Email Specials from September 2009

Friday 9/04/2009 ~ Hit Records, Old & New


This week I put together several compilation CDs for my mother-in-law's 50th High School Reunion.

Her high school years were 1956 through 1959, and before I started arranging the songs I thought, "Aw, this is gonna be a lot of lame stuff like Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon and Perry Como..." (And, yes, there were a lot of those...)

(By the way, if you're counting, between `56 and `59, Pat Boone had four #1 records, Perry Como had three and Frankie Avalon had two #1 hits.)

But as I started to import the songs into iTunes, I noticed that I recognized a LOT of them. And they weren't all sugary, "Easy Listening" songs like "Catch A Falling Star (And Put It In Your Pocket.)" (Perry Como, #1 on March 28, 1958). Some of them rocked. And although I'm probably older than you, I bet YOU'D recognize a lot of these songs, too.

Let's check!
Here's a list of forty hit songs from 1956 - 1959, more than fifty years ago. How many do you know?
(In other words, could you at least hum a verse or chorus?)


1956 - 1959
"Ain't That A Shame" Fats Domino
"All Shook Up" Elvis Presley
"Be-Bop-A-Lula" Gene Vincent
"Blue Moon" The Marcels
"Blue Suede Shoes" Carl Perkins
"Bo Diddley" Bo Diddley
"Bye Bye Love" The Everly Brothers
"Charlie Brown" The Coasters
"Don't Be Cruel" Elvis Presley
"The Great Pretender" The Platters
"Heartbreak Hotel" Elvis Presley
"Hound Dog" Elvis Presley
"Jailhouse Rock" Elvis Presley
"Johnny B. Goode" Chuck Berry
"Kansas City" Wilbert Harrison
"La Bamba" Ritchie Valens
"Maybellene" Chuck Berry
"Peggy Sue" Buddy Holly
"Poor Little Fool" Ricky Nelson
"Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay" Danny & The Juniors
"Rock And Roll Music" Chuck Berry
"Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu" Huey Piano Smith
"Rockin' Robin" Bobby Day
"Roll Over Beethoven" Chuck Berry
"School Days" Chuck Berry
"Sea Cruise" Frankie Ford
"Searchin'" The Coasters
"Since I Don't Have You" The Skyliners
"Sleep Walk" Santo & Johnny
"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" The Platters
"Splish Splash" Bobby Darin
"Stagger Lee" Lloyd Price
"Sweet Little Sixteen" Chuck Berry
"Tequila" The Champs
"That'll Be The Day" Buddy Holly & The Crickets
"The Twist" Hank Ballard
"Wake Up Little Susie" The Everly Brothers
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" Jerry Lee Lewis
"Yakety Yak" The Coasters
"Young Blood" The Coasters


OK! Now, let's compare! I randomly chose another four year period... the years 2002 - 2005. (Roughly five years ago, vs. fifty years ago.)
Here are the #1 songs from that era. How many of these can you hum?

"How You Remind Me" Nickelback
"U Got It Bad" Usher
"Always on Time" Ja Rule featuring Ashanti
"Ain't It Funny" Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule
"Foolish" Ashanti
"Hot in Herre" Nelly
"Dilemma" Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland
"A Moment Like This" Kelly Clarkson
"Dilemma" Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland
"Lose Yourself" Eminem

"Bump, Bump, Bump" B2K featuring P. Diddy
"All I Have" Jennifer Lopez featuring LL Cool J
"In Da Club" 50 Cent
"Get Busy" Sean Paul
"21 Questions" 50 Cent featuring Nate Dogg
"This Is the Night" Clay Aiken
"Crazy in Love" Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z
"Shake Ya Tailfeather" Nelly, P. Diddy and Murphy Lee
"Baby Boy" Beyoncé featuring Sean Paul
"Stand Up" Ludacris featuring Shawnna
"Hey Ya!" OutKast

"The Way You Move" OutKast featuring Sleepy Brown
"Slow Jamz" Twista featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx
"Yeah!" Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
"I Believe" Fantasia
"Burn" Usher
"Confessions Part II" Usher
"Slow Motion" Juvenile featuring Soulja Slim
"Lean Back" Terror Squad
"Goodies" Ciara featuring Petey Pablo
"My Boo" Usher and Alicia Keys
"Drop It Like It's Hot" Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell

"Let Me Love You" Mario
"Candy Shop" 50 Cent featuring Olivia
"Hollaback Girl" Gwen Stefani
"We Belong Together" Mariah Carey
"Inside Your Heaven" Carrie Underwood
"Gold Digger" Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
"Run It!" Chris Brown
"Don't Forget About Us" Mariah Carey


Well... how does List 1 compare to List 2?

a) How many 1956 - 1959 songs do you know?
b) How many 2002 - 2005 songs can you hum?
c) How many from 2002 - 2005 do you think will still be around in fifty years?


A lot of hit songs are only three or four chords. (OK... even that may be stretching it for many of the songs in List 2.)


See you soon,


PS: With regard to "#1" songs, in recent years Billboard has started to count digital downloads as record sales. For example, in 2008 a song called "Low" by Flo Rida (yes, he's from Florida) was #1 for ten weeks, with sales of five million units. But they were all digital downloads. I realize that it doesn't take much computer space to store a download, so in that sense those versions of the song COULD be around for a long time. But considering how fast technology changes... and hence, storage formats... I wonder where those downloads will be in fifty years, and if anyone will know where they are. Fifty years from now it may still be easier to find a 45 RPM copy of "Splish Splash." It'll be in the little red, flip-top 45 box with the stick-on flower decals.

PPS: Last week I wondered aloud if Gibson ever made a dedicated 3/4 size guitar. Several folks wrote to point out that they DID! I'll discuss that next week!

PPPS: John and Scott are safely back from playing at Beatle Week in Liverpool, England! Here's a picture. We'll have a thousand more next week.

PPPPS: Mark your Calendar! This Year's Halloween Show, "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17" is now in production!!! And this year's dead celebrities are so much fun that we're expanding to two nights!!
Friday, October 30, 2009 and Saturday, October 31, 2009
At The Rex Theater!
Tickets go on sale soon!!

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Phonograph

Friday 9/11/2009 ~ Gibson's 100% 3/4 Size Guitars



A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Gibson's "Les Paul Jr 3/4" guitars. (The junior Juniors!) These were regular Les Paul Jr bodies, with 3/4 size necks. And I pondered aloud... or at least in type... if Gibson had ever made an electric guitar that was solely designed to be a 3/4-size instrument. In other words, 100% 3/4-size.

In the back of my brain I knew such a guitar existed... over these thirty years I've owned several... but two weeks ago when I asked that question, John and Scott were living it up in Liverpool, England, and the front of my brain was busy running the store. And the middle of my brain was out drinking with its friends. So, the back of my brain wasn't able to speak up and say, "Hey, what about the ES-140!!" Fortunately, several of our Email Special readers immediately wrote in, and reminded me of that model. And there were really THREE models! But I'll get to that in a second. First let's back up a bit...

Years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth. Then, sixty-five million years later, Orville Gibson was born. He was impressed with the sound of archtop violins, so he set about to design guitars and mandolins that featured similar carved arched tops. For eight years he perfected this novel design in his home workshop. (Other guitar manufacturers at the time, Martin for example, were making acoustic guitars with flat tops.) Gibson's archtop concept was a big hit and in 1902 the "Gibson Mandolin Guitar Manufacturing Company" was formed. Although Orville dropped out of the company after less than a year, the Gibson corporation carried on with his design... and during the early part of the 20th century they manufactured a wide range of archtop guitars. When players complained that they couldn't reach the highest notes on the neck, Gibson introduced cutaway versions of their guitars. And in the mid-1930s, when pickups were developed, Gibson offered electric archtops.


Here's a Gibson L-5 archtop.

Here's John with a 1946 Gibson L-5 archtop, featuring a pickguard containing two pickups. (The pickups-mounted-on-the-pickguard concept was designed by the brilliant inventor/designer Ted McCarty.)

Here's an L-5 with the same pickguard/pickup combination, but with a cutaway.

Until 1940, Gibson's cutaway guitars primarily featured a rounded cutaway, as in the picture above. Gibson coined the term "Venetian Cutaway" to refer to this type of curve.


Then in 1941 things turned ugly, and World War II stopped almost all guitar production. It was a sad time for everyone. Fortunately the war finally ended in 1945, and soon the country, and American businesses, started to bounce back. In 1946 Gibson invented a new, better sounding and more adjustable pickup, called the "P-90." They described it as "the finest pickup money can buy." And in keeping with the new, hipper, post-war times, they designed a new, sharper cutaway, the "Florentine Cutaway."

In 1949 Gibson introduced their first archtop model with the new P-90 pickup and the new Florentine cutaway: the ES-175. It was the forerunner of a new generation of sharp-cutaway archtop guitars.


Here's John with a 1949 ES-175, the first year for this new model.

Gibson had high hopes for this guitar. And to make it available to people of all shapes and sizes, one year later they introduced a smaller version... a 3/4 size version of the ES-175, called the ES-140. The ES-140 featured not only a smaller neck, but a smaller body as well. And since it was a model specifically designed to be 3/4 size, there was no "3/4" designation added to its name. It was just the "ES-140."


Here's a picture of an ES-140, Gibson's 3/4 size electric guitar.

Unfortunately, we don't own one. But we DO know it's dimensions, so here's what it WOULD look like if John was holding an ES-175 and an ES-140.


So, that's the story of the ES-140... But above I said there were three small models.


Well, remember that Leo Fender guy? In 1952 Gibson introduced their first solid-body guitar, the Les Paul, to compete with Leo's Telecaster. However, rather than drive Leo out of business, it inspired him to improve the Telecaster. And he did in 1954, with his new model, the Stratocaster. The giant Gibson corporation still had the lion's share of the marketplace, but Leo's guitars were starting to make waves and cut into their profits. And many customers felt that as nice as a Gibson Les Paul was, it was also noticeably heavier than a Fender guitar.

In 1954 Gibson's only electric guitar options were the solid-body Les Paul line and their deep-body electric archtops (like the ES-175). The archtops weren't terribly heavy, but they were big and awkward. Gibson's research and development department determined that to be competitive they should produce thinner, lighter hollowbody electric archtops. They called these guitars "Thin-Line Models" and they were designated by a "T" after their model name. Several new models were introduced in 1955, including the "ES-225T" and the ES-350T." And in 1956 two older models were redesigned to be thinner-- the ES-125 (a one-pickup non-cutaway archtop) was now offered as the ES-125T... and the little ES-140 got even littler (in this case depth-wise) and became the ES-140T. Same guitar, but half as deep.

And for some reason, Gibson also chose to offer a slightly cheaper version of the ES-140T, a non-cutaway model. Perhaps because they were already introducing lots of new full-size instruments, they chose to not give the new guitar a new model number, but rather they called it what it really was: an "ES-125T 3/4." It's the third of Gibson's 3/4 size electrics.


So, the three dedicated 3/4-size Gibson electric guitars were:
1950 - 1956 the ES-140 (sharp cutaway, deep body) (pictures)
1957 - 1968 the ES-140T (sharp cutaway, thin body) (pictures)
1957 - 1968 the ES-125T 3/4 (no cutaways, thin body) (pictures)

Now you're probably saying, "Hey, that's a long way to go to just say, 'Yes, they made some dedicated 3/4 size electric guitars.'"

Yeah. But isn't it better to have all of the facts? Now that you've read this, it's in YOUR brain somewhere. And maybe someday you'll be on a game show, and someone will ask if Gibson made a 3/4-size archtop electric guitar, and you'll be able to answer, "Why, yes, they DID! The ES-140!" And then you'll win a million dollars.


See you soon,


PS: Even after thirty years, I'm still surprised by the odd things that happen at Pittsburgh Guitars. Last week when I decided to write about the three 3/4 size models, I thought to myself, "Darn, in the giant Pittsburgh Guitars collection we don't actually have any of those guitars. And not only don't we have an ES-140, an ES-140T, or an ES-125T 3/4, we don't even have the guitar that they came from, the original ES-175..." I lamented that last Friday afternoon, as I sent the Email Special. Then first thing Saturday morning a guy walks in the store with a guitar he'd like to trade. I open the case... and it's a 1949 ES-175! Yep, I couldn't believe it either. It's the one John is holding in the above pictures. I left the original 1950s guitar strap on... As you can sort of see in the picture, it ties around the neck joint.

PPS: If somebody comes in today with an ES-140, I'm REALLY gonna be spooked.

PPPS: I mentioned that two weeks ago John and Scott were in Liverpool, England. They were playing at the International Beatle Week with their band, The Elliotts. Here are some pictures!

PPPPS: Mark your Calendar! This Year's Halloween Show, "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17" is now in production!!! And 2009's dead celebrities are so much fun that we're expanding to two nights!!
Friday, October 30 and Saturday, October 31
At The Rex Theater!
Tickets go on sale soon!!

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: The Beatles (OK, they didn't buy anything from us this week... But we bought stuff from them! The new CD box sets! Both in Stereo and original Mono!!)

