Email Specials from April 2011

Friday 4/1/2011 ~ Forgeries


Twenty-seven years ago a guy walked into Pittsburgh Guitars with a Fender Jaguar that he bought in Vietnam.

Except it wasn't a Fender Jaguar. Sure, that's what it said on the headstock... but not one piece was remotely the same quality, or even a decent copy of the real thing. For example, Fender Jaguars have the word "Fender" stamped into the vibrato plate... like this. In that spot, this guy's guitar actually said "Fende."

I explained the situation to him, and he wasn't completely surprised. Many counterfeit Fender guitars, manufactured in the Philippines, were sold to US servicemen in Vietnam. He knew there was something fishy about his. Looking back, I'm sorry I didn't buy it from him. It would make a great conversation piece today.

Ten years ago, a guy brought in a Gibson Les Paul Custom for repair. Oddly, the headstock inlays were painted on instead of inlaid... and they were crooked! Yes, this was an easy call, too. The fact that the headstock was spliced on was another quick give-away.

Five years ago we got a Rickenbacker 4001 bass in for adjustment. At first glance, this one looked real. Closer inspection, though, gave it away. It was a Japanese copy made in the 1970s for a guitar store chain in New York, and originally marketed under the brand name Carlo Robelli.

Real Rickenbacker guitars and basses have the brand name written on their large plastic truss rod cover; and until ten years ago Rickenbacker sold guitar parts, including those truss rod covers. The Carlo Robelli was such a good copy that all you had to do was replace the truss rod cover with a real Rickenbacker one, and you'd have a really fine counterfeit. But anyone familiar with a real Rick Bass could catch the differences. Obvious from the outside, a real 4001 has two inputs, one mono and one stereo. The Carlo Robelli has only one. Not so obvious from the outside, under the aforementioned truss rod cover, a real Rickenbacker has a double truss rod system. The copy had a single, non-Rickenbacker-style truss rod. In this case, the owner was not thrilled when we told him. He bought it used under the assumption that it was a real Rick.

The first two guitars were bad fakes. A `70s Carlo Robelli is a nice instrument, and an almost accurate copy, but its "forgery" happened after the fact when someone intentionally switched its truss rod cover.

And that leads us to an incident last October in Shanghai...

I've often mentioned the NAMM Show, a convention where musical instrument manufacturers market their products to stores like Pittsburgh Guitars. We only attend the winter NAMM Show, in California, and the summer NAMM Show, in Nashville. But shows like these take place around the world. There is a giant one in Germany, The Musikmesse Frankfurt, every April.

When executives from the Martin Guitar Company arrived in Shanghai for the Music China show last October, they were shocked at what they saw. A booth was set up and labeled "C. F. Martin & Co." and they were selling Chinese-made copies of Martin guitars. The guitars carried the exact Martin logo, even including "Est. 1833."

Apparently Chinese law allows for a "first come, first served" approach to trademark registration. Even though Martin has been making guitars for over 100 years, and is known throughout the world, they hadn't registered their name and trademark in China. A Chinese company filed the paperwork, and now they are completely within their rights (in China) to make and market guitars labeled C.F. Martin & Co.

Needless to say, Martin is not happy. This basically amounts to identity theft. The Martin Company has spent generations developing a quality product and a respected name. Now a Chinese company is stealing it. Can the Chinese guitars legally be sold outside of China? Probably not. Will they be? Yes. Martin has taken their case to US legislators, but so far to no avail.

Adding to the issue is the fact that Chinese manufacturing has come a long way in recent years. I haven't personally seen one of the Chinese forgeries, but we can assume that they are light-years beyond the Fender counterfeits sold in Vietnam in the 1970s. The Chinese instruments sell for a fraction of the price of the real Martins, and side by side I'm sure the sound doesn't compare. But I bet they are slick enough to fool many Chinese first-time buyers.

I know several manufacturers who travel to China regularly to have clearly-labeled Chinese-made instruments constructed (like the Hofner Contemporary Series.) I'll see if I can get someone to bring back a fake Martin...

Meanwhile, if you're ever visiting Shijiazhuang, and see a store called Pittsburgh Guitars, it's not us!!!!


See you soon,


PS: I couldn't find any Carlo Robelli Rickenbacker copies on the internet... but here are a couple of Carlo Robelli Les Pauls.

PPS: Speaking of fake, a few weeks ago I mentioned the rampant use of auto-tune equipment to correct bad vocals. Unfortunately, you can't believe anything you hear these days. There are big stars on the charts today who can't actually sing. "Artists" who auto-tune their recordings and then lip sync their concerts, are almost as fake as those Chinese Martin guitars. That's why, even though I'm generally not a fan of "baby" videos, you have to admire the fact that they aren't fake. Maybe that's the future of entertainment. I know this is way off-base for a music email... but at least these are more legitimate and honest than Kayne West's last video:
Scared by Mom baby
Two twins having a conversation
Paper ripping laughPPPS: If you'd like to hear what auto-tune sounds like, be the 72,456,329th person to watch Friday!

PPPPS: Customer of the Week: Icon Gallery


Friday 4/8/2011 ~ Tax Time Memories


The Email Special will be taking a break for a week, while I work on the taxes.
(Hey, it's not just me waiting until the last minute... I do them for a bunch of other folks, too!)

Anyway, I'll see ya on April 22nd!

Pittsburgh Guitars



PS: You know... speaking of tax week... I'll never forget the second week of April in 1968. My mother took me to Art's Drum Shop, on the second floor above Lomakin Music, on Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. I had been playing an inexpensive imported drum set (sold under the brand name "Dixie"), and my wonderful mother decided it was time to buy a real American-made set. I'm not sure if she planned our visit for that week or if it was a coincidence, but Art was sitting there looking at his taxes. And he needed money. He offered us 50% off anything. With a deal like that we were able to buy a fabulous, brand new, silver-sparkle Ludwig drum set. I even remember the figures: List Price: $730... I-Need-Money-For-Taxes Price: $365.

I played that set in High School. I played it when I went to college. I played it in New York in 1972 with a 50's parody band called "Zit Blemish & The Hot Rods." I played it in Ohio in 1974 with a band called "Quist" (featuring guitar player, Mark Chatfield, currently in the Bob Seger Band). And I played it at hundreds of gigs around Pittsburgh.

I finally retired the set in 1977 when I bought an old larger-sized Ludwig set in New York. But I still have those original silver-sparkle drums. And that set sounds as great today as the day my mother bought it from Art. And I still love playing it.

So, no matter how annoying tax time gets, I have a very pleasant memory associated with this time of year. And I still have that wonderful $365 drum set to remind me!

PPS: The moral of this story... Well, for one thing, thank God for mothers! But also, tax time is a good time to visit your local merchant. Here at Pittsburgh Guitars I'm pretty sure we'll be able to cover the tax bill, but we'll still give you a great deal on anything in the store... after all, the tax man needs his dough.

PPPS: Me and my Ludwig set in 1968.

PPPPS: At the Southland Shopping Center, 1970. (Yes, it may look like I'm singing, but believe me, I cannot.)

PPPPPS: In Ohio in 1974.

PPPPPPS: In Pittsburgh in 1975. (Apparently I am able to play drums and talk to girls simultaneously...)

PPPPPPPS: The silver-sparkle set has a 20" bass drum, which in my opinion is the best sounding bass drum size for recording. In 1977 I bought a set with a 24" bass drum, which I think looks better with my tall height. Here's the set I've used on gigs since `77.

PPPPPPPPS: And here's me today, with my original tax-time purchase! Thanks Mom!


PPPPPPPPPS: Now... back to TurboTax!


Friday 4/29/2011 ~ Lyon & Healy

Have you ever wondered if anything you've done will be remembered in 100 years? Yeah, me too.

(We should probably get started on our Wikipedia pages.) (Wait...will they still have the internet in 100 years?)

In the interest of remembering things from more than 100 years ago, I'd like to mention two guys. And some other guys.

The musical instrument biz has always been a tough one... but it was certainly a challenge for two men who opened a shop in Chicago in 1864. George Lyon and Patrick Healy started their small store in October 1864. By January 1870 they were doing well enough to move to a new larger location. Unfortunately, in September 1870 a fire burned down the entire block, including their building. (Fires are an issue even today, but they were certainly a bigger problem years ago.) Undaunted, George and Patrick reopened in a new location before the end of the year. But, remember that fire issue? Ten months later, in October 1871, thirty-four blocks of downtown Chicago (including George and Patrick's new store) burned down in what is now known as the Great Chicago Fire.

After two store-destroying fires many folks would have given up, but these guys opened yet again in 1872! And they expanded into musical instrument manufacturing. By 1880 their company, Lyon & Healy, (operating out of a new, six-story fire-proof building) was manufacturing thousands of instruments a year. And included in their catalog, along with horns, zithers, violins and pianos, were our favorite instruments, guitars.

In 1883 they decided to offer a premium line of guitars, to compete with the young and highly regarded C. F. Martin Guitar Company. The name chosen for these more expensive Lyon & Healy instruments was George Lyon's middle name: Washburn.

Here's a picture of a Washburn Style 6, circa 1885.

Here's a Style 308 from 1890.

Here's a catalog page from 1896.

And here's a wacky Style 805 from 1885.

Lyon & Healy sold instruments through dealers and catalogs around the country, with great success. By the mid-1890s they were the largest musical instrument manufacturing company in the world! Their 1896 catalog bragged that the company manufactured 100,000 instruments per year. Not bad for two men who were burned out of business twice!

(The "100,000 instruments" were not all guitars, of course. That figure included tambourines, harmonicas, and every other musical item. But it did include a lot of guitars. And the top of the line guitars were the Washburns.)

An example of the quality and expense of the Washburn line is evidenced in the 1890 Sears Catalog. Lyon & Healy's cheapest Washburn (the Model 101 for $22) was more expensive than any other brand of guitar in the catalog.

(The average price of a guitar in the early 1890s was under $10... but $10 was a lot of money in those days!) (In fact, have you seen the Pittsburgh Guitars cash register? The buttons allow you to type in a sale, and the most expensive price you can enter is $9.99. Here's a photo. I don't know what type of retail store originally ordered this cash register, but they clearly couldn't imagine selling something for more than $9.99!)

Now you're probably saying to yourself, "If Lyon & Healy was the once biggest musical instrument manufacturer in the world, why haven't I heard of them?"

Well, for one thing, it was 100 years ago and they never had a web site. And despite their success, economic times took a toll. The company was strong enough to survive a stock market crash in 1893 (The Panic of 1893), but like many companies they were impacted by the stock market crash in 1901 (The Panic of 1901) and the stock market crash in 1907 (The Panic of 1907). And World War I didn't help, either. (In case you aren't familiar with WWI, here's the link.) Furthermore, George Lyon died in 1894, and Patrick Healy died in 1905.

Without the original founding fathers, a series of company presidents made a series of executive decisions about the future direction of the company. The biggest impact was made by Raymond Durham, Lyon & Healy's company president in 1927. He noticed that, thanks to ever improving roads and methods of transportation, a new concept was springing up: suburbs! Durham decided that the future of the company lay in a proposed nationwide chain of city and suburban retail stores, rather than in manufacturing instruments. In May 1928 he sold Lyon & Healy's guitar factory, machinery, and the Washburn brand name to another company, J.R. Stewart. And would you like to guess what happened next? In October 1929, to be specific?

Yep, the big Stock Market Crash of 1929 followed by the Great Depression. (Hey, I'm sorry this email has such bad economic stuff in it! But maybe it will make us feel a little bit better about the current times...) J. R. Stewart went bankrupt, and Lyon & Healy's chain of stores never materialized. The Washburn brand name was purchased by another Chicago company, Tonk Brothers, but the 1930s were not the best of times. When World War II hit, Tonk Brothers went under, and in 1941 the Washburn name disappeared.

And the point of this story? I just wanted you to know that 147 years ago two men in Chicago started a company, and despite early hardships, that company grew to be the largest musical instrument manufacturer in the world. And along the way they manufactured a fine line of quality guitars under the Washburn brand. From 1884 through 1928 Lyon & Healy made approximately 75,000 Washburn guitars, which was more than any other guitar manufacturer of the time.


Oh yeah... you may not be familiar with Lyon or Healy, but you probably have heard the Washburn name. In 1974, a guy named Tom Beckman (no relation to the original company) started using the Washburn name on some inexpensive imported acoustics. Since the name had been out of use since 1941, I don't know if Tom bought it, or just re-registered it. In 1978 Tom sold the name to Rudy Schlacher, who has since developed it into a well-known electric and acoustic line. Today Rudy's company, US Music Corp, makes nice guitars, but the "History" page on their web site is a bit misleading. Other than reusing the name, the current company has nothing to do with the original Lyon & Healy company. So, when you see articles like "Washburn Celebrates 125 Years of History," take them with a large grain of salt!

And if 100 years from now you see someone using the name "Pittsburgh Guitars, since 1979!" tell them to cut it out! (Unless, of course, it's John, and he's still running the store...)


See you soon,


PS: Prior to re-using the Washburn name, Rudy Schlacher's most famous venture was "Nashville Straights." "Nashville Straights" were guitar strings sold in long straight boxes, rather than coiled in square pouches like other strings. It was just a gimic, but I do remember seeing them in stores. Here's an ad.

PPS: Tom Beckman sold Rudy the Washburn name in 1978, to start "Roland US" with Roland's original Japanese founder, Ikutaro Kakehashi. A few years later the international Roland company bought out Tom's share of Roland US.

PPPS: If you've spent time with a symphony orchestra, you might actually know the name Lyon & Healy. Way, way back in 1889 Patrick Healy noticed that his company was doing a lot of repairs on non-roadworthy, European-made harps. And I don't mean harmonicas... I mean big, ol' heavy harps. Healy decided that Lyon & Healy should design and manufacture the world's finest harps. And they did! In 1928, when company president Ray Durham decided to sell off Lyon & Healy's manufacturing businesses, he kept the harp factory. Perhaps he knew it was important to the late Patrick Healy. And Lyon & Healy makes harps to this day! Here's their site. And when they say "120 Years of Experience," they're telling the truth!

PPPPS: Speaking of names that should or shouldn't be familiar, here's one from 150 years ago that very few people know: William B. Tilton. In the late 1840s Tilton experimented with ways to improve the sound of a guitar. As we all know, the quality of an acoustic guitar's tone is related to the vibration of the top of the guitar when it is played. Tilton felt that the top would vibrate more freely if he reduced the mass of a guitar's internal neck-block and end-block. (Those are necessary wood blocks that help the instrument withstand the tension of the strings.) To maintain the stability of the instrument with reduced wood, he designed a supporting rod that ran inside the guitar, from the neck-block to end-block. And, for publicity purposes, on that rod he mounted a silver-painted disc labeled "Tilton's Improvement." The second part of his "Improvement" was a uniquely designed trapeze tailpiece. W.B. Tilton patented "Tilton's Improvement" in 1854, and manufactured instruments until the late 1860s. His "Improvement" was then used by other manufacturers until the 1890s.

Was "Tilton's Improvement" actually an improvement? The jury is still out on that one. Did it last until the 21st Century? Not really. Should we know W.B. Tilton's name in 2011? Ah.... er.... well, he may have been a very nice guy....

From the Pittsburgh Guitars collection, here's a Wm. B. Tilton guitar from 1860. Note the fine looking Brazilian rosewood on the back & sides. And the promotional marketing discs!

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Imagination Movers



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