Email Specials from January 2010

Friday 1/8/2010 ~ Welcome to Twenty-Ten


How's 2010 going so far?

Here at the store we just finished inventory. It turns out we have 1009 different inventory items.
So the week went like this,
Carl: "John, how many sets of Ernie Ball Regular Slinkys do we have?"
John: "Thirty-two."
Carl: "OK, let me write that down..."
And then we did that 1008 more times.

After inventory I started to work on the W-2 forms, W-3 form, the 1099 forms, the 1096 form, the 8109 form, the 941 form, and the 940 form. (Darn those employees!) (Wait, they're important... Darn that excessive government paperwork!) (And those are just the federal forms. Don't get me started on the state and local forms!)

Next I'll start an in-depth analysis of what we sold last year... (Did we sell more Yamaha FG-720s or Yamaha FS-720s?) (The "FG" is a dreadnought, and the "FS" is a smaller body.) (I'll let you know next week which one we sold more of...) It's nice to have the analysis. Although our general ordering plan is: "Hey, that's a cool guitar! Let's get some of those!!"

The biggest problem I'm having so far is dealing with the name of this new year... I keep calling it "Two-Thousand-And-Ten." But, I believe the general consensus is "Twenty-Ten."

Hopefully Twenty-Ten will be a good year for us all. It should be interesting. Fender has announced a new lower-priced American-made Strat. Hofner has promised some new, interesting models. Vox is introducing new amps and a new guitar line. Rickenbacker is still filling orders from two or three years ago. (They said it should only be another "three or four months" for the 325C64 we ordered in November, 2007.) I'm not sure what's next for Danelectro; it's going to be hard to top their current batch of reissues. And Gibson was recently raided by the FBI for allegedly importing illegal wood from South America... I wonder how that will pan out? I suspect Gibson will survive, somehow.

Well, as long as people still play guitar, I'll be happy. And based on Two-Thousand-Aught-Nine, I think things will be fine. Many of the musical acts on Letterman and Leno still featured a two-guitars-bass-and-drums lineup. Last year TV ads showed more folks holding or playing a guitar than in previous years. And 2009 was even a good year for the "guitar-leaning-in-the-corner" prop on sitcoms. Plus, we currently have more young students taking guitar lessons than ever before. And there is a ton of great guitar-based music out there in download land.


So, welcome to the new decade! My plan is to (1) keep enjoying life, (b) spend as much time as possible playing guitar with my friends, and (iii) not work so hard. I'll let you know how that last part pans out...


Now, on to the future!!!


See you soon,


PS: Above I wrote:
"I'll let you know next week which one we sold more of..."
Yes, I realize that that violates the "don't-end-a-sentence-with-a-preposition" rule. That's the kind of wild, radical people we are here at Pittsburgh Guitars! Heck, yeah!!

PPS: Customer of the Week: Donora

Friday 1/15/2010 ~ Reflections on a Gretsch Tennessean


Last night I had an interesting flashback. Not one of those big ones, like Scott has from Woodstock, where you're sitting on a cloud talking to Jimi Hendrix... this was a quick mini-flashback.

Over the holidays I had the chance to play music with my friends. (It's something I heavily recommend.) (And not just my friends, your friends, too!) For the jam I pulled out some fun guitars... a Tele, a Strat (both good guitars to play if you're drinking, since they don't break if you drop them!) and just to mix it up a little bit, a `64 Gretsch Tennessean. Last night as I was putting everything away, I reached for the Tennessean, and suddenly I flashed back to 1979. For a brief moment I remembered holding a Tennessean thirty years ago, and I was struck by how emotionally different it felt.

And I've been trying to analyze it all day.

