Email Specials from May 2010

Friday 5/7/2010 ~ Left-Handed vs. Right-Handed


The other day a dad was in our store, looking for a guitar for his young son.

He said that his son was left-handed... and asked if he should buy a left-handed guitar. Here at Pittsburgh Guitars we've been asked that question many times over the last 31 years. Unfortunately, there is no quick answer.

If you examine the way a guitar is played, you might think we have things backward from the beginning. After all, in the "right-handed" position, the player's left hand forms the chords. And the hardest part of learning to play is developing the dexterity of the fingers in the hand playing the chords. If you favor your left hand, you would think that you'd have an edge developing "chord playing" dexterity. Of course, the other side of the coin is that in the traditional right-handed position, the right hand (the "picking" hand) carries the rhythm and feel of the song.

We have had, and still have, some super fine guitar teachers here at the store. And two of them can relate to this question. One of our current guitar instructors, the fabulous John Purse, is left-handed. But as a child he learned to play on his older brother's right-handed guitars. In his case, there were numerous guitars lying around the house, and he simply learned with what was available. When I asked him about his life as a right-handed guitarist, he said that looking back on it he had to work a little harder developing his right hand strumming technique. But he felt that that was offset by the benefits of chording with his dominant hand. One thing is sure, he's a phenomenal guitar player now.

Another great guitarist is our good friend and our ex-guitar teacher, Korel. Korel is currently touring the world playing with the Goo Goo Dolls. And exactly the opposite of John Purse, Korel writes with his right hand, but plays left-handed guitar. He wrote from the road to say that in his teens he picked up a left-handed instrument and it just "felt comfortable." He also said that, "I grew up playing piano, and the right hand handles the melody choices. On a lefty guitar the right hand is also the melodic one, so that seems logical to me."

So... we really don't have an all-purpose answer. There are certainly significantly fewer left-handed guitars in the world... so if you go in that direction, your instrument options will always be more limited. But when choosing whether to learn right-handed or left-handed, we tend to side with Korel about the "comfortable" feeling. We told the aforementioned dad to bring his son in, and we'd put both kinds of guitars in his hands. Even though the kid doesn't play yet, one or the other will most likely "feel" better.


Speaking of only having right-handed guitars available when you're just beginning, there are some folks who learn to play a right-handed guitar upside down, with the strings still strung right-handedly. I'm not referring to Jimi Hendrix. Since lefty guitars are generally difficult to find, Jimi DID use right-handed guitars turned upside down... But he strung them properly for a left-handed player, with the fat strings on the top. I'm referring to players like Dick Dale and Albert King. They learned to play with the strings in a reverse order. And even when they were eventually able to find a proper left-handed guitar, they kept the string order that they learned with. Here are some pictures. The disadvantage of this approach is that you have to learn all of your chord structures upside down. And to replicate the strumming sounds of other players you have to pick with an upward motion. The advantage of learning this way is that when you're visiting your friends, or your local guitar store, you can pickup ANY right-handed guitar and start playing!


See you soon,


PS: Speaking of left-handedness, it's not often that you can pinpoint the day you learned something new. I know exactly when I learned about photographic negatives: May 30, 1966. That was the release date for The Beatles "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" 45. When the picture sleeve for the American release of the record was being designed, someone in the Capitol Records art department found a nice photo of Paul McCartney looking to the right... Apparently they thought it would then be artistically pleasing if the subsequent photo of John Lennon showed him facing left... So they reversed the negative on the Lennon photo. To the non-guitarist art director this looked like a nice 45 sleeve... but to the rest of the world, John Lennon suddenly became left-handed! Even as a kid who didn't know much about guitars, I knew this was wrong!! Fortunately, my mother explained that pictures were printed from negatives... and a photographic negative could be flipped and printed from either side. Sometimes in the photo darkroom it would happen by accident (it was "dark" after all) and sometimes it was done intentionally by the art director. Now that I think about it, that was also the day I learned about "fudging" reality for the sake of art! Here's the "Paperback Writer"/"Rain" picture sleeve, the exact one I bought on May 30, 1966. (For some reason George Harrison also became left-handed on this picture sleeve..)

PPS: And speaking of looking left-handed, when you're not: Last week I mentioned seeing guitars in magazine ads... which is good. But I saw another one this week, and it was unintentionally funny. Apparently at this photo shoot the photographer said, "No, No, it would look better if the guitars were going in opposite directions! Just turn that one with the white part on it around!" Here's the ad. And I think we've learned something here... You should not smoke cigarettes. They'll cause you to forget if you're right- or left-handed!

PPPS: Speaking of left-handed British musicians... we, of course, were all familiar with Paul McCartney. But there were other lefties, too. And one guy I'll always remember was Karl Green from Herman's Hermits. I remember him for two reasons: (1) he was a left-handed bass player like McCartney, and (2) he was the first person I ever saw use a Gibson Reverse Thunderbird Bass. If you recall the email special from March 5, 2010, I talked about the Gibson Firebird series... (The basses were called "Thunderbirds.")... Here's a link to that email. These models were not terribly successful, and were made in relatively limited numbers. And I've never seen a left-handed one. (It's rumored that they made somewhere between twenty and zero lefty Firebirds.) Karl Green, though, liked the feel of the Thunderbird Bass, and he used a right-handed model turned upside down. But since the regular right-handed bass had a reverse design to it, it looked pretty cool turned upside down. Here's a video. And if you were like me, and had never seen a reverse Firebird, or Thunderbird, before, seeing Karl Green with an upside down one was quite a mystery. (I wonder if THAT lead to my lifelong quest to study every electric guitar model? You know, when you're a young kid watching TV, you never know what's going to have long term consequences!)

PPPPS: Don't forget! Next Saturday, May 22nd: Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7!!
** Start time: 7:30 PM.
** Last year's Food Bank drive benefiting the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank was so successful that we're going to do that again this year. Admittance to the Show will be $5 or two cans of food! .
** Plus Special Guest: Geoff Nugent of The Undertakers, from Liverpool England.

Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7 ~ May 22nd ~ The Rex Theater ~ 7:30PM

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Bon Journey


Thursday 5/20/2010 ~ Benefits of Playing the Guitar


Sorry I missed last Friday. I was out of town.... chillaxing.

And I'm sending this a day early so I can go home and start loading the amps and drums for Saturday's Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7.

But first...

A guy was in the store a few weeks ago and he said, "What percentage of your customers become famous rock stars?" I said, "one five-thousandth." And he said, "Well, then, if the goal of most of your customers is to be famous, and in reality the odds are against them, aren't you leading them astray?"

I said, "You're confusing a guitar with a lottery ticket." If you buy a lottery ticket and you don't win, then all you have left is a worthless piece of paper. But if you buy a guitar and don't win the Becoming-A-Millionaire-Rock-Star prize, you can still have a lifetime of musical enjoyment. (And you may be better off....)

Playing guitar makes you smarter, healthier, well-rounded, and more interesting. And on top of that, it's a blast to get together and play music with your friends. In fact, that's why we're having the Big Beatle Show this weekend. The "Beatle" part is just a frame-work. Beatle songs are all great (except that one), so we know the audience will like the material. And they are a challenge to play, so that's fun. The REAL reason we're having the show this Saturday is to play music with our friends. And to see other folks playing music with their friends. Lots and lots of them!!

No one will become famous on Saturday night. But everyone will have a good time! And that's what music is all about. And that's why we encourage people to play. And if you're gonna play... and you should... then you can't beat the guitar. It's easy to carry, it gets loud, and you can sing while playing it!! And THAT'S why Pittsburgh Guitars exists.

Meanwhile, we have unfortunate news from overseas. Our good friends from Liverpool, Mave and Geoff, were scheduled to come to visit this week, and Geoff was going to play in the Big Beatle Show... but Nature has conspired against us. Once again this week, volcanic ash from Iceland caused numerous flights out of England to be canceled. And sadly, Mave and Geoff's flight was one of the canceled ones. The airline was able to reschedule them for next week, but regrettably they will miss the Big Beatle Show. If you'd still like to meet Geoff and ask him what it was like to play in The Cavern in 1962, let me know. Maybe we can meet at a bar next week. I'm very sad that he'll miss our show, though. I wanted him to see that Pittsburghers can rock!


See you soon,


PS: Last email I mentioned left-handedness and how it applies to guitaring. My general opinion was: Go with what feels comfortable. But I was surprised at how many left-handed players wrote (four, to be exact) to say that if they had to do it all over again, they would have forced themselves to learn right-handedly. They all felt that the years of frustration, constantly searching for just the perfect instrument, outweighed the initial difficulty they may have faced learning to hold a right-handed guitar. It is true that all guitars are different... like individual people, they each have their own personality. And if you walk into a store like ours, and meet two or three hundred guitars, you have a lot of personalities to choose from. But if you go to buy a guitar, and there's only one lefty in the shop, it's almost like an arranged marriage. "Here. See how this works out for ya!" The next time Beginner Bob Lefty asks, maybe I'll suggest he at least try to start on a right-handed guitar.

PPS: Speaking of more left-handedness... last week I mentioned the obvious: that Paul McCartney is left-handed. But Terry B. wrote to remind us that Ringo is also left-handed! Ringo has his drums set up in typical right-handed arrangement, but he often starts his drum rolls with his dominate left hand. The resulting drum-fills have a unique sound, and often aren't easy for right-handed drummers to replicate.

PPPS: Speaking of Pittsburgh Guitars Rock Star customers... last night the newly reformed Stone Temple Pilots were on David Letterman. They sounded great!! And it was really nice to see Dean DeLeo still using the wine Les Paul Standard that he bought from us many years ago.

PPPPS: See you on Saturday!
Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7!!
The Rex Theater, South Side
Start time: 7:30 PM
Doors open at 6:30 PM
Benefit for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Admittance: $5 or two cans of food!

PPPPPS: There will be prizes! Vox has kindly donated an amp for us to give away on Saturday night. And we'll have some fun Beatle stuff, too!!

PPPPPPS: Me on KDKA-TV this morning.

PPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: SpinCycle


Thursday 5/27/2010 ~ Happy Memorial Day!



I know it's Thursday. I'm sending this today, since you'll probably be getting an early start on the holiday weekend. (I talked to your boss, and he said it was OK to take Friday off.)

We had a super wonderful time last Saturday at the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #7. The place was packed! (The Rex actually had to turn folks away when they reached the room's capacity.) The bands were all great! The show ran like clockwork! And the music was wonderful.

Here's a picture of one of our prize winners, Denise C. She won a Vox Pathfinder 15R, thanks to the generous folks at Vox headquarters. We'll have more pictures next week.

Thanks to everyone who participated! It was a blast!! PLUS we raised lots and lots of money, and hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of pounds of food for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. (Those folks down there are very friendly, by the way. I got to see part of the operation when I was dropping off the food and cash on Monday. It's amazing what they do to help the people of Western Pennsylvania.)

Meanwhile, our good friends Geoff Nugent and Mave Atherton finally made it from Liverpool to Pittsburgh. (Volcanic ash canceled their flight last week.) Yesterday I took them to Mt. Washington and, wow, Pittsburgh looked spectacular! (I didn't have the heart to tell them that the weather isn't always this nice... it's usually much colder, or much hotter, or at least much cloudier than this!) Today they are off to Louisville, Kentucky, to see John and Scott play at a big festival called Abbey Road On The River. Here's some info! You still have time to drive down there for the weekend!

Meanwhile, Mark, Sam, Betsy and I will still be here, slaving away at the guitar store tomorrow and Saturday. If you're in the `hood, stop by and say hello. We'll be closed for the holiday on Monday, of course.

If we don't see ya, have a great Memorial Day weekend. And be careful with the grill, those things get hot!


See ya soon,


PS: My goal with the Email Special is to talk about guitars and music. But every once in a while I feel compelled to mention something slightly off-topic. Last year I suggested that you watch the CBS Sunday Morning Show with Charles Osgood. I unequivocally recommend it. Give it a try. You won't regret it. Today's non-guitar mention is my favorite magazine, Wired. Like the Sunday Morning Show, you never know what topic will be addressed, but it's guaranteed to be interesting. And I was particularly amused by the final page in last month's issue. The last page of every issue features a humorous picture called "Artifact >From The Future." This month's item from the future: a sports item called "Ball." Here's the link. The box reads, "It's Just Like Playing A Video Game, IN REAL LIFE!" Be sure to read the Instruction Manual.

PPS: Customer of the week: The Fead


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