Email Specials from March 2011

Friday 3/4/2011 ~ Cover Songs and the Original Versions

Several months ago I mentioned a 1960s band from Ohio, The Uncalled Four, and their 1967 version of the song "Nobody But Me."The Uncalled Four's arrangement was copied by another band from Ohio, The Human Beinz, who then had a top ten hit with the song in 1968. Here is the Uncalled Four's arrangement.Here is the hit by The Human Beinz.

Here is the opening segment from this season's The Office.

The fact that The Human Beinz "borrowed" The Uncalled Four's arrangement was an interesting story. But what really surprised me was that both bands were covering an older recording. "Nobody But Me" was originally written and recorded in 1962 by The Isley Brothers.

Here is the original version.

I like to learn new stuff like that!

So, a few months ago, when I finally got around to starting a Pittsburgh Guitars Facebook page, I decided that rather than make it a high-pressure sales site, I'd make it a fun musical history page. And I started listing "original versions."

Since the Pittsburgh Guitars Facebook page is relatively young, I thought I'd list some of these original versions here. I hope you enjoy them! If you have a favorite hit-song cover-tune, go to our Pittsburgh Guitars Facebook page and list it there. Thanks!


Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll." (1981)

The original version by The Arrows. (1975)


"Devil With A Blue Dress" by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. (1966)
(featuring one of my favorite drummers, Johnny "Johnny Bee" Badjanek )

The original version by Shorty Long. (1964)


"I Fought The Law" by the Bobby Fuller Four. (1965)

Later covered by The Clash. (1979)

The original version by The Crickets.
Recorded by The Crickets, Buddy Holly's backup band, in May 1959, three months after his death.


A hit song from my childhood, "Keep On Dancing" by The Gentrys. (1965)

The original version by The Avantis. (1963)


A massive worldwide hit for Soft Cell, "Tainted Love." (1981)

The original version by Gloria Jones. (1965)


Janis Joplin's famous "Piece Of My Heart." (1968)

The original version by Erma Franklin, Aretha's sister. (1967)



Meanwhile, I just showed this email to John and Sam, and they want to start putting pictures and other stuff on our Facebook page, too. So, I said, "OK!" I'm not sure what they'll be up to... but, if they start listing what they had for breakfast, how long it took them to find a parking space, or how many bushels of berries they have collected on their farm... let me know!


See you soon,


PS: Last week I mentioned bands with matching outfits and/or matching guitars. We held a contest to see who could send in the best selection of photos of matching-outfitted bands. Thanks to everyone who entered! Congratulations to our winner, John C. He wins a used $99 Fender Squier Stratocaster!

PPS: A lot of folks sent in a lot of pictures. Here are a few of the many examples.

PPPS: Here's a band that just doesn't look right in matching suits.

PPPPS: And for some reason matching, loud outfits were all the rage in Sweden in the 1970s. Here is an amazing collection of odd band photos!

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Slim Cessna's Auto Club


Friday 3/11/2011 ~ The Fender Precision Bass

Have you ever had one of those historically-retrospective-warm-sentimental moments? I had one on Tuesday.As you know, I have a soft spot in my heart for the history of electric guitars. And on Monday we received a new book I've been dying to read: The Fender Precision Bass, 1951 - 1954. It's just the kind of riveting literature that I love!

First, let's step into the WayBack Machine...

After a year-and-a-half of experimentation and prototypes, Leo Fender shipped his first solid-body electric guitar in November 1950. (It was originally named the "Broadcaster," then quickly changed to the "Telecaster.") By December 1950, the guitar was in full production, and soon multiple units began to ship (87 in January 1951; 65 in February 1951).

As soon as Leo's six-string started to sell, he turned his attention to a new project... one that wasn't far removed from the Telecaster, but one that would have a long-term impact on the music industry... an electric bass guitar. Leo designed a longer scale neck, mounted it on a slightly longer version of the Telecaster body (with a second cutaway to reduce weight), and named it the Precision Bass. And this instrument changed the world.

He wasn't the first one to consider an electric bass, but he was the first to successfully design and market one.

Let's step back further...

Like drummers, who had (and still have) multiple pieces of equipment to move around, bass players in the old days were transportationally challenged. Upright basses are big. So big, in fact, that they were often strapped to the roof of a car, just to get to the gig. (Not safe for instrument or human!)

Additionally, even as far back as the Big Band era of the 1920s, the volume of an upright bass was no match for a big horn section.

As pickups and amps were developed for guitars, it was only natural that manufacturers would investigate amplifying the bass as well.

In the early 1940s, Everett Hull formed the Ampeg Company to make an upright bass pickup that would be mounted inside a standard bass. ("Ampeg" was short for "Amplified Peg.") Other companies, like Rickenbacker, Regal, and Vega experimented with solid-body upright basses. Here are some catalog pictures.

Meanwhile, other manufacturers made limited numbers of basses with frets. Here are a couple of examples.

But Leo Fender changed everything with the Precision Bass. His new instrument was significantly smaller than an upright (it would fit in the back seat!), significantly louder (when plugged into the newly introduced Fender Bassman amp) and significantly easier to play. Looking back on it now, it seems so obvious... but at the time, it was a radical idea.

Leo made bass prototypes during the summer of 1951, and by November (a mere one year after the first Broadcaster/Telecasters were shipped), he was ready to introduce the Precision Bass. Sales samples were shipped, and orders were taken for delivery in December 1951, and January 1952.

In April 1952, Fender ran the first ad for the bass in Music Trades Magazine. Here is the ad. In June 1952, he took samples to the summer musical instrument manufacturers trade show.

And now, onward to 2011...

Reading The Fender Precision Bass, 1951 - 1954 inspired me to play my old Precision Bass. So I went to the Pittsburgh Guitars warehouse and dug it out. I was happy to see it again!

As I looked at the old bass, I pictured its history, and its creation at the old Fender factory. Back when this instrument was built Leo had very few employees. And many of them worked on Fender's lap steel guitars and amps. Most of the Telecaster and Precision necks were carved by one man, Tadeo Gomez. And many of the bodies were cut by another employee, Eddie Miller. And it was standard procedure for these gentlemen to mark the manufacture date on these items as they were made.

On Tuesday, I decided it was time to take my Precision apart, and see exactly when it was made. We took off the neck, and looked in the neck pocket. Written right there, as sharp as the day he wrote it, was "Eddie 7-3-52." That was a Thursday, and Eddie Miller probably had the next day off, for the 4th of July holiday. On the end of the neck is written: "TG 7-18-52." The "TG" is for Tadeo Gomez, and he carved this neck on Friday, July 18, 1952... two weeks after Eddie finished the body.

Here is a picture of the neck pocket.

Here is the end of the neck.

Here's a picture of the entire bass.

Here is a picture of Eddie Miller from 1951, and here is one of the few Fender factory photos of Tadeo Gomez (taken on Leo's birthday, August 10, 1953).

These names and dates were written in places that most musicians would never see. I'm sure that Eddie and Tadeo would never have dreamed that fifty-nine years later someone would not only see these markings, but know, and care, who wrote them. This bass plays as well today as the day it was made. And it sounds great. It's a tribute to those men, and the rest of Leo's staff, that such long-lasting quality would come out of a small California factory.

Imagine signing your name on something today... and having someone care about it in 2070!


See you soon,


PS: Here is the Fender factory in 1952, where my Precision Bass was made.

PPS: You may wonder why the book mentioned above, The Fender Precision Bass, 1951 - 1954, limits itself to those few years. Here's why:
The original Fender Precision Bass was very similar to the Telecaster, with a blonde finish, a black pickguard, and squared-off edges. In 1954, Leo Fender introduced a new, updated six-string, the Stratocaster. Some of the improved features on this new model were a sunburst finish, a white pickguard, and a more comfortable, contoured body. That same year Leo added similar updates to the Precision... and in 1954 the Precision Bass was changed to a sunburst finish with a white pickguard, and contoured body edges. Here's John with a 1954 Precision Bass.

PPPS: You may wonder why the name of Leo Fender's first electric solid-body was changed shortly after its introduction. Here's why:
Leo Fender's original electric guitar prototypes were all one pickup guitars (two pickups would be an option) and named the "Esquire." But before he began full production in November 1950, he decided the first guitars shipped should be two-pickup models, and he called these the "Broadcaster." In mid-February 1951 a trade magazine, Musical Merchandise, ran Leo's first ad. On February 20, 1951, Leo received a telegram from the Gretsch Company, informing him that the name Broadkaster was one of their trademarks. (Gretsch spelled it with a "k " and used the name on their drums.) Leo immediately dropped the name Broadcaster, and on February 22, 1951 renamed the guitar the "Telecaster."

PPPPS: The one pickup guitar, the Esquire, went into full production in January 1951, and was a standard Fender model until 1970.

PPPPPS: Leo took Gretsch's February 20, 1951 letter seriously, but he didn't want to stop production. Until he could have "Fender Telecaster" decals made he merely cut the word "Broadcaster" off of his in-stock decals. For almost six months the headstocks just contained the word "Fender." Today these guitars, made between February 21st and late August 1951, when the new Telecaster decals arrived, are lovingly referred to as "No-casters."

PPPPPPS: Leo had access to lots of musicians in southern California. But he needed exposure on the East Coast. One of his early Precision Bass endorsers was a popular New York bass player, Shifty Henry. (Sometimes he spelled his name as: "Shifte Henri.") Fender sent him a Precision Bass to help promote the instrument on the Eastern side of the USA. Here is one of Fender's first Precision Bass artist promo shots.

Shifty was immortalized by songwriters Leiber & Stollar in the song "Jailhouse House Rock."
Shifty Henry said to Bugs, "For heaven's sake, no one's looking, now's a chance to make a break."
Bugsy turned to Shifty and he said, "Nix, nix, I wanna stick around a while and get my kicks!"

PPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Ragnar Kjartansson


Friday 3/18/2011 ~ Maple Necks and Rosewood Fingerboards

I saw Michael Franti & Spearhead on TV last week and his guitarist, Dave Shul, was using an unusual guitar. Actually all three guitar players in the band were using Gibson Les Pauls... but Dave's stood out. It was a black Les Paul Custom with a maple fingerboard.
But before we go on, let's step into the NotSoWayBack Machine... all the way back to last week's email...When Leo Fender designed his first electric solid-body he initially used a solid maple neck. Leo chose it
because maple is a hard wood used for things like bowling pins, butcher blocks, and even baseball bats. As you no doubt know, maple is a light-colored wood. Like this.(Despite the hardness of the maple, Leo's prototypes developed bowed necks, so he added an adjustable metal truss rod. All Fender guitars and basses made from 1951 through 1958 featured a one-piece maple neck, with a truss rod installed through a groove cut in the back. Here's the back of a Fender neck. The walnut strip fills the groove cut for the truss rod.)

By the late 1950s Telecasters and Stratocasters were selling well. But Leo felt that he was missing out on part of the market, specifically the jazz musicians who played more expensive, and fancier Gibson guitars. In 1958 he introduced a new updated and upgraded model, the Fender Jazzmaster. Almost every part of the guitar was new. Leo designed new pickups, a new two-part electronic system, a new vibrato, a newly contoured body shape and last but not least, he added a rosewood cap to the maple neck.

One of the downsides (the only downside, actually) to his original solid maple neck was that, with regular play, the lacquer on the neck would wear off. The light-colored maple wood would then absorb dirt and oils from the players hand, making the guitars look much older and worn out than they really were. Here's a picture of the fingerboard on a 1952 Telecaster.

On his new model, The Jazzmaster, the dark-wood rosewood cap would mask any discoloration of the fingerboard. Here is a Jazzmaster fingerboard. In mid-1959 Leo also introduced a new, fancier Telecaster ("Now with binding!"), which also featured the new rosewood fingerboard. Here is John with a Custom Telecaster.

The Jazzmaster was a flop with jazz players. (We'll save that story for a future email.) But the rosewood fingerboard looked good! By late 1959, Leo decided to install rosewood fingerboards on all Fender models.

Fender continued with the rosewood-fingerboard-on-a-maple-neck concept until the mid-1960s. In 1967 a maple fingerboard was offered as an option, and since then Fender instruments have been available either way.

Now... let's jump ahead a few years.

If you recall from numerous Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special stories, the late 1960s were golden years for guitar sales. The Beatles inspired 97.346% of all baby boomers to buy a guitar. But most of these new players never learned to play, and by the early 1970s guitar sales dropped like a 20-pound Les Paul. Guitar manufacturers (the ones who were still in business by 1973) were desperate for new ideas.

Faced with declining sales, Gibson decided to introduce new models. The first was the Gibson L6S in late-1973. In addition to new Bill Lawrence-designed pickups and a six-position rotary switch, this new solid-body guitar was a first for Gibson in that it was made entirely of maple, including the neck and fingerboard. Here is a picture. Previous Gibson instruments had utilized mahogany necks with dark-colored rosewood or ebony fingerboards. After all, Fender was the company with the light-colored necks! (Even Gibson must have wondered about the visual oddity of a light-colored fingerboard on one of their guitars. In 1974 when they released a black version of the L6S it featured a dark-colored ebony fingerboard.)

But the all-natural L6S did well for Gibson, and in 1975 and 1976 two new models were introduced that not only had maple fingerboards, they also featured Fender-ish bolt on necks! Here are pictures of the Gibson Marauder and S-1.

Meanwhile... over in Les Paul-land...

Les Pauls do not take a fall well. Even a simple tumble from a guitar stand will often break the headstock on a Les Paul. After the success of the maple-necked L6S, some folks at Gibson felt that maple might make a stronger neck for a Les Paul. In late 1974 it was decided to change the necks on Les Pauls (and ES-335s) from mahogany to a three-piece maple laminate.

Of course, with the typical rosewood or ebony fingerboard, the fact that the back of a Les Paul neck was maple might go unnoticed by most players. But in 1975, perhaps inspired by the all-natural-wood L6S, Gibson introduced their first natural Les Paul Custom. The back of the body was still mahogany, since an all-maple Les Paul would be extremely heavy... but both the neck and the fingerboard were natural maple. Here is a picture.

Artistically speaking, the all-natural Les Paul Custom is unusual, but attractive. Oddly, though, Gibson decided to also offer the maple fingerboard as an option on the black Les Paul Custom, too! The other maple-necked Les Pauls: the Les Paul Standards, Les Paul Deluxes, and the other colors of Les Paul Customs (cherry sunburst, tobacco sunburst, white, and wine-red) still maintained their dark-colored fingerboards. And most of the black Customs were still made with the typical ebony fingerboard. But some black Customs made it out into the world with bright, light-colored, maple fingerboards. And that's what caught my eye when I saw Michael Franti & Spearhead on Jimmy Kimmel this week. It's an unusual color combination... a black Les Paul, with a light fingerboard. And one you rarely see. Here's a black Les Paul Custom with a maple fingerboard. And here's the TV performance.

This week's Email Special is not related to the above story at all...

As I was typing this, our Martin sales rep stopped by to tell us about Martin's new coated strings, the SP Lifespan. Except he kept saying that they weren't "coated" only "treated." Here's a sales blurb:

Martin SP Lifespan acoustic guitar strings are treated with Cleartone proprietary technology to bring you the longest possible string life without sacrificing tone or natural feel. This treatment provides the thinnest protection in the industry and does not flake or peel. The treatment protects both the wrap and core wire by repelling dirt and grime that can deaden a string. Wrap windings remain open and uncovered to permit natural vibration patterns. The Cleartone proprietary technology preserves and protects the natural rich full tone of the Martin SP strings.

For this week's Email Special, if you purchase a set of Martin's new Lifespan Strings (at our already cheaper-than-anyone-else discounted price) we will install them for Free. Yep, buy the strings and Scott'll put `em on for you.

Hey, wait a minute! It is related! Gibson was clearly going after the Fender market with their bolt-on maple necked Marauder and S-1 guitars. And Martin is going after the Elixir coated-string market! Ha!


See you soon,


PS: In addition to the all-maple L6S, Gibson also introduced three all-maple basses in 1974-1975, the Gibson Ripper (L-9), The G-3, and the sliding-pickup Grabber. Here are pictures.

PPS: After strong initial sales, the sales numbers on the Gibson's new mid-1970s models fell dramatically. The L6S, the Marauder, the S-1, the Ripper, the G-3, the Grabber, and the maple fingerboard Les Paul Customs were all discontinued by 1982. AND players really could tell the difference between a mahogany and maple neck guitar. Gibson dropped the maple-neck construction on their Les Pauls in the early 1980s as well.

PPPS: We may as well mention the one other maple-neck, maple-fingerboard guitar from that era... The Gibson RD Custom. Here is a picture. The RD series (three guitars and one bass) were manufactured between 1977 and 1982.

PPPPS: Customer of the week: Doug Oster is a friend of ours, and our favorite gardening adviser... He is also a guitarist and staff writer for the Post Gazette. Here's a great, and touching, article he wrote about his father-in-law and the guitar.


Friday 3/25/2011 ~ Miscellaneous stuff...



A few weeks ago we had a send-in-pictures-of-bands-with-matching-clothes contest. The following week I mentioned that our winner was John C., but we never posted his picture. Here's John C. picking up his free $99 Squier Strat. He has since reported that he really likes the guitar.


John C. sent in a long list of bands-with-matching-clothes, including a few 1970s bands from Sweden. A little investigation led to lots of pictures of bands from Sweden, which I linked to on March 4th. Here they are again. Since the Pittsburgh Guitars Email Special travels around the world, a gentleman from Sweden wrote to say that questionable fashion styles are not limited to his country. As proof, he sent links to album covers from the USA and other countries. Here are a few. And, yes, he's right!!


On March 11th, I talked about the introduction of the Fender Precision Bass. Bob B. replied: "I remember when the P-Bass came out. My cousin was in a band, and his bass player had one, and the sound was bizarre relative to anything I had known. It was so distinctive. I remember people going to hear them play just to hear the bass. Then my girlfriend's father got one. Suddenly, that was the bass."

Here's John with a 1952 P-Bass.

Gibson quickly followed with their own solid-body electric bass in 1953, imaginatively called the "Electric Bass." They didn't put a lot of imagination into the design either. Here's Scott with a 1956 Gibson Electric Bass.

We'll talk more about the comparison between these two basses in upcoming weeks.


Last week I mentioned Leo Fender's 1958 attempt to upgrade the Fender line with the Jazzmaster. He hoped that the Jazzmaster, his most expensive and fanciest guitar, would be a hit with the people that he considered to be the most respected musicians, the jazz players. Unfortunately, the Jazzmaster was not a hit with jazz cats. In fact, one of the few pure jazz artists to ever use one regularly was Joe Pass. Joe not only used a Jazzmaster, but also the "new improved" version, the Jaguar, introduced in 1962. Here's Joe Pass playing jazz on a Fender Jaguar.

We'll talk about the similarities and differences between the Jazzmaster and Jaguar soon.


Back in February, I talked about Capitol Records producer Dave Dexter turning down The Beatles... four times. It wasn't until Beatles manager Brian Epstein finally got through to the president of Capitol records that a deal was finally struck. The president of Capitol in 1963, the man who signed the Beatles to Capitol, was Alan Livingston. What I didn't know, until Email Special reader Tom W. informed me, is that Alan Livingston's brother was songwriter Jay Livingston. Jay Livingston wrote TV theme songs, like "Bonanza" and "Mr Ed," as well as great standards like "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" and the famous Christmas song, "Silver Bells." Both Livingston bothers were born in McDonald, PA, twenty miles from Pittsburgh.



See you soon,


PS: Customer of the Week: Ron Sexsmith




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