Email Specials from May 2009

Friday 5/1/2009 ~ Pittsburgh Guitars Strings, Hagstom Guitars, and Our 30th Anniversary!


Have you ever wanted to become a better guitar player? And get better looking? And live longer?

Now you can!! With the brand new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings!!!
Simply install the new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings on your guitar and practice for four hours a day, and you will actually become a better guitar player!! It's amazing, but true!!!

PLUS, if you install the new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings and follow the instructions above closely, you'll notice that as your guitar playing skills improve, you will actually become more attractive! People will notice!!
AND if that's not enough, if you use the new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings and eat more fruits and vegetables you will get healthier!! And live longer!!!

Yes, we're proud to announce the new Pittsburgh Guitars Guitar Strings. These high quality, deluxe guitar strings are made right here in the U.S.A., and come in both styles: Pittsburgh Guitars Super-Tone Electric Strings, and Pittsburgh Guitars Superior-Tone Acoustic Strings.

Here's what they look like!

They are Lab Tested, Blues Approved, and Guaranteed to Contain No High-Fructose Corn Syrup!

And, in honor of our 30th Anniversary, they will be available starting this Friday, May 1st.

Stop in and buy a pack or twelve! They are even Sale Priced, for your guitar playing pleasure!!


The new strings are part of our month-long celebration. The second item to kick-off our Anniversary month, is a Special Price on a great guitar from the Hagstrom Company.

The original Hagstrom company, founded in Sweden by Albin Hagstrom, was in operation from 1925 until 1983. They sold thousands and thousands of guitars during the every-baby-boomer-wants-a-guitar late-1960s-guitar-boom.... and closed up shop after the most-baby-boomers-give-up-on-trying-to-play-guitar late-1970s-guitar-bust. But interest in vintage Hagstroms has always been strong, and in 2004 the original Hagstrom family members got together to re-form the company. Today they offer an entire line of fine guitars.

One of the models that we particularly like is the Hagstrom Ultra Swede. It's a thin, double-humbucking pickup solid-body, with a flame maple top and cool pearl binding. It features Hagstrom's "Custom 58" pickups and a coil-tap switch. It's a hot sounding, fast-playing, alternative to a Les Paul... one that's a lot lighter, and a LOT less expensive.

The List Price on the Ultra Swede is $670 and the mega-jumbo stores sell them for $455. We're not mega-jumbo, so we regularly sell `em for $395. BUT, to help us celebrate our 30th Anniversary I was able to get a bunch from Hagstrom at an even better deal! And this month we'll be offering the Hagstrom Ultra Swede for an Anniversary Price of $295. We have an assortment of flamed finishes available.

Here's John with a few Hagstrom Ultra Swedes.


So, if you have lots of single coil Strat-ish guitars, this is your chance to try a humbucking guitar... Or if you need a backup for your Les Paul, because you're tired of re-tuning it to open G for only one song... Or if you just wanna have a good time with a new instrument!


OK! That gets us started on our Anniversary Month!!


See you soon,


PS: Even though they were from far-off Sweden (and who really knows where that is....) Hagstrom had quite an effective distribution network in the USA in the 1960s. And in this area they were even better represented than Fender. During the above mentioned every-baby-boomer-wants-a-guitar late-1960s guitar-boom, every kid in my neighborhood had a guitar. I remember them all. My brother John had a Gibson SG, Tom B. had a Gibson ES-335, Jim R. had a Gibson Melody Maker, Chuck D. had a Kent, Danny K. had a Baldwin Vibraslim, and two guys, Denny K. and Dale S. both had Hagstrom guitars. So in my `hood: two Swedish-made Hagstroms; zero California-made Fender guitars.

PPS: Re: Songs you would expect someone jamming with you to know...
Lists are still coming in. A guy in a regularly gigging "cover" band listed these:
"Teen Spirit" (Nirvana)
"Sandman" (Metallica)
"My Own Worst Enemy" (Lit)
"Dammit!" (Blink 185) and
"Cumbersome" (Seven Mary Three).
I put links on the last three because I didn't recognize the titles, but once I heard the songs I recognized them immediately. You will, too.

PPPS: Saturday, May 30th, Rex Theater, 8PM!
Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party, plus Big Beatle Show #6
Music, contests, prizes, and cake!

PPPPS: Customer of the week: 28 North

Friday 5/8/2009 ~ Tenor Guitars


Two weeks ago I bought ten instruments from the wife of a late folk-singer. (Here's John with the Guild 12-string I mentioned.) Two of the ten were tenor guitars. Coincidentally, this month's issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine features a cover story about Neko Case, and in the article she talks about her tenor guitars.

Now you may be asking, "What is a tenor guitar?" And since you may never have seen one, that would be a reasonable question.

Well, it all started with the banjo.

The banjo is considered by many people to be the only true American instrument, and its use has been documented back to the late 1760s. (In fact, I've heard that the Declaration of Independence was originally written for a banjo... but that Thomas Jefferson demanded that it be delivered in "rap" style.) By the early 1880s the banjo had become very popular. (One explanation: The TV hadn't been invented yet. So, it was like, "Well, Martha, do you want to sit here in our log cabin and read a book by candlelight, or do you wanna go down to the meetin' hall and watch a guy play the banjo?")

By 1900 there were 200 companies making banjos in the USA. The S.S. Stewart Company alone made over 25,000 banjos between 1878 and 1904. That's a lot when you consider there were only 26,000 people in the country then!

These banjos traditionally had five strings and were played in a fingerpicking style. But in 1907, much to the annoyance of their parents, the kids started playing new, wild, crazy styles of music. ( Like "jazz" and "the tango.") (Kids! What can ya do with them?)
And the kids wanted to be loud! In order to do more power-chord strumming, (picture Pete Townsend's great grandfather...), they removed the short 5th string from their banjos and started using a pick. And, to make it easier for more potential players, they tuned these new four string banjos C-G-D-A, the same intervals as a mandolin or a violin. This radical new four-string model was called the Tenor Banjo, and when "ragtime" music hit in 1908 the Tenor Banjo was THE instrument to play.

It's hard to imagine now, but in the early 1900s the banjo was far more popular than the guitar. And its heyday lasted through the mid-1920s. By 1927, though, the times they were a changin' (written by Bob Dylan's great grandfather) and the popularity of the Tenor Banjo started fading fast.

BUT, what about all of those talented Tenor Banjo players? They needed a new instrument. And America's guitar manufacturers, who were waiting out the Banjo era, were there for them... with the Tenor Guitar! It looked and sounded like a guitar, but it had a skinny four string neck like a Tenor Banjo!!! It was an easy switch for the guitar makers... just put a new neck on a current guitar model... and it was a very easy switch for the Tenor Banjo players.

And that is the history of the Tenor Guitar!

Here's John with a 1929 Richter Tenor Guitar, made for the S.S. Maxwell Company.

Here he is with a 1932 Gibson T-00.

I'm not sure what company made this one. In the old days, guitar instructors, music schools and even individual stores would have instruments made with their name on them. This says "PITT" on the headstock and may have been made for the University of Pittsburgh. (It appears to have been manufactured by the Harmony Company.)

When electric guitars became popular in the 1950s, both Gibson and Gretsch offered Tenor versions of their standard guitars. Here's John with a 1955 Gretsch Tenor Duo Jet.

And here's John with a 1961 Gibson Tenor ETS-150.
You can hear this last instrument, our Gibson ETS-150, in the movie "He's Just Not That Into You." We rented it to the studio when they were recording the soundtrack.


By the 1960s Tenor Guitars were only available on a Special Order basis. Unfortunately, nowadays few companies will even do a Special Order, so you rarely see new Tenor Guitars. But you never know when an old one will turn up.

The Tenor Guitar is a really cool, jangly instrument. If you ever see one, give it a try.


See You Soon!

PS: Anniversary Month Continues!

* Pittsburgh Guitars brand "Super-Tone" Electric Guitar Strings: $3.95

* Pittsburgh Guitars brand "Superior-Tone" Acoustic Guitar Strings: $3.95

* Hagstrom Ultra Swede Electric Guitar. List Price: $670; This month: $295!

* And Added this Week: A Special Deal from Harmony! We're good friends with the guys from Harmony Guitars... (Man, those guys can drink!) (But... so can we!!) They want to help out with our Anniversary month, so New This Week: Buy any new Harmony Rocket Reissue and take an Extra $50 off of our already discounted price, PLUS get a Free Case! (Offer good through May 30th)
Here's John with a few Harmony Rockets.


PPS: Customer of the week: Donora

Friday 5/15/2009 ~ Rock & Roll and British Invasion Bands


As I sit here and ponder the last 30 years, I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out. After three decades of selling guitars we didn't make a million dollars, but we did make (nearly) a million friends. It's been fun spending three decades hanging around our favorite instruments and our favorite customers (you) (and that guy over there).

Although there are certainly LOTS of different kinds of music in the world, my inspiration for starting this store those many (many, many) years ago was rock & roll. And though rock & roll began here in the good old U.S. of A. in 1955 with Chuck Berry and Little Richard, MY generation's introduction came by way of a bounce-back from England in 1964. To personally celebrate the history of the store, I decided last weekend to get back to the roots of the store, so to speak, and visit my friends in Liverpool. I had a wonderful couple of days there, and had a chance to see some great players.

One evening I visited a weekly jam session hosted by an organization called the Mersey Cats. (Liverpool is sometimes known as Merseyside, since it's on the Mersey River.) It's a group of old players who raise money for charity (and get a chance to play the songs of their youth). Naturally, I'm hesitant to throw around the term "old" (especially since I'm dangerously close myself), but as an example, one of the groups at the show was celebrating their 50th year as a band. So, these guys have been around for a while! And it was a joy to watch them play.

As I was watching a 68-year-old drummer lay down a perfect rock & roll snare drum beat in Liverpool, I remembered a conversation I had in Detroit eight years ago with another guitar dealer. We'll call him "Buck." (`Cause that's his real name.) Buck is a few years older than me, and he was already a professional musician playing in bars in 1964 when the British bands hit the US charts. He told me that he never cared for the "British Invasion" bands because they were too sterile and lacked the gutsiness of original American rockers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. I believe my response was, "Yeah, so is your mother!" (Actually, it was "Well, they brought it to the masses.")

Buck was right, no one can really match Little Richard's voice. But as I watched these guys play last weekend, I appreciated an important feature they brought to the songs... an updated rhythm section. Little Richard and Chuck Berry were innovators. They were inventing a new musical style. But their drummers and bass players (who were using upright basses on both "Long Tall Sally" and "Roll Over Beethoven") learned their craft playing rhythm & blues and swing. As talented as these players were (the legendary Willie Dixon played bass with Chuck Berry) they were embarking into new territory. And no one was really sure what it was. Picture Little Richard walking into a recording session full of rhythm & blues players and saying, "OK, just follow's called 'Tutti Fruitti.'"

The early 1960s British players didn't have a "swing," or "rhythm & blues" background to color their style. They grew up in poor towns that were mostly destroyed during World War II, and their limited exposure to rock & roll came from occasional airplay from bootleg off-shore radio stations and whatever meager supply of American records that sailors would bring over from the US. But what little they heard, they loved. And as soon as they could afford instruments they started pounding away at rock & roll, with electric basses and a faster, driving beat. They may not have been as raw as the originals, but their covers added a new updated dimension to the songs. One that mid-1960s America embraced.

So, I can understand Buck's comments, but the electrified spirit that the early British bands brought to American rock & roll inspired an entire generation of kids to pick up the guitar... and inspired me to open Pittsburgh Guitars. And I'm grateful for that.

Last Friday I had the pleasure of seeing The Undertakers perform in Liverpool. Guitarist Geoff Nugent formed the band in 1959, and they still rock! Geoff led the band though a smokin' set. He seems as if he was born playing rock & roll. Here's The Undertakers, circa 1963. Here's a photo from last Friday. Saxman Brian Jones doesn't jump as high as in the first photo (actually he doesn't jump at all anymore!) but he still plays a mean sax. (And he's a funny guy.)

The trip was inspirational for two reasons. First it celebrated the history of the store, and secondly, it showed me that you're never too old to rock as long as you have the music in your heart. Here's Geoff and me outside The Cavern on Matthew Street.

*As a side note, The Undertakers were the first band in Liverpool to feature an all-Gibson-guitar line-up. The guitars in the photo are a Gibson ES-345 (you can tell by the Varitone switch and the split parallelogram inlays), a late-1950s Gibson EB-2 Bass (you can date it by the "banjo" style machines heads, which were used from 1958 thru 1960), and an early 1960s ES-330 (it features black plastic covers on its P-90 pickups, which Gibson used from 1959 until 1962.)


In the photo above Geoff is using a Gretsch amp. So, in addition to our other Anniversary Month Specials, this week's Email Special will feature the new Gretsch Model 5222 Electromatic Amp! It's a great sounding 5-watt, tube amp for recording or rehearsing. Here's John with one.


See you soon,


PS: Other Anniversary Month Specials!!!
* Pittsburgh Guitars Strings!!! Only $3.99 for electric, $4.50 for acoustic.
* Hagstrom Ultra Swede Guitars!!! List $670. This month only: $295!!!
* Harmony Rocket Reissues!!! An extra $50 off any model!!!

PPS: Here's a photo of Matt. He was the first person to buy the new Pittsburgh Guitars Strings, moments after they were announced.

PPPS: Grab a couple cans of soup. For our Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party/Big Beatle Show on May 30th at The Rex we're changing the cover charge. Usually it's $5, to help with the expense of renting the theater. (I know, I know, people have complained that $5 is too cheap for what is easily $105.17 worth of entertainment! But, hey, that's how we roll...) For this show we're donating everything from the door to the Pittsburgh Food Bank... So, the cover charge is two cans of soup (or canned vegetables) (or canned tuna fish) (or two cans of something). If you can't bring anything, then it's still $5, and we'll buy the soup for you. We're grateful for your support over these many years, and we'd like to help other folks as we celebrate our Anniversary.



PPPPS: Customer of the week: The Veronicas

Thursday 5/21/2009 ~ Gibson Electric Basses


NOTE #1: I'm sending this a day early since you'll be taking Friday off as part of the long holiday weekend. Go ahead, your boss told me it was OK....

NOTE #2: Next week!! Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party/ Big Beatle Show #6 at the Rex. Saturday Night, May 30, 2009. 8 PM sharp!

NOTE #3: The cover charge for the show next Saturday is two cans of soup for the Food Bank!! (Or fruit or vegetables, etc.) (Cans only, no glass please.)



For a minute I thought I might be too rooted in the past. But I was wrong.

Last week I mentioned hanging around in Liverpool with a band called band The Undertakers. Here's a picture of The Undertakers' leader and founder, Geoff Nugent, in 1960. He's playing a guitar that he had purchased brand new a few months earlier: a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Special. (The first thing he did when he got the Les Paul Special was add a Bigsby vibrato.) He and I talked about that guitar and other vintage instruments when I visited him in Liverpool.

After I spent last week's Email Special discussing music, bands and guitars from the 1960s I thought, "Maybe I should try to be more contemporary...." So, yesterday I decided to fire up the good old internet and see what's #1 on Billboard's chart. After all, you can't get more contemporary than the #1 album in the country. Well, it turns out that it's "21st Century Breakdown" by Green Day. And THIS is one of their promo photos! Yep, it's Billy Joe Armstrong holding a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Special, just like the one Geoff used to play!

So I am contemporary after all! Apparently the study and appreciation of vintage guitars transcends time. Alright!!


That means that we are therefore justified in talking about the bass used in The Undertakers! Here's their bassist, Jackie Lomax, playing his Gibson EB-2.

Now you're probably thinking, "Gee, I wonder when Jackie's EB-2 bass was made?" I know! That's the first thing I wondered, too!! Let's put on our Sherlock-Holmes-of-guitar hat, and figure it out.


To understand Jackie's bass, we need to take a quick trip back to 1953... or rather 1952. In 1952 Leo Fender, that young upstart, introduced the Fender Precision Bass... the bass that would change the world. No longer did bass players have to strap their upright bass to the roof of their Edsel. They now had a instrument that could be plugged in and heard above the rest of the band. And one that would fit in the car. Here's John with a 1952 Fender Precision Bass. (Fender called his bass the "Precision" because, unlike an upright bass, it had frets and you could play each note precisely.) Not to be outdone by Leo, in 1953 Gibson introduced THEIR electric bass, which they imaginatively called the "Electric Bass"! Or, as it could also be known: "The bass that didn't change the world."

Gibson figured that an electric bass was meant to be a smaller version of an upright. So their bass was a small violin-shaped instrument. And since upright basses have tuners that face backwards, Gibson used banjo tuners on their solid-body bass. Here's Scott with a 1956 "Electric Bass." And here's what the tuners look like.

Unlike the Precision, which had a Strat-like pickup in the center of the body and a bright, punchy bass tone, the Gibson "Electric Bass" featured a wide pickup right at the end of the fingerboard. This gave it a deep, mellow sound, with no punch whatsoever. And because it was so boomy, it was more than most bass amps of the era could cleanly handle. It did not set the world on fire. (Although it may have done that to a few amps.) It was introduced in 1953 and discontinued five years later. Sales peaked at 127 in 1955, and dropped to 45 in 1958.

Meanwhile in 1958, over in six-string land, Gibson's R&D department developed a semi-hollow guitar that would become highly successful - a model that has been in production continuously since 1958: the famous and wonderful ES-335. Since sales of the "Electric Bass" had fallen like a rock (It didn't help that Leo Fender was constantly improving the Precision during the 1950s, while Gibson didn't change a thing on their bass), Gibson decided in 1958 to spice things up with a bass version of the new ES-335. And in keeping with their innovative naming strategy, they called it the "EB-2" for "Electric Bass 2."

(At this point history was quickly re-written, and the former "Electric Bass" became the "EB-1." Here's the same picture of Scott, with the retroactive name change.)

Gibson had high hopes for the EB-2. But despite its new shape, it maintained the same boominess of the EB-1, and still had no high end. In 1959, in an attempt to cut back on the bass's low end boom, Gibson installed a push-button, called a "baritone switch," which added a capacitor to roll off some of the low-end frequencies. It didn't help.

We can roughly pin down the year on Jackie's bass by noting its features. From 1958 through 1960, the EB-2 used the same banjo-style tuners as the EB-1. As you can see in the picture, his EB-2 has the banjo tuners (note that you can't see regular machine heads sticking out from the side of the headstock). So that makes his bass pre-1961. Also, in addition to the volume knob, the tone knob, and the input jack, you can see the "baritone switch." So that makes his bass post-1958. From this one grainy black & white picture we can therefore deduce that the bass Jackie Lomax is holding was made between 1959 and 1960. Elementary, my dear Watson!

Regardless of the year, it's a rare instrument. Most of the early EB-2s were sunburst; far fewer were made in the Natural finish. Jackie's bass was one of only seventy-seven Natural EB-2s sold during the years 1959 and 1960.

Here's John with a 1958 EB-2 from the Pittsburgh Guitars collection. This bass, which is one of only six Natural EB-2s made in 1958, is just like Jackie's bass except it's a slightly earlier model and therefore lacks the baritone switch. (And it lost its pickguard sometime over the last fifty-one years.)

Here's John with a 1960 EB-2, in the more common Sunburst finish. This model has the banjo tuners and the switch. It's one of 102 Sunburst EB-2s made in 1960.

In 1966 Gibson finally realized that they could brighten the sound of the EB-2 by adding a second pickup near the bridge. By this point their model numbers had already gone backwards, numerically speaking, with the SG-shaped bass designated as the EB-0... and forward, with the two pickup SG-shaped bass, called the EB-3. So you would think that the two-pickup EB-2 would be called an "EB-4." But that would make too much sense. Gibson called it the "EB-2D." Here's John with a 1968 EB-2D. The two-pickup upgrade increased sales, and during the last few years of the 1960s Gibson sold several thousand EB-2 and EB-2D basses. But the hollow-body bass was too retro for the 1970s, and in 1972 Gibson discontinued both models.

And that's pretty much all you need to know about the wonderful world of the Gibson EB-1, EB-2 and EB-2D basses. You're welcome!


See you soon,


PS: Although his original Les Paul Special has long since been broken, Geoff liked it so much that he's currently using reissue of the same model. Here's Geoff two weeks ago, with a reissue Les Paul Special.

PPS: In 1960, The Undertakers other guitarist, Chris Houston, also bought a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Special, and just like Geoff, he added a Bigsby. Later that year, Chris helped this guy add a Bigsby to his guitar.

PPPS: Despite its lack of success the first time around, in 1970 Gibson reissued the violin-shaped EB-1. That lasted until 1971.

PPPPS: Our Special Price Sale on Hagstrom Ultra Swede guitars has been a great success. We have a few left, so it looks like we're going to run out by next week, just as the "sale" runs out. Good timing! The Anniversary Sale price is $295. (List Price: $670. Big chain store price: $455.)

PPPPPS: Enjoy the holiday weekend! See you next week at The Rex for the Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary Party, and Big Beatle Show #6!

PPPPPPPS: Although it is oft' used as an example of Holmes dialog, Sherlock Holmes never actually said, "Elementary my dear Watson." The real quote was:

"I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he. "It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction. The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader."
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)

Next week: "Play it again, Sam."

PPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Devilish Merry

Friday 5/29/2009 ~ Big Beatle Show #6 and The Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song!


It concerns the long term effect of speaker magnets and the density of wood. My hypothesis is that over time, the wood in a speaker cabinet reacts with the magnetic field created by the magnets on the speakers enclosed in said speaker cabinet; and that the molecular structure of such wood changes, perhaps attracting particles from the surrounding air, and thus increasing the density of this heretofore mentioned wood. This modified molecular structure and increased density then results in the speaker cabinet becoming heavier over time. After all, how else could you explain that speaker cabinets that I've owned for years now appear to be much heavier than they were twenty years ago?

I noticed this as I was putting the Vox speaker cabinets into the truck for this Saturday's Big Beatle Show #6 at the Rex Theater. These cabinets are much more difficult for me to lift than they were when I bought them in the 1980s, so clearly they must now be heavier. What else could it be?

Anyway, we're ready to go for tomorrow's big show!


And since it's also the Pittsburgh Guitars 30th Anniversary celebration, we're happy to announce the debut of the new Pittsburgh Guitars Theme Song!

It's a one-minute-forty-seven-second mini-rock-opera opus, that combines the drama of Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld" with the complexity of Gioachino Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and the passion of The Who's "Tommy." I suspect that years from now college Music Theory courses will be designed to study its intricacies, and the impact it will have on society as we know it.

In the meantime, it's fun to now have a Theme Song! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the writing of the song, and thanks to all of the guys, and girl, at the store, who sang and played on the recording.


Here's a youtube link to the song, with video. The lyrics are on the right, under "more info."

Here's a "streaming" video version on our site. I think it might be higher quality, although I don't know how your computer feels about streams. (It sounds dangerous to me!)

And if you're at work, and can't watch a video, here's a different link to just the music.



See you soon,


PS: Don't forget that tomorrow's show is also a benefit for the Pittsburgh Food Bank, and the cover charge is two cans of soup (or other canned goods). If you don't have the cans, the cover is $5 and we'll buy `em for you.

PPS: Showtime is at 8PM and we'll have door prizes throughout the evening, including two free guitars from Fender and Yamaha!

PPPS: Customer of the week: The Clarks
Their new CD will be out on June 9th!
Their next big Pittsburgh show is set for June 13th at Station Square!

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