Email Specials from April 2009

Friday 4/3/2009 ~ Tax Time (and "The Village Green Preservation Society")


Well, it's time to start on the taxes!

So, unfortunately I don't have time to do an email special today. Hopefully next week...

I just hope I can get a couple of songs out of my head... The first, of course:

If you drive a car, I'll tax the street
If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat
If you get too cold I'll tax the heat
If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet
-George Harrison, 1966

But since that's a little hard to hum, I keep going back to:

The tax man's taken all my dough,
And left me in my stately home,
Lazing on a sunny afternoon.
And I can't sail my yacht,
He's taken everything I've got,
All I've got's this sunny afternoon.
-Ray Davies, 1966

Of course, we don't have it as bad as either of those two writers had in England in the 1960s. Their tax rate was 90%. But it is a bit hard on the small, independent businessman, like moi. At every turn there's more paperwork and tax. For example, today I got the City Of Pittsburgh bill for the license to sell used items. Yep, we have to pay a $299 fee to the City just because we have used guitars in the store. (Last week we had to pay for our license to have a burglar alarm...) Ah....


Thinking of the above quoted "Sunny Afternoon," I've been a life-long Kinks fan. And it occurs to me that they were a comfort in the turbulent years of my youth. (You know how you're all confused and weird in your late teens/early 20s, when you can somehow sense that responsibility and accountability lie just over the age-horizon, but you don't have any idea how to handle it?) I specifically remember The Kinks' album, "The Village Green Preservation Society." And as I ponder it now, I question what it was about the album that brought me inner peace. (The term "village green" is certainly not a common one in Pittsburgh.)

If I had to analyze it (and I do), I'd say that it was the general vibe of the record that was beneficial. Even if I couldn't specifically relate to many of the songs, I could sense Ray Davies' deep, personal relationship to the England of his childhood. And as he lamented the changes occurring in his world, listening to the record helped me deal with my world. With its somewhat laid-back production, which was odd for its day, combined with Ray's unique voice and clever songwriting, the album simply "meant something" to me. (And still does.) To summarize: I can't exactly explain it, but that record helped me in 1969, and it makes me feel good today.


But maybe I'm over-thinking it. Perhaps you don't need an exact reason to like a particular piece of music. Sure, some songs have lyrics that speak to your specific situation. ("In My Life" by The Beatles works with me.) But sometimes it's enough that the sound or feeling of the song washes over you... and appeals to your inner being. The mere fact that a song feels good to your soul is reason enough to like it.


OK, I've really gotta get started on those taxes. I'll talk to ya next week....


See you soon,


PS: If you're unfamiliar with "The Village Green Preservation Society" here's a youtube link to the title track.

PPS: I just randomly grabbed that youtube link, and the youtube "video" part is just a still photo of The Kinks from a few years earlier. The interesting thing about the photo is the 1958 Gibson Flying V held by Dave Davies. Gibson only made 81 of these in 1958, and they were such a commercial failure that Dave bought that one brand new in a store seven years later in 1965. Seven years from now I'll probably still have THIS guitar.


PPPS: The Flying V was reintroduced in very limited numbers in 1967, then again in 1969-70... and then finally added to Gibson's line in bigger numbers in 1975.

PPPPS: Although Ray Davies didn't make much money from the original release of "The Village Green Preservation Society" LP, he has made some big bucks from it in recent years. One of the songs from the album, "Picture Book," was licensed by Hewlett-Packard for TV ads promoting their digital photography products. Here's youtube again, with the original song. (Note the guitar in the picture!) And here's one of the HP ads featuring the song.

PPPPPS: I wonder if Ray ever talked to Green Day about their song, "Warning"? The riff is a bit similar...

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Joe Grushecky

Friday 4/10/2009 ~ An Interesting Week


It was another interesting week at Pittsburgh Guitars.
First we had a "Flame-Off"!

** This might need a little historic background: When Gibson introduced the Les Paul in 1952, the body was constructed of a slab of mahogany, with an attached carved maple top. Gibson felt that this combination of woods provided the best tonal qualities. Of course, in 1952 you couldn't see the maple top, because Les Paul wanted his new signature guitar to be gold. Here's John with a 1952 Les Paul. Note how you cannot see the carved maple top. As the 1950s progressed, Gibson made constant improvements to the Les Paul Model... a new tailpiece in `53, a new bridge in `55, new pickups in `57, etc... and finally in 1958 they decided they should show off the attractive maple top, by using a sunburst finish instead of the gold. I say "attractive" because in those days quality lumber was readily available to guitar manufacturers. (This was before all of the good wood in the world was used up making #2 pencils for grade-school-aged baby boomers.) "Curly maple" was used by most guitar makers because of its beautiful figuring, or "flame" in the wood. With their curly maple tops, the late 1950s Les Pauls were often visually stunning... and the cherry sunburst finish accentuated the flame in the maple. (Here's a decades-old picture of me with a 1960 Les Paul... and the guy who has it now.) And the newly-invented Patent-Applied-For Humbucking pickups (introduced in 1957) sounded wonderful. The late 1950s Les Pauls represented (and still do) the ultimate in guitar construction, both in looks and sound. And today they are the most valuable electric guitars in the world. Unfortunately, in 1960 sales didn't match the quality level of the guitar and the Les Paul was discontinued in 1961.

** Historic background, continued... A few years later, in the mid-1960s, serious, heavy-duty guitar players, like Eric Clapton and Mike Bloomfield, found that the discontinued late-1950s Les Pauls gave them the tone and sustain they were looking for. Their very public use of these guitars increased the demand for the old model. Inspired by this, Gibson finally reintroduced the Les Paul in 1968, and it has been in production ever since. In the early 1980s, shortly after Pittsburgh Guitars opened, "used" guitars started to become "vintage" guitars... and "vintage" Les Pauls started to exponentially increase in value. Gibson noticed this demand too, and began making "vintage reissues." And for the last twenty-five years they've been fine tuning these vintage reissues, striving to make every inch of the new guitars as historically correct as possible. They have also started replicating specific old Les Pauls, copying the scratches and wear-marks of some famously owned guitars.

** H. B., cont'd... Of all of the talented guitar builders in the world, one man stands out as the definitive re-finisher and replicator of "vintage reissues": Tom Murphy. For a while he was an official Gibson employee. Now he's an independent contractor, and Gibson hires him to "relic" some of their more expensive reissues. (He's so famous in the guitar biz, that "Murphy-aged" is an internationally understood term.)


OK, back to this week. One of our customers mentioned that he had a Murphy-aged 2009 Gibson "Mike Bloomfield `59 Reissue Les Paul" and he said that the flame in the maple was spectacular. Another customer said that his 2003 "Gary Rossington `59 Reissue Les Paul" was better. There was only one way to settle it: A Flame-Off!! This Tuesday they both brought their guitars to the store. And it was a tough battle! The natural wood flame comes alive at different angles, so we had to find the best angle for each guitar to properly judge them. (Before you look at the pictures I have to briefly add just a little more Historical Background: The red paint that Gibson used in the late 1950s was heavily susceptible to fading when exposed to sunlight. Today, fifty years later, no two 1959 "Sunbursts" have the same amount of red left in them. Gary Rossington's guitar, as it exists today, is more faded than Mike Bloomfield's. And the reissues are painted accordingly.) Here are the two guitars. They both look great, so it's hard to pick a winner. Although I like the darker finish on the "Bloomfield," I think I prefer the wider flame on the "Rossington." Regardless of which one is "better" it was fun checking them out.


Other interesting stuff happened this week... including the introduction of three new products. And while I'm all for innovation and new ideas... some are better than others.

** First of all, a salesman called from a new company that is manufacturing picks made out of compressed wheat!! He said that they are better for the economy because they don't use the oil required to make regular plastic picks. And if you loose them they are bio-degradable. (I guess they'll decompose... and eventually grow into more wheat trees!) I told him to send me some samples. I'd like to see if they hold up in regular use... so let me know if you're doing a lot of gigs in the near future and maybe you can test one out on stage. "In the field," so to speak. (Ha. I liked that one!)

** The next new product this week is the new Vox AC-4 Amp. We ordered them when they were announced in January and a bunch just arrived. And we like `em!! The AC-4 is a small, all-tube practice amp, and it sounds great! It's a Class A amp, with a 10" Celestion speaker and a built-in power attenuator. You can play it at 4 watts, 1 watt and even 1/4 watt. It also has an extra speaker jack and can drive a 4x12 cabinet. It's a cool little amp, in a cool color. Here's a picture.

** The last new product is a little less enticing. Last week a company called and said they were making a leather guitar jacket, which would make it possible to easily change the color of your guitar. We said, "OK, send us a sample." And they did. On paper the concept is simple: You slide the covering over your guitar and zip it up. (I'm sure this looked good when written on a napkin in a bar, after a few drinks.) The instructions said, "Installs in a minute." Unfortunately, it doesn't. The first problem is that you have to remove your knobs and switch tip. I don't know if you've ever tried to pull the knobs off of your guitar... but it's not easy. (It generally involves a flat-head screwdriver, something to protect the surface of your guitar and gentle patience.) Then, after you install the cover, you have to flatten it totally, so that it doesn't touch your strings... which would deaden your sound. And then, when we re-installed the knobs, they would barely turn. (Guitar knobs are designed to hover closely over the top of your guitar. They look weird and get in your way, otherwise.) With a layer of leather between the knobs and the top of the guitar, the knobs wouldn't turn. And lastly, the name for this product? The Guitar Bra. Yep, I'm serious. Here's Mark with the aforementioned installation! I'm not sure we'll be ordering any. (But we do have this one!) (Hey, I have an idea, we'll use it as one of the give-away prizes at the May 30th Pittsburgh Guitars Anniversary Party!)


I'm sure other stuff happened this week... but I didn't notice, since I'm still working on the taxes.

Oh yeah, Nick Nolte stopped in yesterday. Whenever he's in town filming he visits the store. It's nice to see movie-stars who are also guitar fans. He says to say "Hello."


And that's the news from Pittsburgh Guitars, where the amps are loud, the guitars are in tune and all of the students are above average.


See you soon,


PS: In addition to the Paul McCartney Les Paul pictured above, we've owned two other late-1950s Les Pauls over the history of the store. Unfortunately, we sold them years and years ago... before the prices reached the hundreds of thousands of dollars that they are now. If only I had saved one, I could sell it now and retire.... But then I would have missed the fun stuff that happened this week. And who knows what will happen next week? Still, it would be nice to have one... not for the re-sale value... but for the elegance of the instrument. I guess that's why Gibson's new reissues sell so well. Maybe I should get one of those...

PPS: Hey, thanks to everyone who signed up to perform in the Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party/ Big Beatle Show #6 on May 30th. In addition to many other great bands and solo acts, we're happy to see that The Spuds, Phil Harris and Rob from The Clarks will be performing. In the late 1980s, during one of the South Side Street Spectaculars, we closed East Carson Street in front of the store for a concert by The Spuds. (Here's a picture.) And Phil Harris, with his band Hector In Paris, appeared in an early Pittsburgh Guitars TV commercial. And Rob and the rest of the Clarks have been long-time friends and customers.

PPPS: Speaking of the Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party/ Big Beatle Show #6, at previous Big Beatle Shows I've displayed our Beatle Instrument Collection. (Here is some of the stuff.) But the shows have been getting more and more crowded, and the display takes up a lot of space. To give the audience more seating room, I'm going to skip the display this time. (Besides, we'll need an extra fifty seats just for the folks who came for a chance to win the Guitar Bra!) Of course, we'll still have the big Vox amps and Ludwig drums on stage. And maybe I can think of a different way to do the display of instruments...

PPPPS: Customer of the week: Nick Nolte

Friday 4/17/2009 ~ Songs We Know


Now that our 30th Anniversary month is approaching some long-time customers have stopped by to say hello... and reminisce. (...about those days when we were all much younger... and thinner...)

One guy I talked with this week is a jazz bass player. (Not to be confused with a Jazz Bass player...) The entire time that I've known him he's never had a set "group." He just gets together with other jazz players to do gigs. Or he'll sit in with different bands. I'm not really familiar with the jazz world, but I believe they can easily do gigs with each other because they all know the same songs.

I was pondering that, and any parallels it has to my field (rock & roll) on my drive home, when I heard the satellite radio play "Louie Louie." It was a super cool version recorded in 1965 by The Sonics, a punk band from Seattle, WA, from before there were "punk" bands. (Here's a link!) (Here's more Sonics!)

As I listened to "Louie Louie" I imagined a hypothetical scenario: Suppose you were going to assemble a random group of musicians, roughly your age (give or take ten years), for a gig scheduled for a few days away. Since you would only have time to rehearse once or twice, what songs could you reasonably expect said musicians to already know? Could you compile a list of songs that your average rock musician should already have in his musical vocabulary?

Since I can only make such a list from my perspective (after all, we all do everything from our personal perspective), my second question is: How would MY list of songs differ from folks from different generations? (Here are people from three different generations.)

After "Louie Louie" the next (obvious) song choice would be "Gloria." (Either the Shadows Of Knight, or Van Morrison/Them version.) But what about the rest of the set? A few other songs came to mind quickly: "Proud Mary"... "Pretty Woman"... "Mustang Sally" (I know "Mustang Sally" only made it to #23 in the Pop Charts in 1966, but for some reason every musician knows it.)...

As for the rest of the set, I thought I'd look at every song that was ever in the Top Forty of Billboard's Pop Chart. (The "Pop" Chart is what they called it back when they thought Rock & Roll was going to be a passing fad...) I found a site that lists the songs, roughly 200 -250 per year. And I decided to start at 1959, 50-years-ago. (And, yes, "50-years-ago" sounds like a long time... even to me.)

I didn't pick my favorites, or songs I would WANT to play. And I didn't pick songs with complicated chord progressions. This list should be songs that we (the fake band) could get together quickly for our (fake) gig. (The one that pays $250 each... at the club with the built-in PA, with good monitors... with the load-in door right near the stage, and no stairs... and where the band gets free drinks...)

(Since we can't really expect every musician to know every lyric, I decided that my hypothetical band already had a lead vocalist, and he or she already knew all the words to every rock song.)

Here are some songs that I would imagine most rock & roll musicians would know. The numbers after the song are the year, and highest chart position. Since I was looking a chart lists from different years, these are in chronological order:

"Kansas City" - Wilbert Harrison (1959, #1)
"What'd I Say" - Ray Charles (1959, #1)
"Money" - Barrett Strong (1960, #23)
"Runaround Sue" - Dion & The Belmonts (1961, #1)
"Louie, Louie" - The Kingsmen (1963, #2)
"Heat Wave" - Martha & The Vandellas (1963, #4)
"Twist & Shout" - The Beatles (1964, #2)
"I Saw Her Standing There" - The Beatles (1964, #14)
"You Really Got Me" - The Kinks (1964, #7)
"For Your Love" - The Yardbirds (1965, #6)
"Get Off Of My Cloud" - The Rolling Stones (1965, #1)
"Satisfaction" - The Rolling Stones (1965, #1)
"Ain't Too Proud To Beg" - The Temptations (1966, #13)
"Gloria"- The Shadows of Knight (1966, #10)
"Good Lovin'" - The Rascals (1966, #1)
"Hanky Panky" - Tommy James & The Shondells (1966, #1)
"Mustang Sally" - Wilson Pickett (1966, #23)
"Wild Thing" - The Troggs (1966, #1)
"Gimme Some Lovin'" - The Spencer Davis Group (1967, #7)
"Born To Be Wild" - Steppenwolf (1968, #2)
"Revolution" - The Beatles (1968, #12)
"Bad Moon Rising"- Creedance Clearwater Revival (1969, #2)
"Honkee Tonk Women" - The Rolling Stones (1969, #1) (see PPS below)
"Proud Mary"- Creedance Clearwater Revival (1969, #2)
"Evil Ways" - Santana (1970, #9)
"Get Ready" - Rare Earth (1970, #4)
"Brown Sugar" - The Rolling Stones (1971, #1)
"Smoke On The Water" - Deep Purple (1973, #4)
"Sweet Home Alabama"- Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974, #8)
"Takin' Care Of Business"- Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974, #12)
"Tush" - ZZ Top (1975, #20)
"Rock & Roll All Night" - KISS (1975, #12)
"Feelings"- Morris Albert (just enough to joke about it) (1975, #6)
"Margaritaville" - Jimmy Buffett (just enough to say, "I'm not gonna play that.") (1977, #8)
"Old Time Rock & Roll" - Bob Seger (1979, #28)


OK, that's twenty years worth. In 1980 things started to get kind of disco-y, so I stopped there.

So, those are songs *I* think most musicians know. And I admit they are influenced by my generation. (Hey, I forgot THAT one!)

What songs do YOU think a random group of YOUR musician friends know?


See you soon,


PS: Oh yeah, I didn't talk about guitars yet... Hey, remember last week when two guys had beautiful Les Paul Sunbursts in the store, and we took pictures of the "flame"? This week a guy came in with a 1958 Les Paul Custom. And since I have a 1957 Les Paul Custom, we thought we'd mimic last week's photos. Although black is a cool color, the guitars don't look quite as exciting in the photos! Here are two vintage Les Paul Customs. (Note that my Les Paul is from early 1957. Later that year they changed the pickup configuration from single coils to humbucks. And unlike the Les Paul Sunburst, which was upgraded from two single coils to two humbucking pickups, the Custom came with three!)

PPS: With regard to the Stones song listed above, many of our Email Special readers get this at work, and many of them have workplace email filters. When I typed the correct spelling of "H... Tonk Women" the "bad-word" filter lit up on MY outgoing email! To save this email from being sent to bad-word-purgatory I spelled it wrong. Wacky, huh?

PPPS: With regard to "I Saw Her Standing There"(#14) and "Revolution (#12) listed above, both of their "A" sides went to #1. ("I Want To Hold You Hand" and "Hey Jude") Back in those days different sides of 45 RPM records could have different chart positions.

PPPPS: With regard to "Margaritaville," I personally admire Jimmy Buffett. He's so happy. And he may not be tired of playing that song, but many of the rest of the musicians in the world are.

PPPPPS: And if I'm going to list "Feelings" I probably should mention the other song played by every wedding band, "Color My World" by Chicago.

PPPPPPS: Hey, remember last week when I mentioned that Nick Nolte was in the store? That night I was reading Esquire magazine (to make sure I had the right suit for the upcoming fashion season) and they had several articles about "manliness." (e.g. "Thirty Things Every Man Should Own", etc) and at the end was a "How Much Of A Man Are You?" quiz. Here's the page. Note second row, fourth column. I recognized it right away! (Here's the original picture.)

PPPPPPPS: Hey, remember the Sunburst Les Pauls I mentioned last week, and in the first PS above? Rick M. just walked in the store with his Sunburst. He wants to enter it in the "flame-off"! Here's Rick. There is something beautiful about the three-dimensional look of curly maple. Rick is beautiful too. And fairly three-dimensional.

PPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: The Red Western

Friday 4/24/2009 ~ More Songs We Know


We've had some interesting conversations around the store this week.

In the last Email Special I mentioned songs that I would expect musicians my age to know. ("Louie, Louie", "Gloria" etc.) As I anticipated, other players had different lists. (Although I was surprised at how many people agreed with my line-up.)

*One reader listed "...early Guns & Roses," "most of Nirvana's songs..." and "...a lot of Green Day!" I can understand that. There are some great songs in that group.


*Someone else said:
"Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (Dylan)
"You Ain't Going Nowhere" (Dylan)
"Dead Flowers" (Stones)
"Candyman" (The Grateful Dead)
"Waiting For My Man (Velvet Underground)
"Sweet Jane (Velvet Underground)
I'm familiar with all of those except "Candyman" by the Grateful Dead. I tried watching it yesterday morning on youtube, but they were still playing it at closing time, so I didn't see the end...

*Wednesday I was talking to one of our customers who described himself as "a blues player." He said, "Stormy Monday." I asked him what other tunes he'd expect his bandmates to know, and he said, "That's it! They can keep playing 'Stormy Monday.' I'll change the words to make it different songs."

*One guy, who started playing in public in 1985, said he only played original songs, so he didn't know how to play any of the "covers" I mentioned. I pondered that for a second, and then went back to look up the top hit songs from 1985. Checking the charts I saw that 1985 was dominated by Madonna, Phil Collins, REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. (Not to mention Wham! and Tears For Fears...) While those artists may have recorded perfectly fine songs (who doesn't like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"???), they hardly lend themselves to young guitarists putting their first band together. ("Hey, Billy! Get your guitar and let's go over to John's basement, form a band, and learn 'Take On Me' by A-Ha!") There wasn't a lot of guitar-based music to inspire folks in 1985-1986. And thinking back, I remember what a breath of fresh air it was when Guns N Roses hit the airwaves in 1987. Slash reminded us how great a Les Paul can sound. And then, after a late-1980s full of Debbie Gibson, New Kids On The Block, and Milli Vanilli, it was wonderful to hear Nirvana and Green Day bringing the guitar back to the forefront in the 1990s!

*Getting back to lists: One of our customers submitted her list of songs she'd expect her fellow-players to know:
"Cotton Eyed Joe"
"Cripple Creek"
"Down Yonder"
"Turkey In The Straw"
"Black Eyed Susie"
"Pig In A Pen"
"Rocky Top"
Now THERE are some songs we didn't play in Pittsburgh (at least not in my neighborhood). But they do feature a lot of guitar! And although I'm not familiar with all of them, I love "Rocky Top"! I hear it a dozen times every time I'm in Nashville, and I always enjoy it!

*Coincidentally, I got that bluegrass-laden email five minutes after I returned from buying ten guitars from the estate of a local folk singer. As I was looking at his instruments here in the shop, I saw that lyrics were taped to the top edge of one of the guitars. (It's a beautiful special ordered Guild 12-string. It's based on a Guild F-412, but has the decorative fingerboard from a rare Guild F-612.) Here's John with the guitar. (It also has beautiful Brazilian Rosewood on the back and sides. Here's the back.) I knew that this late gentleman had used the guitar when singing the National Anthem before numerous sporting events, so I wasn't surprised to see the chords and lyrics to the "Star Spangled Banner" on the guitar. (Here.) But as I looked closely, I noticed that the song next to it was..."Rocky Top"!

*Hey, it may not be rock & roll, but it's hard not to smile when you hear "Rocky Top"! Here's The Osbourne Brothers.


See you soon,


PS: In these questionable economic times, every few days someone will ask, "How's business?" The answer: We're still happy to be around music and guitars! What more can one ask than being happy? Besides, as I looked back on the hit songs from 1985, I was reminded of the days when synthesizer keyboards where rapidly replacing guitars in contemporary music. If the guitar biz could survive the era of Falco, Lionel Richie and Paula Abdul, it can survive anything. (I wonder what ever happened to those three?) Here at Pittsburgh Guitars we enjoy the business even more today than when we started. Guitars: we love `em!

PPS: Speaking of enjoying the biz, we're happy to have reached our 30th Anniversary! We're gonna have some fun stuff and special deals throughout May. More about that next week!

PPPS: Customer of the week: This Saturday!!!! Art-All-Night!

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