The straw that broke the
camel’s back came with the
click of the mouse. An extremely
opinionated and vocal customer’s
judgment had been holding
sway over the discussions in our
marketing meetings for over a
month. On a hunch, I did a
little research to see what his credentials
were. It didn’t take too
long and his online post said it
all. “Thinking of getting a P-90
guitar,” he boasted. “Should I
worry about the hum?” I could
have been angry, but all I could
do was laugh. A roomful of
professionals who should have
known better were being held
hostage by a neophyte.
In the 21st-century business
world, company marketers prowl
the internet sniffing for ideas. For
them, the only thing as bad as
making a poor decision is missing
a trend. But marketing to trends
is like shooting at a moving target—by the time you get there,
the opportunity is gone. Fads
move quickly, so it’s important to
develop a good sense of detecting
if something is just a flavor-of-the-month in order to stay away
from hanging your career on it.
This is true in both the business
of making guitars and the business
of making music.
At the corporate level, decision
makers like to see statistics in
order to feel comfortable before
pulling the trigger on a project.
Executives tend to ask others
for their opinion and often go
with the majority. Companies
poll the public directly now
through social media strategies.
“The customer is always right”
isn’t a new mantra, but in the age
of group sourcing, it has been
taken to an all-time high. When
you use the internet for research,
it can be dangerous. The web
has given voice and weight to the
opinions of bedroom jammers
and seasoned professionals, but
there is often no way of determining
one from the other.
The same kind of thinking
buried the American car companies.
When polled in focus
groups, the US public said
they wanted vinyl-clad landau
roofs and hubcaps, while the
European and Japanese companies
were fitting their cars with
independent suspensions, alloy
wheels, and disc brakes. That
was over three decades ago and
Detroit is still trying to catch up.
Good, bad, or indifferent,
music instrument makers tout
their latest and greatest with
fervor and conviction. Will a
new gizmo take your music to a
new level? How does a consumer
separate useful information
Consider the source.
story about wisdom is that it
takes roughly ten thousand
hours of application on a task to
be considered an expert on any
subject. I’ll save you the math
and let you know that’s 20 years
of 40-hour weeks with no time
off for vacations or holidays. I’m
not saying this level of experience
is needed to have a worthwhile
opinion on the noise level
of a P-90 versus a humbucker,
but it does give you some pause
for thought. The takeaway is
that I’d respect the views of a
seasoned pro tech before that of
a chain-store guitar salesman.
It’s the economy.
are tough and builders large
and small are feeling the pinch.
Anything that gives them a perceived
advantage in the marketplace
could mean the difference
between success and failure. Is a
product’s selling point something
that actually makes music better?
Does it solve a real problem?
If a feature is a solution to a
problem that doesn’t exist in the
practical world, why is it better?
If you need help determining
what is a real problem, consult
an expert. When in doubt, I
always apply the principle of
WWJP: What would Jimi play?
live in a wonderful time for
choice. There are lots of great
products out there and many of
them can get the job done. When
someone you admire lends his
or her name to a product in an
advertisement, you should immediately
wonder why. Read interviews
and look at live photos and
videos to see if an endorsed product
is actually being used. This
can be tricky because some musicians
will use fake cabinets or amp
heads in their backline to satisfy
endorsement commitments. I’ve
actually had artists stick another
brand’s logo on a guitar that I had
built to do just that. If a big-name
artist endorses a small company, it
probably isn’t about money, but if
they endorse a legendary product
it might be about pride. The best
and most honest endorsement is
one where the spokesperson isn’t
being paid to endorse and they
don’t appear in ads at all.
Determine the motivation.
Engineers and designers are just
as bad as marketing people when
it comes to championing an idea
that no one needs. Just because
the technology allows something
doesn’t mean it should be done.
CNC machining is resulting in
some pretty complex and contoured
instruments, but I’m not
convinced that it’s an improvement.
I’ve never been a fan of
super-tech on guitars, but microprocessor-
driven effects switching
is pretty useful. When a guy from
the aerospace industry crosses over
to music, the results might be
mixed. Just because Lexan makes
a great fighter jet canopy doesn’t
mean it will sound good on a
guitar. I do like the way those Dan
Armstrong guitars look though.
There is a flip side to all of
this—great new products can get
killed off too. Just as you should
be wary of exaggerated claims,
realize that sometimes good ideas
get a bad rap. When the shoe
is on the other foot, comments
made against a product online
might be merely a territorial spat.
We all get very protective of our
individual product choices. Just
remember it’s not a zero-sum
game. Just because your choice
is good for you, it doesn’t mean
my choice is wrong. Nothing
beats real world experience with
products in the kind of situations
you’ll be facing with your purchase.
That’s where that expert
opinion can save your camel’s
back from being broken.
noted designer, builder,
and player who co-founded
one of the first boutique
guitar brands, in 1973.
Today, as the director of
Dantzig Guitar Design, he continues to
help define the art of custom guitar. To
learn more, visit guitardesigner.com