Email Specials from August 2011

Friday 8/5/2011 ~ The NAMM Show Report


It's been a busy week here at Pittsburgh Guitars. The corn has finally come in, out on the south 40. Bessie the cow had a calf. And It looks like old man Johnson is finally gonna sell his farm and move to Pixley.Oh, wait, that's at our Lake Wobegon branch...Here in Pittsburgh we've had a busy week, too.

As I mentioned in the last Email Special, I was recently in Nashville ordering stuff at ye ol' NAMM show. And surprisingly some of it has arrived already:


1) Hofner has introduced two new basses: a thin double-cutaway 500/7 "Verythin" Bass, and a 500/5 "almost Stu Sutcliffe" Bass.

Here's John with the very thin 500/7. It's a really fun bass.

And here's John with the 500/5. You see........ once upon a time, there was a guy named Stu Sutcliffe. And he was a talented painter. When he won a pile of cash in an art contest, his best friend, John Lennon, convinced him to use the prize money to buy a Hofner 500/5 bass guitar. (...because John's band, The Silver Beatles, needed a bass player...) Stu joined the band in May, 1960; they changed their name to The Beatles; and in August, 1960 they traveled to Hamburg, Germany, where they played eight hours a day, eight days a week. A year later, in June 1961, Stu decided to quit the band, stay in Germany, and devote his life to art and his fiance, Astrid Kirchherr. Paul McCartney took over on bass (using his newly purchased 500/1 violin-shaped bass) and Stu gave his old 500/5 bass to Astrid's ex-boyfriend, Klaus Voormann. Klaus learned to play the bass, and later played with Manfred Mann ("The Mighty Quinn"), James Taylor, Harry Nilson and others. Hofner discontinued the 500/5 in the early 1960s, but Beatle fans have been asking them to resurrect the model for years. And they finally have. Unfortunately, the design folks in China didn't have an original model in hand (...if only they would have called me!) and they mistakenly made it deeper than the original. So... the new "almost Stu Sutcliffe" 500/5 looks accurate from the front... but not from the side! (Just like many of us!) It's still a cool bass, though. Slim neck, low action, and super easy to play! Stop in and try it.

2) This week we also received the new Yamaha "A Series" acoustics. Yamaha makes superb guitars in all price ranges, but they decided to design a new, professional guitar from the ground up. The "A Series" guitars have a new body shape, excellent tone-woods and a specially designed pickup system. These are fabulous sounding instruments at affordable prices. Here's John with a Yamaha AC3R and a A1M.


3) Another shipment this week was a fresh supply of Gretsch guitars. The $650 Electromatic single cutaway (G5120) and double cutaway (G5122) have been consistently good sellers for us. We also got a fabulous 1962 Reissue G6122 Country Gentleman, but we sold it as soon as we opened the box... Here's John with our no longer in stock `62 Reissue Country Gentleman.


4) As I mentioned in last week's PS, we just received a new Martin D-28P as well as the regular D-28. The "P" stands for a thinner neck profile. I just played both of them, and they sound wonderful. The 28P neck is a hair thinner, but the regular 28 is pretty thin to begin with, so the difference is not very noticeable. The D-28P, however, has a fingerboard width at the nut of 1 3/4" versus the D-28s 1 11/16" width. (To make those mathematically consistent: that's 1 12/16" versus 1 11/16... a difference if 1/16".) You wouldn't think that 1/16" would be detectable, but it really does feel different as you play. It's a nice new option. Here's John measuring.


5) If you've ever leaned on our guitar strap rack... and who hasn't?... you know how rickety it is. So, we bought a new one that not only isn't self-destructing, it also holds more straps. Lots more! So we ordered a couple hundred! Here's John, leaning.


See you soon,


PS: We have lots of "new" Used guitars in the store this week, too! And some models that we rarely see in used-land. Here are a few:

a) Used Rickenbacker guitars are few and far between. And when we do get them, they sell fast! Here's Sam with a used Rick 620/12 that just arrived! It jangles all over the place!

b) Here's John with a 1950 Martin mandolin. That's even older than Scott!

c) Here's Sam with a late 1940s Martin Style 1 Uke. We have lots of new ukes, too.

d) And we haven't had a used Gibson ES-175 for over a year. But here's a beautiful one we just bought!

PPS: In addition to his bass playing and record producing (he produced "Da Da Da" by Trio), Klaus Voorman is also an artist. He won a Grammy for the design of The Beatles album, Revolver. Here's the copy of Revolver that he autographed for me when we met in Liverpool.

PPPS: Sadly, Stu Sutcliffe passed away on April 12, 1962, less than a year after he decided to stay in Germany. He never got to see his former bandmates change the world. Here's George, Stu and John, in a photo taken by Astrid Kirchherr in October, 1960. Stu is holding his Hofner 500/5 bass.

PPPPS: Number 9, Number 9, Number 9
Hey! It's only two weeks until Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #9!!!!!
Saturday, August 20th
The Rex Theater
Twenty-Five bands, Four Hours of Non-Stop Beatle songs!
Good music, good times, and even a few prizes!

This show is a Benefit for The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Cover Charge: $5 plus a can of food (or two!)

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Jimbo Mathus


Friday 8/12/2011 ~ Retromania


By some odd coincidence I read three reviews of the same book this week.

Written by British rock critic Simon Reynolds and published two weeks ago, the book is called Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction To Its Own Past.

First of all, I have to give credit to Mr. Reynolds' publicist for getting the book widely reviewed. Secondly, it seems like an interesting topic... That, at the expense of innovation, contemporary pop culture draws too heavily on its own history.

I only read 20 pages of Retromania (that's all you can read for free on google-something-or-other), so I can't comment on the entire book... but Reynolds appears to focus primarily on music. He says that while modern bands may mimic the style of yesteryear, they can't capture the spirit of "a lost golden age when music had power and integrity." He also says that thanks to Youtube and the internet in general, the "past" is constantly available and therefore too much a part of the "present." His hypothesis is that ready access to history discourages interest in innovation.


That brought two thoughts to mind.

1) First of all, his use of "integrity" regarding music of the past is a fascinating word choice. Today "beats" are played by a computer, and bad vocal notes are corrected electronically. You cannot believe anything you hear on a contemporary recording. Producers can cut and paste small snippets of sound into an entire "song." They can adjust the speed to an exact toe-taping tempo. And almost anyone can "sing" on it. So, if you think back to an era when bands would set up in a studio, turn on the mics, and all play at the same time... then, yes, I would say that an older recording has more integrity.

Of course, I'm not knocking technology. Since the dawn of recorded sound, producers and recording engineers have utilized the most modern technology available to them. One microphone led to several microphones... mono recording led to stereo... two tracks became four... then eight... then dozens. But there was always one magic ingredient: the talent of the artist. Now the artist is just a figurehead. And even when you have an artist who can really sing and play, like Lady GaGa, her recordings must match her heavily produced contemporaries to be successful in the marketplace. Her actual talent becomes almost irrelevant under the production.

"Integrity" is not a word I would generally associate with music. But it makes sense.


2) The second thought concerned Reynolds' assertion that lack of musical innovation is primarily due to an unhealthy obsession with and easy access to music of the past. While there is certainly some truth to that... I think he missed something important.

It's true that music is in a strange place. (And by "strange" I mean "not strange.") Tribute acts used to be limited to Elvis or The Beatles, but now they exist for all types of bands. I recently saw an R.E.M. tribute band. And actual original old people are still touring, too. A few weeks ago Poison, Motley Crue and The New York Dolls were in town. And coming soon to Pittsburgh stages: Def Leppard, Heart, Journey, Foreigner, and Night Ranger.

But the lack of something new can't be blamed just on the success of the old folks.

In 1965 kids weren't listening to twenty-five year old Glenn Miller songs. But in 2011 it is not unusual for kids to listen to twenty-five year old Metallica songs, or thirty-year-old Ozzy songs, or forty-five-year-old Beatles songs. And the difference between these two scenarios? Something that Simon Reynolds missed: The electric guitar.

From 1900 to 1950 music evolved... it went from from stiff and restrained, to loose and powerful. But the changes in that 50-year span don't compare to the exponential evolution brought on by the electric guitar (...and very importantly, the electric bass). By the 1960s, when amplification caught up to the quality level of the electric guitar, it wasn't just a new generation of kids listening to a new musical fad, something that was just a twist on what their parents listened to. Rock & roll was a scientifically new form of music; one that simply wasn't technologically possible twenty years earlier.

You cannot overstate the importance of the development of the electric guitar with regard to defining a new form of music.

When discussing the history of mankind (specifically the history of music) during the twentieth century, the electric guitar (specifically the solid-body electric guitar) must be mentioned.

So, the next question is: what about technological developments in the last 50 years? Well, electronic keyboards advanced to the point that they could play sampled sounds of other instruments. But those other instruments (horns and strings) were around before rock & roll. The development of the keyboard put a lot of horn players and violinists out of work. But it didn't create a new form of music, the way electric guitars did.

And most other developments since then have revolved around electronically creating drum sounds, computerizing the recording process, sequencing previously played parts, allowing for better lip syncing on stage, and generally replacing the need for actual talent.

Again, none of those advances match the impact of going electric.

To be honest, I don't know what could be invented to turn the music world around as much as the advent of the electric guitar. And that's why we still listen to songs from the past... we're still in the same era! Sure, songs today are new and different. But they're not that different. And the ones that are the most different in recent decades, are only "different" because they are more artificially created.

Maybe I'll buy Mr. Reynolds book... to see if he mentions the electric guitar. It oughta be in there somewhere.


After writing all of this, I think I like the electric guitar even more. And I don't know how that's possible!


See you soon,


PS: Earlier I mentioned that I was impressed with the number of reviews Retromania was getting. It just occurred to me that some folks may be reviewing it because it's nostalgic to talk about the past. So the "addiction to the past" that Reynolds is concerned about may be a positive thing for his book sales!

PPS: All this talk about contemporary music and its relation to the past made me wonder what the current #1 song is. It turns out that it's "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO. I like it. Although, it could easily be from the 1990s...

PPPS: Number 9, Number 9, Number 9
Hey! Next week!!
Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #9!!!!!
Saturday, August 20th
The Rex Theater
Twenty-Five bands, Four Hours of Non-Stop Beatle songs!
Good music, good times, and even a few prizes!

This show is a Benefit for The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Cover Charge: $5 plus a can of food (or two!)

PPPPS: On a totally different topic: a few months ago we got Yamaha's new guitar-ukulele. It's small and has nylon strings like a uke, but it has six strings and is tuned like a guitar. (Here's John with the GL1.) The concept is simple- a guitar player can play it, and immediately sound like they know uke chords. This model has been such a hit, that we've expanded the concept. New in the store this week: a guitar-banjo and a guitar-mandolin! Both are tuned just like a guitar (the guitar-mandolin is up an octave), so any guitarist can play them right away. So, if you've ever wanted to get a banjo or mando sound, but didn't want to learn new chords, we've got the instrument for you! Here's Sam with the guitar-banjo. Here's Scott with the guitar-mandolin.

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: JetStream
These guys were just in the store moments ago. They were cool.


Friday 8/19/2011 ~ The Unexpected Importance of Things


This morning I loaded six Vox Super Beatle amps into the van for tomorrow night's Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show. Those things get heavier every year! (Although, despite the weight, they look and sound fabulous!) (Here they are on stage.)

Although all six appear to be similar, one of the speaker cabinets has been internally modified. The regular Super Beatle cabinets have four twelve-inch speakers, and two high frequency horns. (It's a great combination... rich low end, with pure, clear high end.) But one of the amps has had its twelve-inch speakers and horns replaced with two fifteen-inch bass speakers. We always put that one on the left, for the bass player. (In show biz terms that would be "stage right.")

As I lifted that one into the van this morning... (it's really heavy...) I remembered buying it... kinda.

It was in someone's basement... in the North Hills... and the driveway went around back, so we only had to roll it out the back door. OK, that's all I remember from the transaction... But it started me thinking about the other five amps.

One I recognized. I bought it from a guy on a farm. He had it set up in his living room and it was in mint condition. (The amp, not the living room.) I remember that amp because I brought it home in the backseat of my 1968 Chevy Nova. And as I was taking it out of the car (a two-door Nova!) I put a little tear in the grill cloth. And it's still there. But now it blends in, since after 30 years the rest of the amp isn't in mint condition anymore either. As I was buying the amp I was curious about the farm, and the guy and his wife said to stop back anytime. I said, "Should I call first?" And they said, "Nope. We have to milk the cows every day, so we're always here!" Apparently cows are very demanding.

I purchased another one of the Super Beatle amps at a guitar show in Detroit. It was at an exhibition hall, and the weekend before the show they'd held a livestock auction... so the entire building smelled like cow. (Or at least part of the cow...)

It wasn't until right this moment that I noticed the cow connection. But I don't think the guy from the North Hills had any cows... And although I honestly don't remember where I bought the other three amps, I'm pretty sure I'd remember if bovines were involved...

As I looked at these amps rolling into the van, I started to contemplate all of the stuff I've purchased over these many decades. Of course, here at Pittsburgh Guitars we've bought, and sold, literally thousands of guitars and amps. But those were for the store. This morning I was thinking about the things I bought for myself. Stuff we used in my band, The Flashcats. Stuff I used to record with. Stuff that I've had for decades, like these Super Beatle amps.

When you buy something it's hard to predict how long you'll use it. For example, I always wanted an Ampeg B-15 Portflex bass amp. They were the go-to bass amp in recording studios during the 1960s & 70s, and I was thrilled when I finally got one. But it turns out that I've hardly ever used it. It sits in the corner looking good... and I'm happy to have it... but it's not loud enough for stage use, and I generally run the bass direct when recording. So, as cool as it is, it mostly goes unused. Here's me with the B-15.

On the other hand, years and years (and years) ago, I bought a little Vox Cambridge Reverb amp. And I've ended up using that darn thing on almost every recording I've ever done. It's bright and crisp at low volumes, breaks up nicely when louder, and after nearly thirty years, it still works perfectly. It has never been serviced or in the shop. And it has always come through when I needed it. Here's me with the Vox.

I don't remember buying the Vox Cambridge Reverb, but I know I would never have guessed how long I'd use it. And the Ampeg? I thought it was going to be important to me. I still smile when I see it... but important? No.

All of this kinda parallels real life. We meet new people every day. And some of them continue to pass through our existence on a regular basis. We say hello, and we smile, and we're happy to see them. But they really don't have an impact big on our lives. Other people though, end up as truly close friends. They start out as yet another random meeting... and maybe just like my Vox amp, we don't even remember when or where we first met them... But over the years they prove to be a very important part of our life.

I guess you never know who is going to end up being significant in your life. They start out as just another face in the crowd. But over time they are always there for you. And even if years later you don't remember first meeting them, you're sure glad you did.


Hey, I gotta go pack the drums for tomorrow. See you then.


See you soon,

PS: Number 9, Number 9, Number 9
Tomorrow Night! Saturday, August 20th
Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #9!!!!!The Rex Theater

Twenty-Five bands, Four Hours of Non-Stop Beatle songs!
Good music, good times, and even a few prizes!Proceeds Benefit The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Cover Charge: $5 plus a can of food (or two!)

PPS: Customer of the week: The Doobie Brothers


Friday 8/26/2011 ~ Ampeg


Keep up with the times? Or stick to your previous beliefs? That is the universal question.

Last week I mentioned an Ampeg B-15 amp that I own, but I haven't used much. Here's a picture of me with the amp.

If you're like me, and I know you are, when you hear the words "Ampeg B-15," the next two words that come to mind are: "Everett Hull." (And, of course, the next two are "Jess Oliver," but we'll get to that later....)

Everett Hull was an upright-bass playing band leader in 1945, when his wife Gertrude told him that his bass wasn't loud enough. He liked to move around a lot with his bass (during one of his comedy shows he mounted wheels and turn signals on the bass!) and he knew that leaning in close to a mic on a stand wasn't practical. But he came up with a clever solution. Upright basses have a support peg coming out of the bottom, to keep the bass from resting on the ground. This support peg goes up inside the bass. Hull designed a microphone-on-a-stick, that he mounted inside the bass on the support peg. Gertrude named it the "Ampeg," for "amplified peg." The amplified peg worked well, and by the end of 1946 Hull was making them for many of his bass-playing friends. And since few of the amplifiers available in the late 1940s could handle the low frequencies of a bass, Hull decided that he should form a company to sell both his "amplified-peg" and an amp to use it with.

In 1949 the Ampeg Bassamp Company was formed, and the 18-watt, 1x12, "Super 800" bass amp was introduced. In 1951, Hull introduced a more powerful amp (20 watts!), with a 15" speaker, called the Model 815. (Note: Leo Fender didn't introduce his first bass amp until the following year, and his 1952 Fender Bassman was surprisingly similar to the Ampeg Model 815.) Here's me with a 1953 Ampeg Model 815. Here's a picture of the back. As you can see, the company is listed as the Ampeg Bassamp Co.

Hull expanded the Ampeg line during the 1950s, adding new models of not only bass amps, but also guitar and accordion amps. (He was an accordion fan.) In 1956 he changed The Ampeg Bassamp Company name to simply The Ampeg Company. Also in 1956, Hull hired a new electronics engineer (and fellow bass player) Jess Oliver.

Jess Oliver helped introduce several new amps for Ampeg, but his main goal was to design the best sounding bass amplifier ever made. And by late 1959 he did. In 1960 Ampeg introduced the "B-15 Portaflex." (Portaflex was short for "portable reflex cabinet.")

The B-15 featured many new design aspects. In addition to a completely new amplifier circuit, it had two baffle boards, each with different sound ports. It also had a unique panel-mounted amp section, that flipped inside when not in use (making it easier to carry) and flipped outside when used (protecting the tubes from the vibration of the speaker, and protecting the speaker from the heat of the tubes.) And it sounded wonderful.

Here's John demonstrating the B-15 flip-top.

The B-15 was such a nice sounding bass amp that during the 1960s and 1970s it was the primary bass amp in recording studios all over the country. Even today, many recording studios have one around.

Everett Hull's and Jess Oliver's B-15 was an immediate success. In the early 1960s, Ampeg amps were selling like mad. But new musical waves were on the horizon, and that brings us back to my initial questions.

You may have heard me mention it before, but 1964 was a year of change for the musical world. When The Beatles and the rest of the "British invasion" hit America, every kid on every block wanted an electric guitar. And these young rock & roll bands got louder and louder. Unfortunately, Everett Hull hated rock & roll. He designed his amps to have crystal clear, pure sound. And loud distorted volume annoyed him. As fabulous sounding as the B-15 amp was, it was only 25 watts. And Hull thought that was fine.

Hull and Ampeg reaped the benefits of the baby boomer instrument demand, selling amps as fast as they could make them. But Hull had no interest in keeping up with the musical times. For example, even in the rockin' mid-1960s he insisted that his amps featured an input labeled "accordion." This card from Ampeg sums up Hull's philosophy.

By 1967 distortion and volume were part of the musical landscape, and Everett Hull wanted out. Rather than market an amp that a player like Jimi Hendrix would use, he decided to sell the company. In September 1967, Ampeg was purchased by the Unimusic Corporation.

As I thought about all of this, I had to stop and wonder if I'm not keeping up with the times. Back in 1984 when it looked like sampling keyboards were going to take over the world, we briefly had a couple of keyboards in the store... but it was scary and we got out of it quick. Since then there haven't been very many new musical trends. (There's rap, of course... but hey, I said "musical" trends.) Technologically speaking, I think we've done a decent job of carrying sampling and modeling amps. And we have the newest tuners and pedals. Perhaps we should carry more computer-related recording interfaces... Maybe in 2012 we'll get more into that... And we could start carrying some of those auto-tune pedals, so folks don't have to worry about being able to sing in tune... But in general, I guess we're lucky. A guitar is still a guitar, and it's still as viable today as it was when Everett Hull made his first amp.


See you soon,


PS: When Hull sold Ampeg to the Unimusic Corporation, one of their first moves was to develop more contemporary, higher powered amplifiers. In early 1969, they hit a home run with the introduction of their "Super Vacuum Tube" amp, the SVT. At 300-watts, and paired with two 8x10 cabinets, the SVT was the loudest bass amp in the world. It was so loud, designer Roger Cox said "I was actually concerned about potential for liability." To that end, each SVT came with a warning label which read: "This Amp Is Capable Of Delivering Sound Pressure Levels That May Cause Permanent Hearing Damage."

Since 1969 the Ampeg Company has changed hands many times, but the SVT has continuously been a part of the line. If you turn on David Letterman or Jay Leno tonight and watch the musical guest, whoever they are, there is a very good chance the bass player will be using an SVT. Everett Hull's original intention was to build a great bass amp. He did that for low volume levels with the B-15. And eventually, even if he would never have approved it, Ampeg built the industry standard for live performing, the SVT.

PPS: Thanks to everyone who came to the Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show #9 last Saturday. It was a tremendous success. We raised lots of money for the Food Bank, plus boxes and boxes and boxes of food. AND the bands were fabulous!! It was a lot of fun!!! Here are a few video clips!

PPPS: Customer of the week: Jack Campbell


Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars