Europe and England. But during those years very few Hofners were imported into America. And when Hofner instruments suddenly WERE in great demand in the US (specifically, February 10, 1964, the day after Paul used his Hofner on The Ed Sullivan Show), it wasn't the Club model that John Q. Public Jr. was asking for.


The Hofner Instrument company started making violins in Germany in 1887. After a few distractions (World War I and World War II) they expanded their line to include guitars - both archtop and flattop acoustics. When pickups became available, Hofner added them to the archtops. Then, in the late 1940s, interesting things started happening far far away, on the other side of the world. In 1948, in California, USA, Paul Bigsby made the first solid-body, single cutaway, electric guitar. In 1950, Leo Fender said, "I can mass-produce a solid-body, single cutaway, electric guitar!" And he did! By 1952, the success of Leo's Telecaster pushed Gibson to finally make their own solid-body, single cutaway, electric guitar. And just to show that they could do things that Leo couldn't, Gibson's Les Pauls featured a carved, arched top.

Despite the lack of an internet, news of this solid-body, single cutaway, electric guitar stuff reached the little Hofner company by the next Oktoberfest. This was certainly a bandwagon they could jump on. And by 1954, they were ready with their version, the Hofner Model 125. (I'll explain the "number" thing in a minute...)


Hofner saw that Gibson's Les Paul was arched on the top and flat on the back. Since they had been making violins for sixty-seven years, they knew how to make an arched top on a hollow instrument. So, they decided to stick with their field of expertise, and make their guitar hollow, with an arched top and a flat back. It looked a lot like a Les Paul, but was significantly lighter-weight. The new guitar was available in two versions: one pickup (the Model 125) or two (the Model 126).

Here's John with a 1955 Hofner Model 125.

Here's John with the two-pickup version, a 1956 Model 126.

This brings us to 1957... As I alluded to earlier, Hofner was not a large company. And they relied on importers to distribute their instruments into other countries. In 1957 Hofner struck a deal with the Selmer company in England to distribute Hofner products to the United Kingdom. Selmer was not impressed with Hofner's tendency to merely give all of their instruments model numbers, so they re-named the guitars they imported, calling the 125 the "Club 40" and the 126 the "Club 50." And the following year, 1958, when Hofner introduced a fancier two-pickup version (which they promptly named the Model 128), Selmer dubbed it the "Club 60." So, we have the Club 40, Club 50 and Club 60.

Although Hofner stuck to its uninteresting numbering system, Selmer's new names for these (and many other Hofner models, like the Committee, the President, and the Senator) have become accepted worldwide.

Here's John with a 1959 Hofner Club 60 (Model 128).

And 1959 leads to the reason I started learning about Hofner six-strings in the first place. As I may have mentioned about a million times, my fascination with guitars started with The Beatles. After I became (overly) familiar with their Ed Sullivan guitars, I started to wonder about their pre-fame instruments. As I scoured old photos, I noticed that there was one guitar that was played by both John Lennon AND Paul McCartney. In 1959 John's Aunt Mimi bought Lennon a Hofner Club 40. Here he is in Germany with his 1959 Club 40. (Note the guitar that McCartney is holding, a Rosetti "Solid 7.") The following year, 1960, on their second trip to Germany, Lennon replaced the Hofner with a brand new Rickenbacker 325. At nearly the same time, Paul's cheap Rosetti fell apart, so John lent him his Club 40. Here's a group photo, with Lennon holding his new Rickenbacker, and McCartney holding John's Club 40. Paul used John's Club 40 until early 1961, when their former bass player Stu Sutcliffe quit, and McCartney switched to bass.

Here's our John with a 1959 Hofner Club 40, exactly like the one owned by John Lennon.
(Of course, around the Hofner factory it was still called a Model 125...)

And, lastly, just so you can see the third pickup style used by Hofner between 1954 and 1960, here's John with a 1960 Hofner Club 50.


Getting back to the average American's experience with Hofner Club guitars... By mid-1964, the US demand for a bass like Paul McCartney's was beyond the scope of the Hofner factory. (McCartney's bass, by the way, is a "Model 500/1." Those wacky Germans!) In an attempt to fill the many American orders for their basses, Hofner looked around the warehouse and saw that they had a supply of Club guitar bodies available. They put bass necks on the Club bodies, and the Club Bass was born! (Actually, the "Model 500/2" bass...) Using Club guitar bodies to fill bass orders further limited the actual number of Club six-strings that ever made it to the USA. None of the Club guitars in the Pittsburgh Guitars collection were originally sold in America.

Here's a picture of John with a 1964 Hofner 500/2 Club Bass.


NOW if someone calls YOU from a foreign country and says they're looking at an old Hofner, with two pickups and fancy inlays, and they ask what model it is, you can say, "Well, do you want the universally accepted Selmer name, 'Club 60,' or Hofner's designation, 'Model 128'?" So, you're prepared!!

You're welcome!


OK!!! Next week: Hofner strap buttons!!!!!!!! (Well, maybe not.)


See you soon,


PS: In case you're not familiar with the fifth Beatle in the photos above (this and this), here's a capsule summary: Stu Sutcliffe was an art school friend of John Lennon's. Stu sold a painting for a lot of money and John needed a bass player, so he talked Stu into spending the money on a new Hofner bass and joining the band. The large hollow-body bass was called a Hofner "President" in Liverpool. Hofner called it a "Model 500/5." Stu went to Germany with the group, and fell in love with a German girl, Astrid Kirchherr. When the Beatles returned to Liverpool, Stu quit the band to stay behind and marry Astrid. Paul took over on bass. Sadly, Stu passed away a year later, in 1962, from a brain hemorrhage.

PPS: You've probably noticed the variety of pickups and controls on the guitars above. Hofner changed specifications on their instruments almost every year. The good part is that makes it pretty easy to track a guitar to a particular year. The bad part is the if you want a specific model, like the bass that Paul bought in 1961, you have to find one that's from EXACTLY that year.

PPPS: In 2008 Hofner released a Limited Edition Reissue of the 1959 Club 40 used by both John and Paul. We ordered four of them and we have one left. It's a bit pricey, but it's very accurate, and a cool guitar. Here's John with Hofner's Limited Edition John Lennon Club 40.

PPPPS: Hofner also makes a Club Reissue in their Contemporary Series. (Made in China) We've sold a bunch, but have one left, in black. John with a new "Contemporary Club 50."

PPPPPPS: Sorry this email got a bit long. But remember, it's good for your brain to constantly be putting more information into it!

PPPPPPPPS: May 30th!!! Pittsburgh Guitars Gala 30th Anniversary Party!!!!
PLUS: Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #6!
Saturday, May 30th at The Rex!!
Music, song, Vox Amps, and cake!
Performance slots are filling up fast. If you'd like to play, contact John soon!
(Here's a link to John's email.)

PPPPPPPPPS: Wait, wait!! I just thought of something else!!! If you were reading carefully above you may have noticed that the Selmer names went: Club 40, Club 50 and Club 60.... BUT the respective Hofner models were: Model 125, Model 126, and Model 128. And you may have said, "What happened to Model 127?? What's up with that?" A very astute observation on your part! As I mentioned above, the 125 (Club 40) and 126 (Club 50) were one and two pickup guitars. In 1958 Hofner decided to make fancier, deluxe versions of BOTH, namely the 127 and 128. Selmer felt that anyone who wanted to upgrade wouldn't bother upgrading to a one pickup guitar, so they only imported the two-pickup 128, and called it the next number in their sequence, the Club 60. And that explains it!!! Ok, now I'm done.

PPPPPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Neil Halstead
Neil bought a guitar here on Monday, and on May 25th he'll be using it in Liverpool, England. What are the odds?

Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars