Email Specials from September 2011

Friday 9/9/2011 ~ A Reading Addiction! (And another contest!)


I've become addicted. And I'm losing sleep.

It all started last month when I heard Sammy Hagar on the radio talking about his new book, "Red." He mentioned that (a) he was with Van Halen for eleven years! and (b) they had more hits when he was fronting the band than they did with David Lee Roth.

(Factoids: All four of the Sammy Hagar/Van Halen albums went to #1, none of the David Lee Roth LPs did. On the singles chart, Van Halen with Roth had one #1 hit single, with Hagar they had eight!)

Now, I'm not the band's greatest fan... no Van Halen logo tattoos, for example... but Sammy Hagar seemed like an interesting guy, so I bought his book. And one night, after Colbert, I started reading it.... And I couldn't stop.

I finished it in two days. And then, I couldn't help myself, I bought another one: Don Felder's "Heaven & Hell: My Life In The Eagles." It was a great story, too... (Man, The Eagles were one unhappy band...)

As soon as I finished that I bought "Guitars, Bars & Motown Superstars" by Dennis Coffey, a session guitarist at Motown. (That's him on wah-wah guitar in this song: "Cloud Nine." And on this one: "Runaway Child." And on this one: "Psychedelic Shack." And on this one: "Smiling Faces." And on this one: "Band Of Gold.") His story was interesting, as well. I was hooked.

All of this reading was keeping me up all night, but I couldn't stop. A few days later I bought Steven Tyler's new book, "Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?" It wasn't as good as the rest, since he was rambling all over the place... you probably shouldn't be stoned when you're actually writing your book... But, still, it was fun to read... and I needed more.

Sam, here at the store, saw that I had a problem... But did he offer to help? No! Instead he said, "Oh, those books are good... but you gotta try this one..." And he handed me a copy of "Shakey, Neil Young's Biography" by Jimmy McDonough. And it's great! But it's 800 pages long!! I've been up reading it every night... it's going on and on... but it's so good I don't want to put it down... Ahhhh... Now I'm starting to fall asleep at the store!!!

I don't know what to do. Perhaps I should take a few days off and finish "Shakey." (And the one I have lined up next, "Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life And Hard Times Of Chuck Berry" by Bruce Pegg.) Or maybe I should enter some sort of non-reading rehab. Well, at least the new fall TV season is starting soon... That will help cut back on any reading!


Meanwhile, I should at least pass on what I've learned during my late-night readathons... If you want to make good money in the music biz, write the songs. Sammy Hagar and Neil Young have written lots of hits: they're multi-millionaires. Don Felder only wrote a few for The Eagles, but one was "Hotel California," so: millionaire. Dennis Coffey played on hundreds of Motown hit songs, but he didn't write any of them: broke. Steven Tyler: his book is so weird I couldn't understand what he was saying!

The point of all of these books is that writing is the key. So I'd like to have a contest.

Write a song, and email it to us. Here are the guidelines: It should be less than three minutes long, and the recording should be just you and one other instrument. OK, maybe two or three instruments... But not a big production. Just a demo. Don't get me wrong. I love bands and big productions... and in concert I'd always rather see a complete band. But the point of this contest is to judge the song, not the recording. So send in something simple. A song that will stand on its own. Imagine that you're trying to convince Don Henley to put it on the next Eagles album.

We'll have our team of judges pick the song that they arbitrarily like best, and the winner will receive a brand new Vox AC4TV Amp... the perfect practice amp for writing demo songs. Here's John with the amp.

I can't promise that the winning song will be the "best" one... After all, liking or not liking a song is subjective. But someone will win, and everyone who enters will at least have written one more song. And writing is always good!

The contest starts today and ends September 30th. So pick up your guitar, and write a song. Email it to me. Also indicate if it's OK for us to post it on our web site. (Naturally, you will retain complete ownership of the song and the recording.)


See you soon,


PS: Sammy Hagar said that in 1985 his solo career was going so well that he had to take a pay cut to join Van Halen. Once he joined Van Halen he wrote songs that took the band to new heights, and they all made a ton of money. But he has also been extremely successful with business ventures outside of the band. For example, in 1996 he founded a tequila company, Cabo Wabo, and in 2007 sold 80% of it for $80,000,000. (He was offered $100-million for the entire company, but he wanted to hang on to a part of it.)

PPS: Last week a member of the Van Halen crew was passing through Pittsburgh and he stopped in our store. I asked him if he read the Hagar book, and he said "No!" He said that many folks in the organization were annoyed that Hagar wrote the book. (No doubt because of the tales of Eddie Van Halen's excessive drug use.) He said, "Why did Sammy write that book? He doesn't need the money!" Obviously true. But it is entertaining to hear the inside stories.

PPPS: With regard to our songwriting contest, if you can't email an mp3 feel free to mail in a CD. And don't worry if you can't sing very well. Some of the most famous songwriters in history didn't have great voices. (For that matter, neither does Neil Young. But he makes up for it with honest passion.) The most important thing is to create something. That's what I love about songwriters. They start with a blank page, and out of thin air they end up with something that moves people emotionally. (Or at least moves their feet!)

PPPPS: With regard to the book discussions above, Betsy pointed out that when listing book titles, I shouldn't use both italics and quotation marks... e.g. "Shakey." But I was in an italic mood today (no doubt due to my excessive fatigue from reading all night) and I used a lot of italics in the email. Since I didn't want you to think that every use of italics indicated a book title, I went overboard and used both italics and quotes. I'm sorry about this is grammatical overkill... I couldn't help myself.

PPPPPS: Hey, Betsy's not totally innocent here. The first thing she said after reading this was, "Oh, I should lend you a book, "Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour'." Of course I said, "Great!"

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Eli "Paperboy" Reed


Friday 9/16/2011 ~ Hazy Memories, and the Contest Rules


Time sure is a funny thing.

Earlier this week my friend Dave R. sent me an email about an upcoming show. On Friday, November 4th, Ray Davies will be performing at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead. (For our younger readers, Ray Davies was/is the lead singer and songwriter for The Kinks. Here's Ray from 46 years ago.) (I like how Ray's brother Dave plays a wrong chord at 1:06 in the video. That's authentic rock & roll!)

(Awww... let's watch a few more: Here's The Kinks from 38 years ago: "Victoria" & "The Village Green Preservation Society")

Getting back to the Carnegie Library Music Hall and Dave's email... Dave ended his letter by saying, "That's the hall you and I played at in 1972." I was a bit surprised, to say the least.

I wrote back to him this morning and he provided more details. The show was an event for the "Five Boroughs Jaycees"... it was promoted by a guy named "Rat"... there were three bands: Dave's band, Mason; a group called Bandage; and my band, 10th Hour Productions... and the date was November 17, 1972.

First of all, I have to applaud Dave's record keeping skills. No wonder I like him! But from "my memory" perspective, I must admit that I don't remember much about the gig. I was at the venue last November, to get a bass signed by the Barenaked Ladies for our last Pittsburgh Guitars Big Beatle Show, (here's me and them) and I was very impressed with the hall. But I would never have guessed that I once played on that stage.

And that made me wonder about all of these rock memoir books that I've been reading...

Last week I mentioned recently reading books by Sammy Hagar, Stephen Tyler, Don Felder, and others. Although I've played a thousand gigs, these guys have played many more, all around the world, moving so fast they didn't know what city they were in, and (based on their books) high on cocaine the entire time. If I can't remember playing the Carnegie Music Hall, how can I trust them to remember anything? Maybe they have someone as organized as Dave R. working for them... and maybe he can provide accurate gig histories... but how could they remember specific occurrences?

Yeah... I'm beginning to wonder if some of the stories in these books might be mere approximations of what really happened. Time speeds by so fast that it's hard to remember what happened last year, let alone decades ago. And that's even if you're not wacked out on coke.

Speaking of books and last week's email, I'd like to thank the folks who've entered our current Write-A-Song Contest. The aforementioned book-writing-rock-stars might not actually remember a conversation they had in 1982 with Jackson Browne, but they all remember that they're rich. And a lot of those riches came from songwriting. To encourage you to write a song, we're giving away a Vox songwriting amp at the end of September.

Here are the guidelines:
1) Write a song. It should be less than three minutes long, and the recording should be simple... not a big, heavily produced professional recording. Just you and one or two other instruments. We will be judging the song, not the recording, so send in something simple. A song that will stand on its own.

2) Send it in.

We'll have our team of judges arbitrarily pick a song, and the winner will receive a brand new Vox AC4TV Amp... the perfect practice amp for writing demo songs. Here's John with the amp.

Email the song to me.
(You will retain all legal rights to the song and the recording.)

Write something today, and send it in tomorrow. It's that simple!

You know what would help with your songwriting? A new acoustic guitar! For this week only, the Email Special is an extra 10% off our already discounted prices on any new Yamaha Guitar! We already have super low prices on these fine instruments, but we want to encourage you to write something like this. And a new guitar always inspires you to play and write more! (Here's our Yamaha sales rep, Steve, who coincidentally stopped by the store this morning. He gave his approval to the Email Special sale!)


See you soon,


PS: In the above like this clip, Neil Young is playing a Martin D-45, not a Yamaha. It will be a tad more expensive, but we can get you one of those, too!

PPS: Speaking of ordering stuff, business has been good lately, so we've been ordering lots of new guitars... including these cool Eastwoods... and the new Fender "Blacktop" series.

PPPS: Here's the current schedule from The Carnegie Library Music Hall.

PPPPS: You've probably noticed a chill in the air... and that means fall! And that means we're getting dangerously close to the next installment of our Halloween musical-comedy extravaganza, "Night Of The Singing Dead!"

The dates are Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th
At The Rex Theater.

It's still six weeks away, so we haven't written the show yet. But I'm sure it will be spectacular! Where else will you be able to see Amy Winehouse, Elvis, and Elizabeth Taylor all on the same stage? Here are pictures from last year's show.

More news soon! Night Of The Singing Dead, #19!!

PPPPPS: Customer of the week: Callan


Friday 9/23/2011 ~ The O. W. Appleton "App" Guitar


I've said it before... I love the Email Special!

You just never know where it will lead... and who you'll hear from.

Before I get to that, let's have a quick trip though time...

Pittsburgh Guitars was founded on a love for the electric guitar. Here are some important moments in the history of the electric guitar:

1923: Lloyd Loar, Gibson's top acoustical engineer, builds an electric viola. He begins to work on other electric instruments, but Gibson resists, so he resigns.

1924: Musician/inventor George Beauchamp attaches a phono cartridge to a 2x4, to make an experimental test electric guitar.

1931: Beauchamp teams up with tool & die maker Adolph Rickenbacker to make the first commercially available electric guitar. Since Hawaiian music is the big style of the era, they make it a Hawaiian guitar, like this. (High action strings, played on your lap with a slide.)

1932: The Vega Company makes the world's first electric banjo.

1933: Lloyd Loar starts his own company, Vivi-Tone, and makes an electric hollow body archtop guitar.

1935: Gibson finally sees the writing on the wall (or perhaps hears the electric guitar down the hall) and introduces their first electric guitars. (Keeping with the trends, they only make solid body Hawaiian lap steels and hollow body archtops.)

1939: The Slingerland Company makes a solid body electric that at first glance looks like a lap steel, but actually has a round neck so it could be played like a regular guitar. Here is the Slingerland Songster.

1940: Les Paul attaches a pickup to a 4x4 piece of pine, and then adds the sides of his Epiphone archtop, to give it some shape. He calls it "The Log."

And that brings us to 1941...

At this point, many manufacturers were using electric guitar pickups. And they used these pickups on solid body Hawaiian guitars and hollow body archtops. Slingerland bucked the trend with their Songster, a solid body guitar that wasn't Hawaiian, but no one made a guitar that resembles what we now know as an electric solid body, like this.


But interesting things were happening in the small town of Burlington, Iowa, the home of Orbra Wallace Appleton.

Born in 1902, O. W. Appleton (or "App" as he was known) learned to play the guitar as a child. In his early 20s he worked in a furniture store, where sometime in 1923-1924 he took the tone arm off of an RCA radio-phonograph and attached it to his acoustic guitar. He was then able to amplify the guitar through the radio. App and the furniture store owner were so thrilled they stayed up all night playing the guitar. (This was similar to the experiment George Beauchamp was doing at the same time in California.)

During the 1930s, as App played in local groups (here he is playing banjo with Cliff Warner's Country Club Orchestra), he tried a variety of pickups and microphones to amplify his acoustic guitar.

In 1940 he came to the conclusion that the natural vibration of the top of his acoustic was detrimental to amplifying the sound of the strings. He reasoned that if he could stop the guitar's top and bridge from vibrating, he could get a better electric sound. He decided to build a solid body electric guitar.

By 1941 he had completed the instrument. Now, you may be wondering, why am I mentioning this? What is the significance of his design? Well.... while Les Paul was still working with this, The Log, App's guitar looked like this! Yep, back in 1941 O.W. "App" Appleton designed a guitar unlike any guitar on the market... but one that looks very familiar to us now!

App knew some folks at Gibson. In fact he bought an unfinished neck blank from them to use on his guitar. So, in 1942 he took it to Gibson, to see if they had an interest in manufacturing his model. They told him that they couldn't imagine someone playing a solid body electric guitar.

App attempted to patent his instrument, but as a musician from Small-town-ville, USA, he didn't have access to a patent attorney. He sent letters and money to folks who advertised themselves as patent attorneys in the back of Popular Mechanics Magazine, but they merely took his cash. Shortly afterward, World War II started and everyone was distracted.

Years later, in 1952, he received a letter from a friend at Gibson. The letter read, "Well, App, you see our competition (editor's note: that would be Fender) has finally forced us to come out with your solid guitar. Sure wish we had listened to you back in 1942." Included with the letter was a brochure for the new Gibson Les Paul Model. In frustration, App threw the letter out.

Today, App's story is largely forgotten. Popular culture has designated Les Paul as the inventor of the electric guitar, even though that is far from the truth. Les Paul not only didn't invent the electric guitar, he didn't even design the famous model bearing his name. And although Gibson's R&D department took credit for the design of the Les Paul Model, you have to imagine that they were influenced by a nearly identical guitar presented to them a decade earlier by O.W. "App" Appleton.

Now, why do I mention all of this? Well, in 2009 I mentioned App's story in the Email Special... and thanks to the magic of Internet Land, that story is forever floating in cyberspace.

A few weeks ago I got an unusual email from a perfect stranger. He was none other than Jamie F. Appleton, the son of O. W. "App" Appleton. App passed away in 1994 at the age of 92. His son, Jamie, is now 85 years-old. And Jamie is a very young 85! He not only found my 2009 Email Special, he wrote to give me more information. And he was kind enough to email the photos I've used in this story. And on top of all of that, he still has his dad's original guitar!! Here it is.

It has been a joy communicating with Jamie Appleton about such a significant instrument. Jamie was 15 years old when his dad built the guitar, and 26-years old when App received the letter from Gibson admitting that they used his design. And he has stored and protected the guitar since his dad's passing. I'm glad that both Jamie and the guitar are still around. And I'm thrilled to have been in touch with him!


See you soon,


PS: Here's O. W. "App" Appleton in 1926. Here's a photo from 1979... He was 77 years old, and still playing chords I can't play!

PPS: I also got an email from App's great-granddaughter. She asked if I had any idea what App's guitar was worth. I told her I don't know how you could ever put a price on a one-of-kind historic instrument like that! My guess: "Priceless!!"

PPPS: Speaking of multiple generations, one of our customers has a creative idea. He bought both of his children new Fender electric guitars made in the year of their birth. Here's his new 2011 model daughter, Anastasia, with her guitar, a 2011 Fender American Standard Telecaster. And from last year, here's his son Nicholas. Both Nicholas and the Fender American Standard Stratocaster were made in 2010.

PPPPS: Hey!!! Only one more week to enter a song in our contest. Sit down tonight and write something! (This is an Encourage-You-To-Write-A-Song Contest!) You may win a new Vox AC4TV amp! We already have some nice entries!! But there is still time. Email me your song this weekend.

PPPPPS: Mark your calendar now for the Halloween musical-comedy extravaganza, "Night Of The Singing Dead #19"

Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th
At The Rex Theater.

It's still six weeks away, so we haven't written the show yet. But I'm sure it will be spectacular! Where else will you be able to see Amy Winehouse, Elvis, and Elizabeth Taylor all on the same stage? Here are pictures from last year's show.

More news soon! Night Of The Singing Dead, #19!!

PPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Fountains Of Wayne


Friday 9/30/2011 ~ Travis Bean, Gary Kramer, and O. W. Appleton's "App 2" Guitar


Last week I mentioned musician/inventor, O.W. "App" Appleton, from Burlington, Iowa. In 1940, while the rest of the world was designing solid-body electric guitars that looked like this, or this, O.W. designed a guitar that looked like this. And, yes, that looks a lot like this, the Les Paul Model that Gibson introduced ten years later. It's a fascinating story... you can read last week's Email Special here.

After you've done that, here's an equally interesting story:

In sunny California in the early 1970s, two men met to discuss methods of increasing the sustain of an electric guitar. One of the men, Travis Bean, had an idea. He wanted to construct an instrument with a metal neck... aluminum, to be precise. The other man, Gary Kramer, had the business smarts to get the company going. In 1974, Travis Bean Guitars, Inc., was founded.

This new guitar design had many advantages. The metal neck would never warp, never need adjustments and be practically unbreakable. Additionally, just as Travis intended, it had great sustain. Here's a picture of a Travis Bean TB1000A.

The guitars immediately made waves in the electric guitar marketplace. Kramer says that at their first NAMM Show they took orders for $75,000 worth of guitars. Unfortunately, just as sales increased, so did unhappiness back at headquarters.

Kramer claims that as he traveled around the country taking orders, Bean spent too much time playing drums and not enough time making guitars. Kramer was also unhappy to find that Bean registered the patent for his aluminum neck guitar under his own name, Travis Bean, rather than the name of their company, Travis Bean Guitars, Inc.

In late 1975 Gary Kramer quit.

But he also had a plan. As Travis Bean's man-on-the-street, Kramer knew that the guitar buying public was intrigued by the metal neck concept, but many people didn't like the cold feel of the bare metal. Additionally, the all-metal neck was just plain heavy. Less than a year after leaving Travis Bean, Kramer moved to the East Coast, partnered with three other guys and formed Kramer Guitars. By November 1976 Kramer was ready with his new instruments, the 450G guitar and 450B bass. Many more models would follow. Just like the Travis Bean line, Kramer's guitars featured attractive natural wood bodies with aluminum necks. And great sustain.

But a few changes were made. Kramer was able to skirt any patent infringement issues and make the guitar more marketable by putting wood inserts in the back of the neck. This both reduced the weight and gave the neck a more natural feel. Kramer also slightly changed the headstock. The original Travis Bean guitars were made with a solid headstock, with a cut out "T" (for Travis!) Kramer removed the top bar and his headstocks have an open slot, looking almost like a tuning fork. Here's a picture of a guitar we have for sale at Pittsburgh Guitars, a Kramer DMZ3000.

So.... you're probably saying to yourself, "Well, I always wondered why in 1976 there were two guitars on the market with aluminum necks! Now I know that Gary Kramer had a hand in both!"

But... you're probably not saying to yourself, "I wonder how this relates to O.W. Appleton?"

And that would be understandable, because until now... Friday, September 30, 2011, no one would have made such a connection.

Let's briefly step back to last week...

I mentioned that I have been in contact with Jamie Appleton, the 85-year-old son of the late O.W. Jamie has been kind enough to send me pictures of O.W.'s 1941 solid body electric, as well as the photos I used in last week's Email Special.

This week Jamie sent me an mp3 that he dubbed from a cassette. (Yes, Jamie is a very young 85-year-old!). It's a recording of his dad playing an instrumental tune. I was amazed at the sustain he had on the guitar, and I wrote back to ask if that was the 1941 guitar shown in the pictures. Jamie responded that, no, it was a second guitar that his father made in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Then he added that this second guitar had "two pickups and an aluminum neck." To which I said, "Wha...wha.... what????" OK, I didn't really write that in the email, but that is what was going on in my head! I could hardly wait to see pictures of this second APP guitar. And here they are! The front (that appears to be a metal thumb-pick stuck to the neck pickup)... and the back.

Jamie was not aware of the aluminum-necked Travis Bean and Kramer guitars. And he's not exactly sure what year his dad built this instrument. But even if it was as late as 1954, that's still 20 years ahead of the Travis Bean guitars!!

Just as Bean and Kramer sought to increase sustain, O. W. Appleton achieved it decades earlier. Here's a recording of the guitar I have labeled "APP 2."

Yep... just when I think I know a lot about a topic, something comes along and surprises me! And now you are in the loop. The O.W. "App" Appleton-Appreciation loop!


See you soon,


PS: Travis Bean got close to the sustain he was seeking, but he wasn't able to resolve the weight issue with his guitars. "App" Appleton accepted the fact that his new metal neck guitar was going to be heavy, so he also designed a stand to hold the guitar. The top of the stand had wing-bolts that screwed into the back of the guitar. Here's a closer look at the back. You can see where the wing-bolts screwed in.

PPS: Jamie Appleton said that the base of stand that O.W. built to hold his guitar contained a volume pedal and three rotary switches which "provided a wide range of tones by using resonant, hi-pass and lo-pass filters." The world's first pedal board....

PPPS: Not only did App Appleton anticipate the design of the Les Paul a decade before Gibson did, and not only did his second guitar use a metal neck for sustain two decades before Travis Bean, and not only did he have a pedal board built into the guitar's stand, this second guitar was also stereo! Each pickup had its own output jack, and two cables ran to the pedalboard and then to separate amps. And this was in the early 1950s! For comparison: Gretsch introduced a stereo guitar in 1958. Gibson's first stereo guitar was the 1959 ES-355. Rickenbacker first used their stereo "Rick-O-Sound" feature in 1960.

PPPPS: Getting back to Gary Kramer... shortly after the first NAMM show featuring his namesake guitar, he decided that he missed California. He accepted a buy-out offer from his partners, and once again he left a company that he helped found in a little over a year.

PPPPPS: By the late 1970s, Eddie Van Halen and the newly introduced Floyd Rose vibrato system steered the marketplace away from sustain, and into the world of speed playing. The Travis Bean company stumbled along until mid-1979. And Kramer Guitars decided in 1981 to phase out the metal necks in favor of the Focus, the Baretta, the Striker, and other wood-necked, locking-nut, Floyd Rose-vibratoed guitars.

PPPPPPS: Tickets are now available for Halloween musical-comedy extravaganza, "Night Of The Singing Dead #19"

Tickets can be purchased here at Pittsburgh Guitars, or online at:!

Friday, October 28th and Saturday, October 29th
At The Rex Theater.
Night Of The Singing Dead, #19!!


PPPPPPPS: Whew... sorry it took so long to get to here.... Yes! We have a winner in our songwriting contest!! But I hate to put that all the way down here in a PPPPPPPS... Oh, wait, I know! We'll announce it the same way they announce things on reality TV shows... I'll say, "And the winner is..." and we'll cut away to a commercial! And the winner is....

PPPPPPPPS: ... we'll be back next week with the answer!

PPPPPPPPS: (By the way, thanks to everyone who entered!! We've received some great songs!)

PPPPPPPPPS: Customer of the week: Jackson Browne




Carl's Guitar Corner Archives

Copyright © Pittsburgh Guitars