Pittsburgh Guitars

 Pittsburgh Guitars history

 books From Paul McCartney to the Stone Temple Pilots to Saturday Night Live... instruments from Pittsburgh Guitars have appeared on stages and TVs around the world. More importantly though, Pittsburgh Guitars has supplied quality new and used gear to four generations of Pittsburgh musicians. "I used to feel pretty old when I heard it," says Carl, "but it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling when someone said 'I bought my first guitar from you!' I like the fact that in some way I helped bring music into someone's life. After all, music helps you celebrate life and that's a good thing! But when I started hearing: 'My dad bought his first guitar from you!' ...then I began to really feel old!"

 It all started long ago... 

Actually, it started in June 1973, when Carl paid $175 for a white 1972 Telecaster. Carl, Paul, and Ray DaviesThough he didn't play, he was, and still is, an avid Kinks fan, and at the time that was the model Ray Davies was using. Six months later Carl found a 1968 ES-335 that the voices in his head told him to buy ($250). At this point in his life he didn't realize that you should own as many guitars as possible, so he sold the Tele...for $185! He wishes he had that one back.

In July of 1976 Carl was in New York City with his friend, and Paul-McCartney-look-alike, Mitch Weissman, when they saw an ad for Beatle look-alikes. By now Carl owned a couple of Vox Super Beatles and a Hofner Bass, so he drove home to Pittsburgh, grabbed the Hofner and lent it to Mitch. Mitch auditioned, and got the role he was born to play, Paul McCartney in the Broadway show "Beatlemania!" (Carl considered auditioning for Ringo, but in addition to being two feet taller than Ringo, Carl was unfortunately born without any singing talent... whatsoever... and I mean it... none.) But as the show was coming together Carl asked if they'd like to buy his Vox Amps. The producers not only wanted those, they said they'd buy all of the Beatle-related guitars, amps, and drums he could find. For the next year Carl was a regular sight backstage at The Wintergarden Theatre, delivering guitars that he now wishes he had back. (But, hey, it was a different era, there weren't any "vintage" guitars then. And even "Beatle" guitars were plentiful if you knew what you were looking for...)

 1977-78 Buckel Musical Enterprises
As Carl bought more and more guitars in 1976-77, he would often have them set-up and re-strung by Pittsburgh's only guitar repairman, Tom Buckel. Tom at that time only had a repair shop. Carl was impressed with the store "We Buy Guitars" on 48th Street in Manhattan, and he approached Tom with the idea of a retail shop specializing in used guitars. In late-1977 Buckel Musical Enterprises opened at 955 Liberty Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, with Carl running the retail half and Tom running the repair shop.

carl on liberty ave.In late 1978, after a year of selling guitars that he now wishes he had back, Carl told Tom that they had actually made a profit, and he suggested an actual business partnership. Tom suggested that Carl work for him. Carl left.old store in Bloomfield

Carl asked the two main stores in town, Piano's & Stuff and Hollowood Music, if they were interested in a "Used Guitars" department. They weren't.

So, with a borrowed $5,000 and a handful of guitars, Pittsburgh Guitars opened in May 1979 at 4806 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield.

 1979-85 Part 1
With a make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach, Carl knocked down walls, carl in old storebuilt walls, put up 2X4s, suspended guitars from leather boot laces, learned about sales tax, withholding tax, and estimated tax, and met hundreds of great people, many of whom are friends to this day.

Carl: "I remember a guy from a shop down the street came in one day and said: 'A store that sells only guitars? Seriously, what's this a front for?' "

John MoranIn 1981, with the addition of the first employee, John Moran, Pittsburgh Guitars grew into almost an actual business--at least the kind of business where folks were welcome to come in, hang out, and talk about music. "John could actually play the guitar," Carl notes. "And with all the fun we were having in those days, it was helpful to have two people holding down the fort!"

"Store hours were shorter then," says Carl. "In 1978 I had formed The Flashcats, and we were gigging constantly. Actually, I think the money from the band kept the store afloat those first few years."

Hundreds of gigs with The Flashcats kept Carl in touch with what kind of equipment functioned best out in real life.

"We've never tried to carry everything at Pittsburgh Guitars. It's always been very subjective. If I liked something, if it worked on stage, we'd carry it. If I didn't like it, we wouldn't."

The early days were tons of fun. (The current days are, too, but there's a lot more paperwork.) Carl lived in an apartment above the store. He could work with The Flashcats until 3 or 4 AM, sleep until 10 AM, roll out of bed and down the stairs to open the store at 11, work until 6 PM, leave for the gig at 7, and be back home by 3 or 4 in the morning.

The history of the store wouldn't be complete without mentioning the other business that Carl started right around this time. Bogus Records started out with a bang with Made In Pittsburgh, Vol.1, a compilation of Pittsburgh bands. Showcasing original tunes in styles ranging from country to new wave, this record helped call national attention to Pittsburgh's thriving musical community. Instrumental in the early success of Bogus Records was Jim Spitznagel, owner of Jim's Records, located right down the street from Pittsburgh Guitars. Like Carl, Jim was a young entrepreneur, running a highly successful record shop while playing in a band, Eddie & The Otters. Lots of other folks contributed to the success of Bogus, from graphic artists like Rob Smiley and Greg Matecko to the World's Greatest Recording Engineer, Lee Hollihan. Check out the Bogus Records page for more info. Meanwhile, Carl discovered that the record label and the guitar business made good partners. After all, guitars need musicians to play them!

One day in 1983, Scott R. Johnson from Kane, PA walked in, and said he did guitar repairs. Carl thought Scott seemed trustworthy, so he gave him a few guitars. (Besides, Carl thought Scott was really funny, and that's always a good sign....) Scott brought all of the guitars back, fixed, and he's been doing the repairs for Pittsburgh Guitars for 20-some years now.

Bull Moose Jackson!The store was now a hub of activity. Not only was the guitar business growing, but friends and fans of The Flashcats and Bogus became regular visitors. Dave HannerAnd there was always something exciting in the works, like "Moosemania," for example. In 1983 Carl discovered that 1940s R&B legend Bull Moose Jackson was working in the cafeteria at Howard University. Recorded with The Flashcats, and released on Bogus Records, Bull Moose's LP Moosemania! revived his career and brought him a whole new generation of fans. We had a lot of fun in those days. "Good times" has always been the philosophy of Pittsburgh Guitars, and the good times were plentiful!

By early 1986, every square inch of 4806 Liberty Avenue was filled...

 1985-now, part 2
In June 1986 Pittsburgh Guitars moved to an area called The South Side. At the time, it was primarily bars, antique shops, and boarded up buildings. But it had lots of potential.

The new store was huge compared to the old one. The new landlord was alive compared to the old one.

carl and markJohn Moran left shortly before the move to the South Side, and was hired by Hollowood's in McKees Rocks to develop a used department. Carl hired a variety of temporary employees, until he discovered the one and only Mark Cholewski in September 1987. With Mark's help the store grew every year.mark w/ baby

In the late 1980s the vintage market took off, and out-of-town vintage shows multiplied exponentially. Pittsburgh Guitars became not only a cool place to hang out, but also a place where you could count on seeing some unusual (or just plain weird) vintage guitar or amp, either on it's way to a show or on it's way back from one.

In the early 1990s, some new guitar lines were added to fill certain gaps in the type of inventory. stidle out front (For example, it's hard to find enough quality used acoustics.) Some of the new lines can be mentioned over the internet, like Rickenbacker. Some of them can't, like @#%&*.

After 5 years of hard work getting the new location started, in 1990, Carl (intrigued by the new compact disc format) again got busy with Bogus Records. CDs by The Frampton Brothers, The Spuds, and a Sonny Bono Tribute Disc, Bonograph...Sonny Gets His Share once again pushed Bogus into the national spotlight.

 

 

south side summer street spectacularMeanwhile, as Pittsburgh Guitars drew more and more kids into the neighborhood, the South Side flourished as well as the store. The Beehive coffeeshop, Slacker, Groovy, and other great shops opened all around the guitar store. The South Side is now the coolest, hippest business community in Pennsylvania.


 from our view

 later that night

 In 1997 Bob joined the Pittsburgh Guitars staff. Bob took lessons at the mark & a young bobstore for several years, starting when he was 13, John, a.k.a. The New Guyand when he came back as an adult (well, almost), he fit right in. 

 

Bob has since moved on, and while he visits us from time to time, John (a.k.a. The New Guy) was hired in 2002.Sam!

 

 

The most recent addition to the staff is Sam. John will always be "The New Guy" but Sam's been a big help, and he's really enthusiastic about all kinds of instruments.

 

And you'll see Rick filling in at the store from time to time, too. He even works when he's not working!

John Purse is our main guitar teacher. John taught here many years ago, and he was one of our most successful teachers. Now he's back, spreading the music. We're thrilled to have him as our instructor. He's an original!

Our teaching staff also includes Rich Dugan. He's a great teacher, great musician, and a great guy, too!


 the next millennium
On December 1, 2006, we officially opened in our new location at 1305 East Carson Street, one block down the street from the old store. With the new building we have lots more room; more showroom space, more storage, more lesson rooms, even a bigger repair shop! It's a great change, and we're all very happy in our new home. And we celebrated our 31st Anniversary in 2010!

It's actually kind of hard to believe. There's never been a sales meeting. There's never been a business plan. There's never been a marketing strategy. This store has existed, and survived, solely on the love of guitars and music.

Says Carl, "Once in a while, when I get too enthusiastic about a guitar, someone will say, 'Wow, you're such a good salesman!' The truth is, I'd make a lousy salesman. Mark, Scott, John, Betsy, Sam and I sell guitars because we're extremely happy that they are part of our lives. We like to look at them, we like to touch them, we like to talk about them. That's pretty much the Pittsburgh Guitars sales philosophy: We like to hang around guitars."

 

the next millennium
In November, 2011, Carl sold the store to long-time employee John (a.k.a. The New Guy!). John's got lots of great ideas and plans to move forward with Pittsburgh Guitars, while upholding the great reputation it has built in the last 33 years. "I bought my first guitar here 33 years ago," he said. "We want to provide instruments to future generations of musicians for the next 33 years!"

Here is a link to the new Pittsburgh Guitars site!


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 John Entwhistle jams at the storejohn entwhistle

   Mayor Maggie Mayor Maggie visits

skeletons
Windows we have known

 
Zack Starkey

 

Ringo's son Zack
signs a drum head
 

 John Moran

 Nobody said we were sane! 
 mark



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