Signature Moves: Artist Series Guitars & Amplifiers
Most guitarists of all ages and ability levels draw inspiration from artists who’ve found success as professional axemen. It’s not surprising, then, that suppliers have found instruments and related gear tied to specific guitar heroes to be both strong sellers and effective tools for advancing a given brand’s profile.
“Who better to tell you what works than the guitarists who are in the studio or playing in front of 200,000 people at a time,” notes Justin Norvell of Fender, a major player in the field of signature guitars. It’s a point well-taken: in addition to targeting fans of individual high-profile guitarists, having product officially endorsed by – and often designed in close association with – successful musicians lends credence to the line.
MMR recently spoke to a number of significant makers of artist and signature series guitars and amplifiers to get a feel for those products’ place in the overall market, the appeal to both retailers and customers, and the future of these specialty instruments.
Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
Director of Marketing
Fender Images courtesy of Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
For us, the reasons for releasing signature series instruments are several. Bear in mind, Fender started out on a platform of putting our instruments into the hands of key artists and making adjustments based on their feedback, so we’ve always sort of been involved in this market. Who better to tell you what works than the guitarists who are in the studio or playing in front of 200,000 people at a time? Also, just in general, for many, the reason you start playing is because you look up to an artist.
A lot of times, artists have interesting versions of our instruments and it’s cool to make those available to the public. There are always new combinations of specs because our instruments are so modular. It’s one of the pieces of the recipe to unlocking someone’s tone, whether that is Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan. So there’s sort of an emotional, ethereal connection, but there’s also a very realistic approach to wanting to take advantage of what works for successful guitarists.
The instruments, when they’re ‘just instruments,’ in a line, on a wall, on a Web site or in a retail display, are just products. When you align them with a musician and a body of work, you bridge that gap and make that connection to the music and they go from being SKUs into being that artistic, interactive tool. It’s everything about Fender, everything the company was founded upon.
Artist models happen for various reasons: Fender instruments have a very wide appeal – from country to punk to blues to funk to rock – and any given artist’s guitar is a way to show customers that a particular type of music could and should be played on our instruments; sometimes, it’s because the product that the artist has come up with is so cool as far as what they’re specs are; sometimes it’s because the artist is extremely popular; sometimes it’s an underserved genre. So we have a myriad of reasons behind why we’d do certain artist models.
Signature Series Product development Engineer
When Marshall works with an artist on a signature series product, it’s typically someone with whom we’ve had a relationship with for many years, and it’s our way of acknowledging their use of our products and as a thank you to them and their fans. Since we enjoy a position of being a well-established company, we don’t enter into an agreement because we need artists to help us break into the market; it’s more because we’d like to bring to market an honorary product that recognizes our relationship with the artist.
We’ve also recognized that the value of a signature series product differs from customer to customer. For example, our high value Hendrix or Lemmy amplifier products are not something the general public will make use of in a corner pub! They’re generally of interest to serious collectors, extreme fans, or pros themselves. Conversely, some of our other products are more for the general musician buying community, and so with those products, we’ve put into practice what we’ve learned from the artists, and the result is a product that can be enjoyed by everyone. Not all of our signature series products are designed to be used on the big stage–some of the artists use them for practice themselves, and so we’ve offered all levels of signature products–from pro to beginner to backstage warm-up type products.
Because of the limited number of amps we produce and the limited number of artist signature models we’ve made over the years, a dealer may end up being one of only a handful in a large area where the products can be purchased. It helps them become a “go to” store for players and collectors.
An additional benefit for the retailer in stocking signature series products is that sometimes these products can help Marshall and the retailer get closer to their fans through in-store appearances and clinics, which tend to directly or indirectly influence sell through at the store level.
In the past, Marshall has worked with Slash, Zakk Wylde, Kerry King, Lemmy from Motorhead, and the estates of Randy Rhoads and Jimi Hendrix. Although we’re extremely selective of the artists we create signature series lines with, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities that provide a good value to our customers, the artist, and our organization.
Peavey Electronics Corp.
Founder & CEO
Signature products are important, not only because they raise a manufacturer’s brand awareness, but also because they show loyalty between a brand and its artists that will hopefully influence consumers. Quite frankly, one of the benefits of pursuing signature products is the challenge of creating a timeless piece of gear that pushes the boundaries of convention. I’ve always maintained that in order to be better, by definition you must be different. That is what we try to do with every product. Having a reputable artist provide their input into that process can be very helpful and rewarding for the manufacturer, artist, retailer and ultimately the consumer.
We work extensively with our artists to create models that appeal to their individual needs, but for the success of the project it’s essential to consider how other musicians will relate to the product. A great example is the JSX Series, which is designed with Joe Satriani. Joe is a true player’s player who understands the need for versatility and utility. The original JSX Head is a 3-channel amplifier with special switches and tone tools that are there to provide the widest sonic palette possible. We designed the new JSX 50 to give players a definitive 50-watt head, with plenty of tone options to satisfy working players’ needs – something the original 50-watt amps of the ’60s could never do. When retailers buy a Peavey signature artist model, they’re buying much more than the artist’s brand; they get a very salable product that stands on its own. Just look at how well the 6505 Series amps have done in recent years for proof of that.
Our key artists are Joe Satriani, Rudy Sarzo, Machine Head, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine, Nickelback, Slipknot, DragonForce and Black Stone Cherry. We have a new signature Cirrus bass guitar with Rudy Sarzo that celebrates two major milestones: the Cirrus bass’s 10th anniversary and Sarzo’s 25th anniversary playing Peavey gear.
VP Business Development
Their loyal following are desirous of an exact copy of what the artist is playing so we offer that guitar as a signature series under the artist’s name. It works well for us and helps give exposure to the artist. Everyone wins. Due to the loyal following we see an increasing demand for artist series guitars.
Tim Stafford is our first signature model. However, we have done special projects with Arlo Guthrie, Red, Barlow Girl, and Building 429. We do have other projects going on but they are a secret at the moment!
Hoshino USA, Inc.
Well, if I had to answer the question, “What have signature guitars done for me lately,” the simple answer for Ibanez is that they helped put us on the map and kept us on the map, when we were starting to slide off.
The endorsement of Ibanez by George Benson and the resulting GB10 signature jazz guitar in 1977-78 helped put Ibanez on the map as an innovative guitar maker in its own right, rather than simply a maker of derivative, high quality affordable guitars.
The endorsement of Ibanez by Steve Vai, and the resulting JEM signature solid-body models ten years later helped bring about the “Rebirth of Ibanez,” which resulted a new perception of Ibanez as a prestige guitar maker and turned around our sales during turbulent economic times and trends that were, for Ibanez, about as much fun as the times are right now for everybody.
Building signature models not only strengthens the association of a guitar company with highly visible and respected artists (thereby also conferring a hipness factor), many artist ideas from signature models are later implemented in Ibanez standard models. So it’s also a significant part of our R&D.
The reason a retailer would wish to stock a signature model is not terribly different than why a guitar maker wishes to supply them: Signature models draw attention to the store as well as to other non-signature models, in addition to the sales of the signature instruments themselves, which are nearly always in the upper price points (although sometimes in the very upper mid-price points).
While I’m not a liberty to give the exact percentages of Ibanez signatures vis a vis non-signature models, it is a very significant percentage.
Whom do we work with most successfully? Well, in jazz: George Benson, Pat Metheny and John Scofield all have current signature models. In rock, we’ve currently got signature models with Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Andy Timmons, Matt Bachand (Shadows Fall), Herman Li and Sam Totman (DragonForce), Noodles (The Offspring) Munky (KORN), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta), and Mick Thomson (Slipknot). In addition to regular signature models, we’ve also had limited edition signature models for George Benson, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Bob Weir (a handcrafted reissue of his old Grateful Dead axe.) For the 20th Anniversary of his signature model, Paul Gilbert had two limited edition axes, a PGM20TH and a Fireman, on display at the 2009 Winter NAMM Show.
At VOX, there is a constant balance to recognize the historical significance of the brand while seeking to push our technologies and tones toward the future. VOX artists have played such a significant role in the brand’s identity through the years that partnering with them to create better products only solidifies our place in history. The Artists are the champions of the brand and the voice and sound that the public associates with VOX. We also strive to make our products unique. And while “unique” is a term that’s sometimes a bit of a cliché among manufacturers, in the case of an exclusive artist product line, the product is inherently unique.
We strive to work with artists that will bring more than simply their name to the table. Because they are on the frontlines of the music industry, on the biggest stages, and in the best studios, their ideas make for strong products.
There is often a built-in fan base that aspires to sound like the artist they favor and seeks to acquire the products that will help them achieve that sound. The ideal situation is an artist whose work stands to represent particular tones, quality of sound, and an innovative approach to music.
Bringing not only the fans, but also all players, closer to the sounds they hear on the radio is an important part of what we do. I think every musician wants to play the gear that their heroes have held before them. It’s what makes guitar and gear collecting so much fun.
Our artist products have always been built to suit the fan base first. But often the products exceed those expectations and are accepted by a much larger audience. We do make a conscious effort to consider fans and non-fans alike in our development of artist products so that any player can find value and usefulness in the end result. Artists have exceptional ears and most have very creative ideas. Such ideas have contributed to some of our top-selling products.
VOX has always had a wonderful relationship with Brian May who is known for his unique guitar tones. Brian has helped us design several products in the past.
We have a great relationship with Joe Satriani, who has essentially become a part of our design team continually testing and tweaking designs for his signature line of VOX/JS Pedals. We released Joe’s Signature Big Bad Wah and Time Machine delay at Winter NAMM ’09 and his Satchurator distortion pedal is already one of the best-selling distortion pedals in the country.
The Music Link
If your signature series is based around a big artist, you have a niche product for folks who closely follow that artist or are interested in the artist’s playing style. Also having a Signature model helps to differentiate your product from other instruments; they are likely more easily identifiable due to their association with the artist. It adds value to the products for the customers who are interested in the artist. What you don’t want to do, however, is just put an artist’s name on a product and hope that it sells – you only want to put an artist’s name on a product if consumers can expect the same level of quality from the instrument that they associate with the artist. That’s why we worked so long and so carefully with Sonny Osborne for the Recording King Scout Signature model – to come to market with a product that both Sonny and The Music Link could feel confident and excited about. Depending on the level of the artist, a signature model can add some serious validity and credibility to your product. Having a Signature model as a part of your product line offers some interesting benefits as well as some unique challenges, but if you maintain the artist’s standard with the quality of your product, Signature series instruments can have great sell-through.
Sparrow Guitars has not introduced a signature series as we have focused on developing our core guitar line. As Sparrow’s line begins to enter the mature stage of our product life cycle we will certainly introduce a Signature Series to differentiate our models. As well, we are continuing to develop our endorsee roster and over time will work with our artists to develop their guitars. Sparrow’s artists are at the core of our business, but as it is we’re satisfied with them taking our core line of guitars on the road and into the studio.
Director of Artist Relations and Publicity
What’s the appeal from a supplier’s point of view? Why bother with signature series products? It has always been a no-brainer for me. You collaborate with a well-known guitarist that exemplifies your brand. You gain the benefit of the artist’s first hand knowledge of the product. You make a model that will hopefully satisfy the artist enough to be seen in high-visibility performances. You make the model available in the marketplace bringing a special product to fans, collectors and other artists. You reap significant publicity from the media, and last (in Martin’s case), you typically donate a contribution from the sale of each guitar to the charity of the artist’s choosing. Where is the downside?
The retailers will only agree to stock what they feel they can sell in their market. It is true that a Nashville bluegrass artist guitar might not have marketability in Switzerland, and a French fingerstyle instrumentalist might not do well in Memphis. It is also true that many dealers might not participate in the sale of artist models, but wouldn’t that make it potentially more viable for the ones that do? In addition to artist signature models, Martin also produces many non-artist related limited and special editions. These are lumped together and usually represent about 15 percent of our total annual business. If you just take a look at artist models, it’s about 10 percent.
We don’t like to tip or hat about new projects in the pipeline until actual introduction, but we’ve had great collaborations with Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Marty Stuart, Steve Miller, George Martin, Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, Trey Anastasio, Andy Griffith, Robbie Robertson, George Jones, Nancy Wilson, Roger McGuinn, Shawn Colvin, Peter Frampton, Andy Summers, Gene Autry, Norman Blake, Ian Anderson, Merle Haggard, Sting, The Kingston Trio, Laurence Juber, Judy Collins, Travis Tritt, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Estate of Elvis Presley, plus many, many more, totaling more that 150 projects since 1994.
Paul Reed Smith
Founder & Managing General Pertner
It is very common that an artist in the music business plays a very specific type of instrument which is desired by a significant number of customers in the market. Specifically we received hundreds of phone calls asking for “Can I get a guitar like Carlos plays?” and “Can I get a guitar like David Grissom plays?” These endorser instruments are a very important part of our business.
Some of our high profile artist collaborations have been with the likes of Carlos Santana, Mark Tremonti, Paul Allender, David Grissom, Johnny Hiland, Dave Navarro, Al Di Meola, Chris Henderson, Mike Mushok, and Gary Grainger. There are lots of new partnerships on the horizon but none that we can discuss at the moment.
Saga Musical Instruments
From a manufacturer/supplier standpoint, we look at the relationships that we form with artists as being an integral and valuable part of our business. The idea being that by combining our individual strengths (manufacturer/musician), the outcome will be a win-win or more synergistic involvement that will draw attention to the artist, their career, and our products in favorable ways. In addition, it is through the vigorous road testing and constant playing of our products in real world situations, that our luthiers and engineers are provided with valuable feedback as to how our products perform and how to make them even better.
Saga develops signature series instruments and the associated relationships with some of the music industries hottest players because in doing so, we have the opportunity to educate interested musicians about particular styles of music, the instruments used, and how our products would be the perfect choice. At the same time, we realize that the message of quality and value will be more easily and readily heard when it is delivered by a notable player who really stands behind the products we develop together.
Our belief is that, because we are forming relationships with some of music’s hottest players in varying genres, most who could have any instrument that they want, yet choose to work with us, lends credibility to our overall objective and message as a company. The level of product “quality and value” credibility that is achieved through this manufacturer/artist relationship has proven to be an effective tool at encouraging end-user traffic and interested buyers to visit qualified retail dealerships. In effect, the relationship that we as manufacturers have with popular artists promoting specific brands or products is a powerful selling tool that can be marketed favorably at the retail level.
Our signature products have been extremely successful and have encouraged the sale of all related instruments across the board. One of the great benefits of our signature products is that they are typically priced within the reach of the average player, making the option to own a more traditional model or a signature model equally possible. Most often the decision comes down to which specification the end-user is most interested in, because signature guitars are designed to the specific players’ specifications.
Our Signature/Artist models of Gitane Gypsy Jazz Guitars include: John Jorgenson; Dorado Schmitt; Stephane Wrembel; Lulo Reinhardt; Kevin Nolan; Jan Akkerman; Wolf Marshall; Adrian Vandenberg; Peter Frampton; Vince Gill. We have Blueridge Acoustic Artist models with: George Hamilton IV and V; Ralph Stanly II; Larry Sparks; Melvin Goins; Junior Blankenship; Tomas Donker; James King; Randy Waller; Charlie Sizemore; Earl Slick; Jimmy Capps; and Moondi Klein. We also have a number of Artist models of Kentucky Mandolins, Gold Star Banjos, Regal Dobros, and Cremona Bowed Instruments.
Dorado Schmitt is the most recent Gitane endorser, while John Jorgenson is perhaps our best known, with three signature model Gitane Guitars. The Larry Sparks Guitar is the most recent Blueridge signature model.
The Godin Guitar Company
The appeal of artist models is more from a musical point of view. It’s about capturing the tone and feel of what can allow the artist to shine through. It’s a tribute to the artist. Fortunately for Godin, many of the artists who use our instruments, John McLaughlin, Steve Stevens, Lionel Loueke, Daryl Stuermer to name a few, liked what they saw and heard to begin with so they use stock Godin guitars.
There are customers who I suppose are ultimate fans of a particular artist who may want to play exactly what the artist plays. Or what they think the artist plays. Maybe retailers feel it can draw attention to the brand and have somewhat of a hallo effect on the whole line. I do believe most artist signature models are totally over priced.
We just do one artist model and that’s the Seagull Peppino D’Agostino artist model. It is a very unique instrument with an extra wide neck that appeals to finger style players. As far as percentage of sales goes, obviously this guitar appeals to finger style guitarists who prefer the extra wide neck, and that’s a small percentage.
We work with artists such as Daryl Stuermer (Genesis) who truly enjoys his LGXT. He has also given us input on our new Godin Passion Series RG3 guitars which he will be using on his next tour. John McLaughlin also uses a stock Freeway SA, and although he was considering doing a special Godin John McLaughlin model with us he finally said, “You know what, I like my Godin just the way it is.” That was a compliment. Although Steve Stevens uses stock Godin ACS and LGXT guitars, we are looking at doing somewhat of a more aggressive version of an LGXT for him. We also have a new Multiac Ambiance that artists such as Lionel Loueke, Peppino D’Agostino, and Benjamin Woods are using.
Here at Takamine we have a huge roster of legendary endorsers and we have only done five signature models. In every case it was the artist who approached us with a specific idea that they wanted made into a guitar for themselves. During the design process the projects just evolved naturally to the point that we and the artist decided to go ahead and make it a signature model. We get excited about taking the signature route because it gives us an opportunity to link the artist to our brand and offer players the opportunity to own an instrument that was pretty much configured by their favorite musicians. The artist gets excited about that as well.
When it comes to the retail side of the market, savvy dealers get behind signature models due to the fact that the best salesman they can possibly have in their store is a multi-platinum selling artist. What better third party verification as to the value of an instrument than The Eagles or Kenny Chesney.
At Takamine our artist model sales numbers may not look impressive next to our mainstream lines like the Natural Series, but we would surely miss them if they were not there. They tend to be up-market price points and add significantly to our sales and marketing efforts. And sales of these models are cyclical as well. Garth Brooks is in semi-retirement mode, but periodically he will do a TV special of appear on the Grammy’s, and when that happens the activity on the GB7C Garth Brooks signature model goes off the charts. It’s fun to watch.
Our Takamine Signature artists are pretty much all legendary performers. Our first signature model guitar was the Steve Wariner model. Steve is one of the most influential guitarists in Nashville and played a very large part in making Takamine a dominant brand in the country market. John Jorgenson, a player that we all just love around here was the next guy we did a signature series with. Then Garth Brooks came to us with the unique guitar shaped soundhole design and we create a model with that design. It has been hugely successful.
Recently we worked with Kenny Chesney and came out with the KC70 guitar based on his themes of guitars, tiki bars, and a whole lotta love. We had a blast putting that one together. Our latest release grew out of our decades long relationship with Glen Frey. He was getting nervous touring with his favorite old Takamine he calls his number one which he has recorded and toured with since 1991. He asked if we could reproduce it down to the exact neck profile which we were very happy to do. So now Eagles fans can own a reproduction of the guitar that helped write classic rock history.
We are associating our products with a few of the unsung heroes, like Pete Shelley and the Buzzcocks, more as a tribute and salute to those bands / guitarists that we feel have contributed to the indie music scene–unknown to most in the mainstream–but significant, none the less.
Artist series instruments & products serve as a flagship to the brand, something of interest to like-minded consumers of our brand. It is a very small part of our business and will continue to be. We only want to do signature guitars when we find another unsung hero that we want to raise a flag to.
Some of the artists we worked with in the past include Bill Nelson, Colin Newman, Robyn Hitchcock, Earl Slick, Chris Spedding, Buddy Miller, Mick Karn, Julian Cope and perhaps most important, Bubbles from The Trailer Park Boys.
Head of Marketing and Artist Relations
Suppliers love companies that have high-profile endorsers. For many companies, it’s the artist-driven marketing that creates a demand for a certain product or just a demand for a certain brand name. Signature series products can not only empower your artists as salesmen, but often results in very cool and unique ideas for musical instruments. It’s these products that have the potential to bring in additional revenue and in some companies can carry a whole company. These artists and signature lines help open doors for US Music Corp. all over the world to new customers and help sustain a brand name and image. It’s the cool factor. Lots of young players who worship their favorite guitar players are most likely to purchase brands that their heroes play. When I was a kid, my all-time favorite player was Slash. Guess what guitar I begged my father for? A Les Paul. I wouldn’t even consider anything else. That’s powerful. The same theory applies today. Artist relations have been my most effective marketing tool.
A great signature product is always in demand. Stocking these items creates foot traffic. People want to see it, play it. All retailers know foot traffic is good. That leads to another major reason retailers love signature products. Clinics and meet-and-greet sessions can draw anywhere from 50 to 500 people depending on the level of the artist. The cool factor again. The retailers that have the artists that people want to meet and see in their stores are automatically deemed the cool place to shop for gear. It’s a great synergy between the retailer the manufacturer and the artist. When all three click, it’s a recipe for success.
Depending on the level of artist, sales of certain products and signature lines can generate millions of dollars over a contracted period. In our case, the Kirk Hammett Signature Series line for Randall Amps and the Nuno Bettencourt Signature Series for Washburn Guitars are both significant sales figures. Can an artist carry an entire company? In some cases, I believe so. Eddie Van Halen has his own EVH brand and the great, late Dimebag Darrell has a similar cache. These are rare occasions.
I have had the fortune to be involved in multiple successful signature products in my short career. When owning my own company, I had the amazing opportunity to work with Dimebag Darrell on his signature line of amplifiers. That product was responsible for 50 percent of our sales that first year. Here at Randall, the Kirk Hammett Signature Series product along with our signature Valve-Dynamic line including Mike Amott of Arch Enemy, Christian Olde Wolbers of Fear Factory, and Gus G from the Greek band, Firewind have all been a huge success. Randall had its most significant growth in sales in years. The long awaited Adrian Belew Signature Guitar from Parker Guitars, launched at winter NAMM 2009, has generated enormous interest in the brand. Washburn guitar projects that stand out would be the new Stu Hamm Signature Acoustic Basses and the James Malone Signature Heavy Metal V. Both of these products introduced at winter NAMM were great attractions for new customers. We have a lot of great things yet to come. I look forward to developing the new Scott Ian line of guitars with him as well as new guitars from Greg Tribbett of Mudvayne and Dan Donegan of Disturbed, as well as the legendary Nuno Bettencourt.
There’s signature series guitars and amps with a rock star’s name on it, but why not “Fall Out Boy’s Guitar Strings” or “the John Mayer Capo?” While guitar-related accessory and pedal makers have genuinely embraced artist who are fans of their products and included them in their marketing plan, they have mostly held off on putting names on specific products.
But perhaps that’s changing…
“Yes,” answered Taurino Quezada of Real de los Reyes to the question of artist signature series products. “In fact Real de los Reys is going to release a new string exclusive for the most famous Mexican cumbia group, ‘Los Angeles Azules.’”
“Sure, we would consider it,” replies Graph Tech’s Dave Dunwoodie. “It does take a big investment in time to be truly involved in the design of a product, as opposed to placing your name on a product. We do get suggestions all the time on new products and product improvements from our artists. ”
“Different manufacturers have different philosophies,” says D’Addario’s David Via. “Only recently have we started to put out any products directly under an artist’s name. Presently we offer guitar straps designed by Joe Satriani and Pat Matheny, both of whom contributed their own personal designs for consideration.”
“I think we’d always be willing to discuss the possibility,” adds Ernie Ball’s Brian Ball, A/R, marketing. “Time has kind of proven that signature string sets don’t sell nearly as well as company branded products. But we’d always be open to discussing it if it was something the artist truly desired, and we felt that we’d get a good amount of backing from the artist, management, etc.”
It is not a situation to take lightly, as additional time and costs are involved.
“When addressing the question of whether or not to bring an artist model to market, there are a couple factors,” explains Gary Mobley of Shubb. “Is the artist high profile enough or influential enough to warrant it? And are there unique features about the artist’s playing style that would morph into a unique product? We here at Shubb would be more inclined to release an artist model if it just wasn’t our same product with the artist’s name on it, but actually had new features that incorporated the artist’s playing style.”
Accessory Companies Want All to Know the Stars that Prefer Their Products
Musicians are, first and foremost, fans. From the Beatles to Dave Matthews, artists want to not only play their music, but also understand how they get their sound. Most agree that this carries over to all guitar-related product.
We asked several accessory product makers what the appeal of “star power” is from their point of view, and what advice to the retailer they have about making the most of the high-profile associations with their products.
National Sales Manager
Consumers identify with artists and their type of playing style. This translates into pre-sale work, helping the customer in the decision process and giving them a sense of what the product is like before they step foot in a store.
The artist(s) tells the consumer about the product because it is a part of their playing style. Consumers will ask for the artists’ version by name and model, because that is what they want to sound like. Artist’s versions of our pickups are consistently stocked by dealers due to the continued demand by consumers. Zakk Wylde, Kerry King, Steve Lukather, and Kirk Hammet are longtime partners with EMG. We have announced a new product partnered with Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom that we believe consumers will embrace and be available at dealers only.
Head of Marketing
When you ask an electric guitar player what got them started playing, if they’re being deep down honest with themselves, it’s probably because as an adolescent, they wanted to be a rock star. For most of us, there are particular players who inspire us, and we naturally want to emulate them. If a player wants to sound like the artist they emulate, using the same gear they use to create the same tones is an important first step.
Also, some artists just plain deserve it. I remember having lunch with Richard McDonald and Ritchie Fliegler of Fender some years back and Ritchie said, ‘No one’s sold more Telecasters for us than Seymour.’ A few months later, Fender’s Seymour W. Duncan signature model Esquire was released. We have artists like that too.
When a new player is first learning about guitar pickups and doesn’t know all the ins and outs of DC resistance, resonant peak, magnet type, et cetera, it’s easy for them to look at an artist model and think, ‘So, this is the pickup Dimebag Darrell used. I want to sound like Dimebag. I’ll take it.’ It’s also simple for the salesperson to ask a newbie customer, ‘Whose tone do you admire?’ If they say, for example, ‘Dimebag Darrell,’ the natural response should be, ‘Well, we have the exact same pickup Dimebag personally used: the Seymour Duncan Dimebucker. And it’s in stock!’ Could there be an easier sale? Or, when a friend or relative is doing the shopping, it’s easy for them to make a purchase decision when they know, for instance, that this or that pickup is the exact same model used by Dimebag, or Slash, or Dave Mustaine, or George Lynch, or whomever. They’re assured they’ll be getting the right product if the person they’re buying for is a fan of that artist.
It’s all about the popularity of the artist and the performance of the product. Our most popular product and, in fact, the most sought after pickup of all time, is the SH-4 JB humbucker which is based on the pickup Seymour designed for Jeff Beck in the early-’70s and which Jeff used on Blow by Blow. That pickup defies the traditional product life cycle they teach in business school. It just gets more and more popular every year. In the case of the JB, I think its popularity is based on tone quality more than the artist association: like the Gibson Les Paul guitar. The fact is we don’t call the pickup “the Jeff Beck” is because we don’t have a formal endorsement arrangement with Mr. Beck. Actually, if you call our customer service line and ask what “JB” stands for, they’ll tell you, Jazz Blues.
The Dimebag Darrell model, the SH-13 Dimebucker, is consistently one of our top-10 best sellers. The success of that pickup owes as much to the amazing popularity of the artist as to the tone it provides. We’ve also had great success with the SH-12 George Lynch Screamin’ Demon humbucker and the Dave Mustaine LiveWires active pickups.
One of our most successful artist partnerships has been with Slash. Since Appetite for Destruction, Slash has relied on the Seymour Duncan APH-1 Alnico II Pro humbucker for his tone. No one’s sold more APH-1 pickups for us than Slash – he’s the reason it’s a top 10 best seller. If anyone deserved a signature model, it was him. So a few years ago, I started working with him on a Slash model pickup. Midway through sending various prototypes back and forth, he halted the process and literally told me, “Evan, let’s stop this. I’ve realized the APH-1 is perfection.” And you can’t improve on perfection.’ The APH-1 has become the de facto Slash model even though it doesn’t have his name on it.
I’m also very proud of our work with someone who wasn’t an artist, per se. That would be the late Seth Lover, who, in 1955 invented the Gibson humbucking pickup. We created the SH-55 Seth Lover humbucker in 1994 as a tribute to the then 84-year old who was living in obscurity below the poverty level at the time. For the last three years of his life, while we promoted the pickup, the very humble Seth was popping up in full page ads and magazine interviews and NAMM shows appearances. The pickup was very successful and he finally got the recognition he deserved for being a pioneer in the development of the electric guitar. We continue to pay a royalty to his grandchildren 12 years after his death. This is another example of someone who deserved the signature product, even though he never asked for it.
I’m also proud that I had a chance to work with another great artist who has since passed away, Dimebag Darrell Abbott. He was a great player and a larger-than-life artist whose popularity and appeal have not diminished in death. The Dimebucker is our best selling artist signature pickup and it gains in popularity every year.
At this past NAMM show, Fender launched the EVH Frankenstein humbucker which is an extremely accurate reproduction of the pickup used by the legendary Edward Van Halen in his striped Frankenstein guitar. There’s a limited edition Relic version, which contains all the scratches, wear, rust and string marks as the original, which is built by Seymour and two assistants in our custom shop; and a new-looking version, which is built on our production floor here in Santa Barbara.
As for what’s on the horizon, we’re starting to look into our first signature model stompbox. And at this moment, I’m putting the final touches on a signature pickup deal with a major guitarist from one of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands. He’s an extremely influential player, though his face isn’t easily recognizable. But that’s because he always wears a mask. Oh, and his lucky number is Seven…
We’re getting ready to release a new KH95 Kirk Hammett Signature Wah pedal that we think is going to blow all the metal-heads away out there and wanted to give you the scoop. Now you can command the same killer wah tone as Kirk with the new Kirk Hammett Signature Wah. Developed in close collaboration with the metal guitar icon himself, it has been meticulously tuned and tweaked to deliver the wah-wah sound that revolutionized metal solos in the ’80s and for all time. This is the legendary tone that Kirk dials in on tour, using his DCR1SR Crybaby Rack Wah. Dunlop’s engineers took Kirk’s EQ, volume and tone settings, reflecting decades of blazing Crybaby riffology and reproduced them with exacting precision. The Kirk Hammett Wah is exceptionally even in response as you move from heel to toe, with a thick top end and full dynamic range.
VP of Sales
It is definitely a benefit to have artists associated with our products. The challenge is to maintain a proper balance artist relations and marketing benefits.
Music is similar to athletics in this way. Many people immolate, perhaps to some degree even idolize, those that they seek to be like. Over the years, however, as musical categories has gotten more fragmented, and artists’ influence and staying power has become more difficult to sustain, using artists most effectively has become challenging. As members of the industry and the music making community, many of us are fans also. We have our favorite artists, cherishing their work and grateful for their contributions to music. However, the difference between a fan and that of a manufacturer/supplier is that for the latter the artist must ultimate influence sales enough to warrant the investment in the relationship.
Just as Nike and other sporting goods manufacturers associate themselves with star athletes, so too should retailers take advantage of the influence that musicians have in our market. However, often times the micro influence of a local artist, or often times a local teacher, has a much greater influence on sales activities than the macro presence of a national or international artist. It really depends on the customer and his or her level of establishment within the market. Like so many things, you want a good balanced blend of artist influence, local teacher associations, and product feature-and-benefit information. That is an ideal combination to influence customers within a retail store.
[Brian Vance, Senior Product Manager, adds:]
Artists often provide ideas, new directions and valuable feedback for product development. This is very true for D’Addario strings. For example, David Grisman helped developed our J74 mandolin strings and Ronnie McCoury our J75 set. John Williams proposed the idea of making classical strings where the surface is slightly polished, creating a smoother feel and quieter sound, and this became our EJ45LP and EJ46LP strings.
More recently, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro was the creative force behind our J92 Concert Uke strings. He was using ProArte classical singles and building his own sets, and fans wanted to know what he was using, so we worked together on the set design.
While these aren’t signature sets per se, we do acknowledge the artist’s involvement in many of our marketing materials. These products are built from long standing artist relationships, which are based on cooperation, trust and appreciation for the art and the product. Some of these sets don’t sell huge quantities, but they serve a distinct purpose or solve a common problem that many players have, so they are worth offering.
Senior Product Manager
I’d make the case that the specific type of influence that marquee artists have has changed over the years. It used to be that their influence extended down to the specific model. Consumers would say: “I want to sound like (fill in artist name here.)” They’d then mirror that artist’s product set-up. Due to today’s greater fragmentation of music genres and an explosion in the number of product choices available, individuality and personal taste has a more prominent role in the decisions of the average consumer. Although artist may still hold sway over the specific product choices of younger and more impressionable consumers, their influence over everyone else may be stronger in the choice of brand rather than specific models within that brand.
The same is true for Evans Drumheads. Artist input, feedback, and direction are especially important for products that target specific musical styles and applications. For example, both Peter Erskine and Adam Nussbaum helped us to develop the J1 Etched, a sand-blasted 1-ply head specifically designed for jazz players.
Artists have also played an even more critical role in the development of our marching and concert percussion drumhead lines. In both cases, we relied heavily on the collective knowledge of our artists to help us design the best product possible. We know drum heads, we know films, we know manufacturing, and we know how to design for sound … but we needed to know what sound to design for. We worked closely with Tom Freer, Tim Adams, and James Campbell to design our Strata series of concert percussion heads. For marching, the process started with Thom Hannum and James Campbell, two legends of the drum corps world … but the long-term development of the line included the in-depth participation of our entire marching roster.
With $10 million being invested to modernize the Rico factory, artist interaction has been an integral part of what we do. Jazz greats like Jerry Bergonzi, Jim Snidero, and Lew Tabakin act as an important barometer to help us gauge our quality and consistency. They’re the first to tell us if something doesn’t meet their expectations and also when we’re on the money.
Several artists like Bob Sheppard are “on call” to drop by the Rico factory as needed and this helps train our inside quality control staff so that they know what professional demands are required for everyday production. We also rely on artists to provide feedback with product development. Whether it’s baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall (Lincoln Center Jazz) evaluating a baritone sax strap or New York Philharmonic clarinetist Mark Nuccio refining the design of a clarinet reed, we rely on our close relationships to get the feedback we need to make sure we’re creating products that address players’ needs.
Real de los Reyes
The appeal of “star power” is to show the ultimate consumer the benefits of the product and to provide a strong connection between product and the artist. It’s a benefit because the way it positions the product in the market place – if a famous artist uses our product, then that means that are good products.
We are proud to work with some great artist. In the U.S., some of our most successful have been: Gregg Wright, David Gonzalez, Al Lil; Julio Cesar Oliva, Jaime de la Parra, Roberto Aymes, Felipe Souza, among others; in Norway: Joeri Hommerson
The advantage to retailers is that the artist helps to promote our products. We use his image to create interest and excitement about our products. It is well know that if a professional player uses certain brand of strings is because he considers that it has an excellent quality and sound.
Having credible musicians back your product is an extremely valuable testament to the quality of your product. We’re very active in artist relations and have been since our inception dating back to the Beach Boys and The Ventures, et cetera. Each endorsement is pretty unique in the frequency of contact, the rapport developed, and the willingness of the artist to allow you to properly market the relationship. At times, artist endorsements at the regional level, if nurtured properly, can be more effective than artist endorsements with platinum selling artists.
Of some of our more successful artists, Slash comes to the top of my mind. He’s been an incredible endorsee of ours for over twenty years and continues to help us promote our brand and new product lines. The communication lines have always stayed very active and aside from being arguably the world’s most recognizable guitarist, he’s humble and has a huge heart.
We treat our artists like family and an extension of our company. Priding ourselves on being artist friendly and hopefully exceeding their expectations has brought us over 50 year endorsement relationships with the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Angus Young, and many more.
I think retailers should promote artists as much if not more than manufacturers do. Guitar Center does this really well through adorning the front of their stores with high quality images of guitar icons. More so than anything, I think properly promoting an artist/product relationship at the point of purchase level needs to be done a lot more.
It is a big benefit having artists associated with our products. They add credibility.
I relate the music industry to the golf industry. If Tiger Woods is playing it, it is probably a pretty good product and I will definitely at least check it out if I am in the market for a new club. As a manufacturer, that is all you can ask for – for the customer to take a look at your products and give them a practice swing, so to speak.
Dick Dale, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Randy Bachman, Kerri Kelli, Jerry Cantrell, Ryan Peake, and Jeff Stinco are just a few of those using our products. Also, we are doing something new in the music industry with our artists: The www.graphtech.me social networking site, which gives Graph Tech artists a great forum to post information about themselves and how Graph Tech is used in their setups.
Retailers can use these associations and distinguish themselves as being a pro music store. It’s a situation of “we sell the same gear the pros use, not the knock-off or copy stuff, but the real thing!” In store posters can tie this in all together, and it can also be promoted in print and web advertising.
In general, yes, it is a benefit to have major artists associated with our products, but it depends on the product group. BOSS/Roland Guitar Products and Electronic Percussion are the most successful with this. Drum and guitar customers seem to be more interested in the lifestyle and attainment of tone, whereas synthesizer customers are more tech savvy and interested about the process in general. They seem to be less impacted by who is playing what.
In general, it’s hard to quantify exactly the influence on unit sales. Regardless of any artist campaign, there is no substitute for the right product at the right price with all the right features. A marginal product is unlikely to become a top seller because of an artist campaign.
Retailers can certainly take advantage of an artist association. If a current artist is popular, the artist can sway certain customers providing they truly use a particular product. And dealers can use point of purchase items like ad reprints, posters, web print outs from the manufacturers official site. If a manufacturer has rights to an artist’s image, retailers can possibly use the image as well with permission.
Sales Manager/Artist Relations
Generally speaking the “stars” are the top performers and best players, and they are the most influential on developing artists. Naturally the developing artists are going to emulate the stars, and this extends to the gear they use as well. As a manufacturer we want to cater to the larger number of developing artists so we love it when the influential guys are using our stuff. It directly manifests into sales.
I have been very lucky to work with some great artists including James Burton, Robert Randolph, Doyle Dykes, John Jorgenson, Andy Mckee, Rory Block, Richard Gilewitz, and Johnny Hiland. It seems as though the very best players are almost always humble and down to earth people. Working with these people is one of my favorite things about my job!
It’s a little hard to gauge the percentages for us because our artist model is different in features from our other products. I guess the way to find out would be to have two identical products but have one with an artist name on it and compare sales. I do believe that having the artist name on it is the biggest reason for the sale of it.
The advantages for a retailer to have an artist use our product is similar to why it’s an advantage for us. People see their favorite player using the gear and go into the music store looking for that product specifically. It creates demand. One thing retailers can do to capitalize on that is to have artists come in and do in-store clinics and performances and have that artist’s signature product in stock.