I remember when I first became fascinated with guitars... February 9, 1964...The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. At the time I had no idea what brand of guitars they were playing. But as the British Invasion captured the American entertainment world, and rock & roll bands were turning up everywhere, I started to study the instruments. I wanted to learn everything I could about electric guitars. Unfortunately, the internet hadn't been invented yet. And old folks still ran TV (which would explain "Hogan's Heroes," "Combat," "The Gallant Men," and "McCale's Navy"). And there weren't "guitar shops," only generalized music stores. So the only info I could get was (1) seeing one or two bands on TV each week (and since this was before video tape or DVRs, I had to sit right up close to the TV and not blink!) and (2) album covers and 45 sleeves. It's a wonder my eyes stayed sharp as long as they did considering the squinting I did at photos like the picture sleeve for "Bring It On Home To Me" by The Animals. Yep, there's a Gretsch Tennessean on there. And a Vox organ. And a pre-CBS black-panel Fender amp... possibly a Fender Showman (behind the drummer). And if you look closely at the bottom left, you can see the very edge of the Vox amp that Chas Chandler, the bass player was using. (And I don't know why his Epiphone Rivoli looks black. I've only ever seen him with a sunburst one. And Epiphone didn't even make that model in black. Maybe it's the lighting, or something...) (And what's up with those drum heads? I have drum heads that are 25 years old that aren't that dirty!)

Anyhow, ten years later I started buying and selling guitars. But back then they weren't super-valuable. "Vintage" instruments didn't exist yet. They were just guitars. So I bought and sold them not for big money... and not because I thought it would be a "job" or that I could make a living doing it... and not because the instruments were collectors items. I did it because they were something you "played" with... something you used to make music... and I liked them. They were fun. They weren't something to worship, or treat with respect, or worry about. They just were.

And with regard to Gretsch guitars, they were just one of the many brands. And certainly not the coolest. By the time Jimi Hendrix cranked his Marshall, Gretsch guitars were dated and out of style. You couldn't even lay into them with powerful picking, because the bridge is not attached to the top... it's only held in place by the strings. If you strummed too hard the bridge would slide out of place. On the plus side, they were interesting colors, and had mysterious switches. But in general, they were just another guitar.

But when Brian Setzer became famous using a Gretsch in The Stray Cats... and when anything Beatle-related became collectable... and when old guitars in general started to become valuable... things changed.

Now, thirty years later, I still like guitars. A lot. But I don't view them the same way. It's hard to exactly describe... but over the years, guitars like a 1964 Gretsch Tennessean changed from being just a musical instrument to a thing of reverence. When I took this guitar out of its case, my mind was instantly flooded with detailed information. I remembered when the Gretsch company was founded; I remembered when they sold-out to Baldwin; I remembered when they added a white line around the fake f-holes; I remembered that if you have a Gretsch guitar 1966 or 1967 then there is a good chance your binding is starting to self-destruct and there's not much you can do about it; I remembered that George Harrison used four different Gretsches in The Beatles; I remembered that a lot of Gretsches have had neck-re-sets, and how you do that and how you can tell if it's been done; I remembered the many different places to look for the serial number on a Gretsch guitar; I remembered what the switches do; and I remembered to treat it delicately because it's a vintage guitar.

But yesterday, as I picked it up to put it away, for a brief flashback moment it was just a guitar. A slightly unusual one, since it's a Gretsch, but still just a guitar. It was a weird feeling.

Here's John looking at my 1964 Tennessean... waiting for a flashback.
Here's John after he tried some of the acid Scott has been saving since Woodstock.


See you soon,

PS: Gretsch is still making the Tennessean. (Although for legal reasons it's called a "Tennessee Rose.") Here's John with a brand new one. (No flashbacks there!)

PPS: Just booked!!!! Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7!!!! May 22nd at The Rex Theater. (We have inside information that it will stop snowing by then!!) More news soon!!!!!

PPPS: Customer of the week: John McDonald & The Mango Men


Friday 1/22/2010 ~ Coincidences in the New Year


We're only three weeks into the new decade, and already some interesting things have happened... and it started early.

I have a good friend named Alfred G. He calls me whenever he sees anything cool on TV. On New Year's Eve, as I was playing music, drinking vodka & tonics, and wondering why Adam Lambert had been canceled from "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2010"... Al called.

He said, "Turn on David Letterman at 12:31 AM." So I did.

Much to my surprise, Ray Davies was performing a song from his new CD, "The Kinks Choral Collection." It was wonderful. Since words can't describe how much fun it was, here's the video on youtube. (If you're reading this at work and can't access youtube, the new CD features Ray doing classic Kinks songs with a choir. On Letterman he did "You Really Got Me." It was faaaaaaaabulous.)

Needless to say, I wanted to tell everyone at the store about it. But the next work day, Saturday January 2nd, was very busy, so I didn't have a chance to mention it until 4:45 PM, right before closing time. I then described Ray Davies' new musical concept to Mark, Sam, John and Scott. I told them that I didn't catch the name of the CD, but it was great and I wanted to know more about it. Fifteen minutes later, John walked over to me. He said, "I was doing my closing rounds, making sure that all of the amps were turned off, and I noticed that someone left a newspaper in the back of the room." This, of course, was nothing new. Folks often leave items laying on an amp after they try out a guitar... glasses, keys, gloves, etc. A newspaper would hardly be worth mentioning. But I was a bit shocked when I saw it. It was the December 2009 issue of the "Illinois Entertainer - Chicagoland's Music Monthly." And the cover story was "A Choralsome Interview With The Kink's Ray Davies." Here's the cover of the actual paper.

Now, we get out-of-town customers daily. It's not hard to imagine someone from Chicago visiting the store. But what are the odds that they would bring the "Illinois Entertainer" all the way from Chicago? And what are the odds they would leave it in our store? And what are the odds that it would feature a cover-story about the very CD I was moments earlier describing to the guys?

It was spooky. But I was too anxious to read the article to worry about it.


The second week of 2010 I got an email from England.

It related to a story that I wrote in an Email Special last summer. In June 2009 I received a letter from a guy named Mike in North Carolina. He owns a Hofner Beatle Bass (Model 500/1) with an odd bolt-on neck and a strange Hofner decal. Vintage dealers from around the country had been telling him that his bass is a fake. His quest to authenticate the instrument eventually led to George Gruhn, world renowned vintage guitar expert. And George turned to me. I explained to them both that the gentleman from North Carolina has a legitimate Hofner "build-it-yourself" kit bass. George published my response in Vintage Guitar Magazine, though some folks still doubted me and the existence of such a piece. (Here's a link to the Email Special from last June.)

The email from England came from Steve Russell who runs a vast, detailed vintage Hofner web site. Apparently he was archiving old Hofner factory records and came across an original German advertising flyer and assembly instructions for the kit bass. He remembered the Vintage Guitar Magazine article and contacted everyone involved. He said he's been researching Hofner instruments since 1962 and this was the first kit bass he had ever seen. Steve now has photos of the North Carolina guy's bass on his web site. Here's a link.

So, it felt nice to have my authentication of the bass internationally confirmed, especially since my authentication came entirely from memories from 1983. And can you really trust memories from a quarter of a century ago? Especially when no one else in the world seemed to have another one of those basses...

THEN, three days later I a got an email and photos from a guy in Virginia (oddly also named Mike)... with another Hofner Kit bass!! He heard I was a Hofner expert and wondered if I knew anything about the bass. He has the original box, with instructions. I put him in touch with Steve Russell in England.

It's not the strangest thing in the world, but it was odd to get two different emails about the Hofner "kit" bass in one week.


And that leads us to last week...

Last Wednesday I flew to Anaheim, California for the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants). (More about the show next week...) As I was leaving the house I scanned my bookshelf for something to read on the long flight. I grabbed a book published in 2008 called "Backstage Passes & Backstabbing B@stards: Memoirs Of A Rock 'N' Roll Survivor." (Sorry about the cryptic spelling... Another downside to sending the Email Special to folks at work is the dreaded "bad-word" filter.) This book was written by Al Kooper and it's an updated version of a book he published in 1977 called "Backstage Passes: Rock 'N' Roll Life In The Sixties."

In the book Kooper chronicles his life in the music biz, and it's a fascinating story. In 1965 Kooper, who was already a touring musician and songwriter, faked his way into a Bob Dylan recording session and ended up playing organ on Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." This famous organ riff led to him joining Dylan's band and becoming a much-in-demand session musician. He subsequently played on eight more Bob Dylan LPs, as well as on albums by many of other artists, including The Who, B.B. King and the Rolling Stones. (On the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" he played both the keyboard parts and the French horn intro.) In addition to his session work as a sideman, Kooper also formed the band Blood, Sweat & Tears and produced dozens of other acts. For example, he discovered and signed Lynyrd Skynyrd, and produced their first three albums.

"Backstage Passes" is a fun book. (Here's what it looks like.) I recommend it even if you're not reading it on a cross-country flight. By the end of the book, Kooper was sixty-three years-old, mostly-retired from the music industry, teaching at Berklee in Boston, and having some health issues... and I was taking a cab to the hotel in Anaheim.

After checking into the hotel I wandered down to the lobby. Since the NAMM Show is a music convention, several hotels have stages set up in their lobbies, with bands playing throughout the day and most of the evening. Generally these are up-and-coming bands, but occasionally more famous young artists, like Johnny Hiland, are featured. I scanned the weekend's listings, to see if I recognized anyone.

When I got three quarters of the way through the list...I stopped, shook my head and smiled. `Cause this kinda cosmic-coincidence-thing keeps happening to me.... The act set to play at midnight on Saturday: Al Kooper! What are the odds?


And that's the latest from the first three weeks of 2010 at Pittsburgh Guitars.


See you soon,


PS: A few days ago I bought the new Ray Davies CD. It's called "The Kinks Choral Collection - Ray Davies And The Crouch End Festival Chorus." And it's wonderful. If you are a serious Kinks fan, and by that I mean if you own "Muswell Hillbillies" and "Village Green Preservation Society" then you MUST buy this CD. It gave me chills.

PPS: Getting back to the Al Kooper story... Unfortunately I was booked to leave Anaheim Saturday afternoon, so I didn't get a chance to see him. I was particularly sad because right in the book (on page 294) he says, "I hope to see you sometime at a concert. Come up and say hi, and if you bring this book with you, I promise to sign it!"

PPPS: Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7!!!! May 22nd at The Rex Theater. Twenty-five bands, four hours of non-stop Beatle songs, and a good time for all. After last week's initial announcement we already have half of the show booked. If you'd like to perform, contact John at: j_bechtold*at symbol*

PPPPS: Customer of the week: Danielle Barbe

Friday 1/29/2010 ~ The NAMM Show, and a Shoot-Out!


Imagine you were watching someone hit themselves in the head repeatedly. Imagine the look you'd give them, as you asked "Why are you doing that?" That's the look I got in Anaheim, California, last week when I told people that I not only own two snow shovels, I also have a gas powered snow blower. And that the week before the NAMM show I shoveled my driveway five times... one day I shoveled it twice. And as they were staring at me, my explanation that "Pittsburgh is really beautiful in the summer" didn't really seem to justify the snow blowing. (Maybe they could see in my eyes that Pittsburgh is actually uncomfortably hot in the summer... and the "really beautiful" days are those two days between the day we turn off the furnace and the day we turn on the air conditioning.) Yeah, sometimes, like right now, when it's currently 9 degrees, I really do wonder why we live here... (For our European readers 9 F = -12.7 Celsius)


Anyhow, here's my report from the NAMM Show:

Three things at the Fender booth caught my eye. First were two new "Road Worn" Telecasters. Last year Fender introduced a series of Strats and Teles with rusted parts and scratched and worn finishes, as their "Road Worn" guitars. At first, we semi-scoffed. But they turned out to be really nice guitars. Here's John with a couple of them. They sold so well that this year Fender has expanded the line to include a Tele Deluxe and Tele Custom. Here's John with the new models. I agree it's kinda odd to buy a new guitar that already has nicks and scratches, but they actually feel and play great. Each of the Teles comes in two colors, and we have all four options in the store now.

The second new NAMM Show guitar is further down the price food-chain, in Fender's Squier "Classic Vibe" series. The "Classic Vibe" guitars are upgraded Squiers, with improved features. New this year is the Squier Classic Vibe Custom Telecaster - a sunburst Tele with white binding. It looks great for a relatively inexpensive guitar. Here's John with a new Classic Vibe Custom Telecaster.

--- At this point you're probably saying, "What the???? First you mention a Road Worn 'Telecaster Custom' and now you're talking about a 'Custom Telecaster'??" Well, you have every right to be confused. And it's Fender's fault. You see, over the years they used the words "Telecaster" and "Custom" on two different models. From 1959 through 1972 they offered a Telecaster, generally in sunburst, with white binding around the edges of the body. It's decal said "Custom Telecaster" but almost everyone called it the "Telecaster Custom." Here's John with one from 1960. Then, in 1970, they introduced a new model Telecaster, with a humbucking pickup in the neck position and called it a "Telecaster Custom." Here's John with a Telecaster Custom from 1974. The Custom Telecaster and the Telecaster Custom... two different guitars... with almost the same name.

Speaking of confusion, the third new Fender guitar won't help. First let's do an overview of Fender's vast selection of Stratocasters (currently 62 different models and counting) and try to simplify things. If we don't count the Vintage Reissues, Artist Signature Models, Classic Vibe Series, Road Worn Series, Deluxe Players Series, and Blah Blah Blah Series, we can summarize Fender's different Strat models thusly:

*Squier Bullet Strat (the least expensive)
*Squier Affinity Strat (pretty much the same as the Bullet)
*Squier Standard Strat (pretty much the same as the Affinity)
*Standard Strat (made in Mexico)
*Highway One Strat (made in the USA)
*American Standard Strat (made in the USA)

Now let's look at those with their prices. (Note: Fender has a MAP policy. MAP means Minimum Advertised Price. That's the price you'll pay over the internet or at a big chain store. Our prices are different, but we can't tell you that they are lower in a mass email like this. Fender won't let us tell you that our prices are lower. So we won't.) The prices below are Fender's MAP prices:

*Squier Bullet Strat (the least expensive) $119
*Squier Affinity Strat (pretty much the same as the Bullet) $179
*Squier Standard Strat (pretty much the same as the Affinity) $229
*Standard Strat (made in Mexico) $499
*Highway One Strat (made in the USA) $699
*American Standard Strat (made in the USA) $999

Apparently at a Research & Development Department meeting last fall, someone at Fender looked at this list and said, "Whoa! There's too big of a gap between those last two! Close it up!!" And so it came to pass. New to the Fender line, introduced at NAMM and now in our store, is the "American Special" Stratocaster... with a MAP price of $799!! (I can't say what our selling price is.) (Hint: it's not higher.) Here's John with a new American Special Stratocaster (along with a new American Special Tele).

This email is already long enough, so I can't go into detail about the differences in the now three Made In USA Strats, but here is a summary:

*Highway One Strat- satin finish, Alinico III pickups, & a gig bag
*American Special Strat - gloss finish, Texas Special pickups, & a gig bag
*American Standard Strat - gloss finish, Alinico V pickups, & a hardshell case

Yeah, that info doesn't mean much to me either. You should stop in and play all three. Maybe you can describe the differences.

Yeah!... wait a minute!... that's a great idea!! Stop in and play all three of these Strats, and write up your impression of the differences! I'll print your comments in a future email special. And we'll randomly pick a winner from all of the "reviewers." (And we'll get some sort of fabulous prize for the winner.)

I'll even design a "comments" page to help you with your review! Sample: On a scale of one to ten, where "1" is January 29th in Pittsburgh, and "10" is January 29th in Honolulu, Hawaii (currently 80 degrees), I would rate the warmth of these Highway One Alinico pickups as: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. (circle one)

Maybe after we get a few reviews we can have a blind "shoot-out"! We'll put a guy behind a curtain (maybe you!) and have him play all three, and then a "jury" (maybe you!) can try to tell which one is which!

Wow, I'm liking this more and more as I type! At first I was frustrated by Fender adding yet another Strat to the catalog, but now I'm excited!! With your help we can do our own Pittsburgh Guitars in-depth analysis of the three Made In USA Strats, from a player's perspective!


(Maybe we shouldn't mention this to Fender just yet...)


Hey, that took so long there's no time left to talk about Martin at NAMM... Well, in a nutshell, two things. First of all, last year was a great Martin year for us, so we ordered BIG! ($40,000 worth of Martin guitars came in this week.) If you're looking for a particular Martin model, we probably have it! And secondly, and much more fun for me, I ordered a Martin Limited Edition Elvis Presley D-28, complete with a tooled leather cover just like Elvis's! It's a bit pricey, but I love it! (And even though it's pricey, it's still not as pricey as it could be somewhere else, if you catch my drift, if you see where I'm comin' from, if you know what I mean...) Here's John with our new Elvis D-28! Woo-hoo!

There's more news from NAMM... Vox, Hofner, Paul Reed Smith, Harmony, and more....we'll talk about it next week...


See you soon,


PS: I'm not sure how to do the Strat comparison, since sometimes it gets busy in the store. Hopefully it won't be busy when you come in. (Hey, wait a minute, what am I hoping for???) Just let us know you're here for the Strat review. And don't forget to take notes. I'll have the circle-one "comments" page ready for you by tomorrow (Saturday).

PPS: The Elvis guitar is starting to have an effect on John!

PPPS: Customer of the week: "Pittsburgh Live Music"

Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars