G ET WIRED
Fashioning the Dream
Rather than writing about magnets and tennis racquet behind closed bedroom doors.
turns of wire, I thought I’d expose the “man Most gear companies have an artist rela-behind the curtain” this month and write tions rep who cultivates a mutually beneficial
about guitar pickup marketing. I face a relationship with artists. An artist gets free or
unique challenge. First of all, most guitars discounted gear and the company promotes
already come set up with decent pickups, the notion that you need to use a particu-and my job is to convince customers to lar artist’s gear in order to cop their tone.
change them. But second, and equally chal- Moreover, the rock star sizzle extends beyond
lenging, the swinging pendulum of fashion gear and delves into the lifestyle fantasy. The
is always influencing what folks want. And not-so-subtle message is: “Use Slash’s pickup.
believe it or not, it affects you and your gui- Live Slash’s life.” Hey, it could happen.
tar gear purchase decisions.
whammy excursions required double-locking vibratos, Trembuckers, and, dare I
say it, Spandex. The outdoorsy-punk aesthetic of early ‘90s grunge made us ditch
the Spandex for plaid flannel, stonewashed
jeans, and a vintage guitar plugged into a
few fuzzy stompboxes. Later in the ‘90s, in
addition to full sleeve tattoos and aggressive facial piercings, new metal’s drop tunings caused amps to get dual rectified and
guitars to sprout a seventh string.
When Cathy Duncan hired me as head of
marketing for Seymour Duncan, she told me,
“Sell the steak and the sizzle.” The steak
in this case is an electric guitar pickup. For
customers to buy it, it has to perform as
advertised and provide value for the money
the customer paid for it. What makes selling
image products like guitar pickups different from selling other consumer products
like digital cameras and MP3 players—and
maybe even different from selling other
musical instruments like woodwind and
brass—is that I’m required to sell something
in addition to the product: I’m required to
sell the dream. The sizzle.
The best way to sell the sizzle is by providing the customer with a great cut of steak,
perfectly prepared. With the right piece of
gear, you sound better and you play in new
ways and with new tones that you never
experienced before. The right gear drives
inspiration. When that happens—when you’re
inspired because of a piece of gear you just
purchased—you’re truly living the dream.
Think about the guitar as a symbol.
Nowadays it represents mainstream
Americana. But a few decades ago it was
a symbol of rebellion and counter-culture.
That’s part of what makes it an image product. Many of us first picked up a guitar
because of the image. If you’re like 96.5% of
Premier Guitar readers, you’re a dude. And
a good number of us dudes started playing guitar exactly six nanoseconds after we
learned that girls like rock stars.
One way we sell the sizzle is by tapping into
the rock star fantasy you’ve secretly harbored
ever since you first played air guitar on a
Whether you’re a
vintage solidbody col-
lector, a dreadnought
bluegrass picker, or a
down-tuned black metal
screamer, the gear pur-
chases you make are
influenced by forces not
too different from those
that influence the haute
the big fashion houses.
Here’s where it gets really challenging for
guys like me: popular music impacts gear
choices, much in the same way it influences fashion. The late ‘60s gave birth to
folk-rock, protest songs, bell bottom jeans,
and the acoustic guitar pickup. The heavily processed sounds of the late ‘70s saw
us shelling out for leather pants along with
refrigerator-sized racks full of preamps
and active pickups. In the ’80s, dive bomb
When I started at Seymour Duncan, nearly
every customer who called in wanted to
sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi
Hendrix. In 1993, five of the top ten
Seymour Duncan pickups were Strat replacements. Cut to now: the thicker tones of
humbuckers rule the day. Folks who email
us want to sound like Slash and Dimebag
and Mick Thomson. At the moment, there’s
only one Strat replacement pickup in the
Seymour Duncan top ten. But guess what?
It’ll swing back to single coils soon enough.
That’s fashion, folks. And the cumulative
result of fashion’s effect on gear is an amazing assortment of products. Today’s guitarist
has more great gear to choose from than at
any other point in history.
So now you know the truth. Not only am I
in the musical instruments industry, I’m also
in the fashion industry. As for you—whether
you’re a vintage solidbody collector, a dreadnought bluegrass picker, or a down-tuned
black metal screamer—the gear purchases
you make are influenced by forces not too
different from those that influence the haute
couture collections of the big fashion houses.
As for me, who knows? Maybe one day, with
the right guitar and the right pickup, one of
those tall, skinny, supermodels with the bored
look on her face will go out with me.
Evan Skopp is head of Marketing and OEM Sales for
Seymour Duncan, based in Santa Barbara, California. He
serves on the board of directors of Musician’s Institute
in Hollywood and is past-president of the Guitar and
Accessories Marketing Association.