Friday 9/18/2009 ~ Catching up on Loose Ends


Catching up on loose ends...


*** On September 4th I listed the #1 songs from two five-year periods, the late 1950s and the early 2000s. (Here's a link to the email.) The response from our readers was rather consistent:

a) Songs from 1956 - 1959 (songs from fifty years ago!): Most of the songs were recognized by the Email Special readers. Several folks, even those who weren't born in the 1950s, knew them all.

b) Songs from 2002 - 2005: Even though these songs were much newer, very few were recognized. Many readers didn't know ANY of them.

c) Bonus question "How many songs from the 2002 - 2005 list will still be around fifty years from now?": The general consensus: None

Also: with regard to the songs from 1956 - 1959, two people said they even knew what label the records were on. (I'm partly in that category, too.) I think that back in the days of vinyl we had a more personal relationship with our music. The songs existed in a real form, on a flat piece of vinyl. It had texture. It had mass. And it had a colorful label with lots of information. I bet I could tell you the color of the label for almost any 45 I ever purchased. (And if it had a picture sleeve? Oh yeah, that was sweet!) As for the new stuff... it's hard for me to warm up to a digital file. I know it's there... somewhere... but... where?


With regard to the two song lists, Email Special reader Bill M. made an interesting comment. He attributed our unfamiliarity with the top songs from the 2002 - 2005 list to what he called "the fracturing of the media." And he makes a good point. In the 1950s and 1960s there were very limited ways to hear new music... primarily our local AM radio stations and, if we were lucky, an appearance by our favorite artist on one of three TV channels. (All of which went off the air after 1 AM!) Today we have hundreds of stations on our satellite radio alone, and they are nearly all specialized. (An entire 24-hour-a-day channel of Elvis songs? Yep!!) The audiences for different types of music are more segmented than ever before. It's easy to spend an entire day focusing on only one style of music. In 1964, when I turned on KQV radio to hear The Beatles, there was also a good chance I'd hear "Hello Dolly" by Louis Armstrong. (And that annoying Wayne Newton song, "Danke Schoen.") Today, radio stations are nowhere near as diverse with their playlists, so it's easy to miss music that doesn't fit your style.

(Of course, the other reason that we don't know the songs by "artists" like 50 Cent and Kanye West might be that their "songs" are primarily bad poetry, spoken out-of-tune, to a good drum beat.)


*** On August 8th I talked about Sears Silvertone guitars... and the fact that there was no "Silvertone" factory. The guitars sold by Sears under that brand name were made by a variety of different manufacturers.

When I mentioned "Silvertone" instruments, it inspired many readers to write in about their first guitar, Silvertone or otherwise. And every letter ended with "I wish I would have kept it!" We buy guitars here daily, and when a seller mentions that it's their first guitar I always encourage them to keep it, rather than sell it to us. I say, "Years from now you'll wish you had this back..." Sometimes they reconsider, and sometimes they sell it anyway. I guess not everyone appreciates it when an old guy starts a sentence with "Years from now..."


*** On July 24th I talked about vintage guitars that have lost their "vintage value" because they were modified over the years. I said that while today we'd never intentionally de-value an old guitar, I have sympathy for instruments that were modified years ago... before they became "vintage." Our friend from California Bill Bruno tells us that in 1965, when he was touring the country as lead guitarist for the Outsiders (here's Bill on the TV show Hullabaloo), he bought a 1962 Telecaster in a pawn shop in South Dakota for $40. At the time it was just a used guitar (and it was the 60s), so he got creative and cut the body into a teardrop shape. His brother then etched a moon-face on the front. Needless to say, an original `62 Tele would be worth a lot of money today... But even the thousands of dollars that the Tele might be worth couldn't buy the memories Bill has had with the guitar. Money may be powerful, but it can't buy you the past. (Or the future.) Here's Bill with his slightly-modified `62 Telecaster.


*** I haven't played any of the Rock Band/Guitar Hero video games yet, so I don't have an opinion on the new Beatles Rock Band game. But I DO have an opinion on attention-to-detail. (I'm all for it!) And on that level I'm VERY impressed with the new Beatles game. Recently I saw a photo of the Ringo character playing drums. (Hey, they have Ringo on the correct instrument!) Ringo was a big fan of the early 1960s Rogers tom-tom mount. (Like "Ludwig," "Rogers" was a major American drum manufacturer.) The Rogers piece was more adjustable than other tom-tom mounts of the era. So Ringo added a Rogers tom-tom mount to his Premier drum set (the one he was using when he joined The Beatles and the one he used on the first Beatles album). And in 1963, when he got his shiny new Ludwig set, he moved the Rogers tom-tom mount over to that set. Well, in the Rock Band game, the little cartoon Ringo has a little cartoon Rogers tom-tom mount on his little cartoon Ludwig drum set! And not only that, but if you look closely at the supports on his high-hat stand, you can see that the cartoon Ringo is even using the correct Model 1123 stand, with the curved vertical brace, rather than the more common Model 1121 stand with the straight brace!!! THAT'S attention to detail! Here's a picture. That makes me happy.


See you soon,


PS: The Outsiders Hullabaloo TV clip, above, is from March 21, 1966. Bill is on the right, playing the Gretsch Country Gentleman. The drummer in the video is Jimmy Fox, who formed his own band a few years later, called The James Gang.

PPS: Tickets for this year's Halloween extravaganza, "Night Of The Singing Dead, Part 17" are now available at Pittsburgh Guitars and The Rex Theater!

PPPS: Customer of the week: Ready In 10

Friday 9/25/2009 ~ The Love Hope Strength Foundation


A few weeks ago I got up at 2:30AM... to check my email... (hey, it's addicting!)... and on my way back to bed I briefly plopped on the couch and turned on the TV. As I rapidly scanned through the hundreds of cable channels, I saw a guitar. Naturally, I stopped to watch. It was a bunch of guys, way up on a mountain top... doing an acoustic gig. They looked cold. And I recognized a couple of them from the 1980s. Unfortunately, I was a bit sleepy... and the bottle of Chateau St. Jean Cabernet on the coffee table from earlier in the evening was empty... so I went to bed, and never quite figured out what they were doing.


Then, last week as I was walking through the store, I noticed John in the back of the room playing ukulele with a couple of guys. Since I've become a big ukulele fan recently, I stopped to say hello. It turns out that the two guys were Nick Harper, son of the legendary British singer Roy Harper, and Cy Curnin, lead singer of the band The Fixx.

They were both very nice guys, and Nick is an incredible guitarist. (He said that as a little kid he remembers playing with his toys under Jimmy Page's dining room table, while Page and his dad sat in the living room and played guitar.) Apparently growing up around people like his dad, Jimmy Page and David Gilmour, inspired Nick to become a serious guitar player. His main guitar has six banjo machine heads... the kind that have pre-adjusted "stops," so that you can instantaneously switch between two notes. Imagine a guitar where each string could be quickly re-tuned. THERE'S a lot of possibilities!

Nick is on tour with Cy, and backs him up during Cy's set. They were appearing at Club Cafe down the street. We innocently asked where they were headed next. They said, "Mount Kilimanjaro!" (Which is really odd, since most touring bands say "Philadelphia" or "Cleveland.")

It turns out that they are both members of a international charity organization called the "Love Hope Strength Foundation." It was founded by leukemia-survivor Mike Peters, from the band The Alarm. And they travel around the world raising money to purchase medical equipment and supplies; build cancer centers; and find bone marrow donors. Their goal is to help fight cancer worldwide. (For example, they purchased the very first mammography machine for the country of Nepal.)

Since many of their members are musicians, they raise awareness for their cause with unusual performances around the world. And next week they will be performing on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. (Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa, at 19,341 feet.)

And it turns out that the TV show I briefly saw a few weeks ago was footage from a performance in 2007 from Mount Everest! On that trip were members of The Alarm, The Stray Cats, The Fixx, and Squeeze.

Although I feel a little bad for their guitars... what with all of the snow, and all... I admire what these guys are doing. This week there are G20 protestors in town, who think that they can do some good for the world by breaking the windows at Boston Market. I'm glad to see that there are folks like Cy Curnin and Nick Harper, who actually ARE doing some good in the world.


Nick Harper was also kind enough to smile when I played my ukulele version of "Ain't She Sweet" for him... even though he was playing uke on-stage when he was four, and is a billion times better than me!


See you soon,

PS: The Love Hope Strength Foundation.

PPS: Customer of the week #1: Cy Curnin.

PPPS: Customer of the week #2: Nick Harper.

PPPPS: Cy Curnin with The Fixx in 1983.

PPPPPS: Nick Harper on Mount Everest.

PPPPPPS: Nick's dad, Roy Harper, sang the lead vocal on Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar" from the "Wish You Were Here" LP. The last song on the "Led Zeppelin III" LP is a tribute to Harper called, "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper."

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