by Sterling Ball
When my father and I purchased Music Man back in 1984, I wanted to re-think the process of how guitars were made. Focus first on an uncompromising passion for designing innovative, ergonomic, high-quality tools for artists, with a major differentiator between us and other guitar makers being the approach we take with signature artists.
Annie Clark and Ernie Ball Music Man
I’ve never been interested in tweaking an existing Ernie Ball Music Man model and calling it a “signature guitar.” Our aim is to create a brand new design that becomes the perfect extension of their creative process and supply the instrument they’ve always dreamed of. The first thing I always convey to an artist during the design process is that we won’t quit until they do. The second is that they shouldn’t factor the end customer in the design process, because if we get it right, the customers will follow. The backstory of Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Ernie Ball Music Man began when our own Jessie Corbin, who was an early fan in 2012, sent Annie a few of our Albert Lee models since she thought they matched her aesthetic.
We discovered that Annie already used Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings and that her amp of choice was a rare Music Man Bass Combo from 1977. I guess we had that going for us! It was really fun for me to watch Saturday Night Live with Annie playing our guitar along with all the major festivals like Coachella. The Grammy in 2015 for Best Alternative Music Album was icing on the cake. I spent a lot of time digging into Annie’s music and background and I was impressed with her artistry and style, so we sent her a note to explore the concept of designing and creating a signature model guitar. It was great news to hear that the answer was a resounding yes. We met with Annie in Santa Monica and together made the trek to San Luis Obispo to see the factory and explore what was possible.
Chemistry and communication is so critical with artist collaborations. And it didn’t take long to realize that there was a ton of chemistry and synergy. So, we handed her the keys to the factory and opened up our design team to begin the process of her STV guitar. After the factory tour, Annie sat down with Drew Montell (our lead engineer) and me in our showroom, playing different guitars and talking through her influences, ideas and sonic needs. I was not only elated by Annie’s command of the guitar as a player, but also her eye for design, as her comments and observations about our existing instruments were spot on.
Designing the St. Vincent Guitar
When we asked Annie if she had any specific ideas she said, “Let me draw it for you.” I wasn’t expecting what she penciled down, but I instantly loved it. It was completely different, and that excited me. She has terms for it like “memphis,” but I saw disruptive and cool. I also felt at that moment that we were the company for her. We have no problem with making things that are a little different and I’ve never been afraid to color outside the lines… case in point the Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo bass that we designed with BMW.
Annie seemed happy we didn’t try to convince her to play it safe or influence her concepts. Our job was making her two dimensional sketch into an ergonomically sound, balanced, well-playing guitar without sacrificing the integrity of her design. We accomplished so much in one afternoon that we had time to have Annie hand mix and create her custom paint, “Vincent Blue.” Usually you show an artist a color chart and they pick one. With Annie there were no color charts… just paint and mix sticks.
The St. Vincent Hits The WebAbout two weeks later, I delivered the first playing prototype in Hollywood. The guitar looked killer, but was a tad small in the body and it needed balance work. We made about 20 prototypes in all, dialing in all of the adjustments in size and balance, electronics, pickups and most importantly – tone. After some back and forth and soul searching, Annie signed off on her prototype. It’s Fall 2015 at this point and we’re locked in. We plan to announce the guitar at Winter NAMM 2016 in Anaheim – Plenty of time to create the marketing program and really launch this one right? Wrong! Taylor Swift was in the middle of her residency at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and each night she was featuring special guests. Annie texted me “I’m going to bring the guitar to the Taylor Swift show I’m doing with Beck and I’m going to play the guitar in public for the first time.” I think that is pretty cool, but don’t think too much about it…. until the next day. Taylor Swift tweeted to her 65 million followers and instagrammed her 45 million followers pictures of Annie and her on stage with the guitar, and another pic of her and Beck checking out the guitar with Annie holding it. It was a proud moment for Annie and the family at Ernie Ball Music Man.
Response to the St. Vincent GuitarOur website nearly crashed given the attention Annie and Taylor created. Social media lit up and the dealers started calling wanting to know about this guitar. In one day, our marketing team developed a full marketing program and creative and retail pre-order launch plan. It was crazy. Several months later, with NAMM behind us, and Annie’s guitar hitting guitar shops all over the world to critical acclaim from top media outlets and reviewers, Annie and I recently reflected on the fact that we introduced a crazy retro design on one hand and a modern, highly playable tone monster on the other.
We pushed the boundaries of what players expect out of a guitar, creating a conversation of praise (and criticism), but ultimately introduced an incredible new choice for guitarists. But most importantly for me, we helped Annie realize the guitar that she had in her head and heart, and allowed her to share it with the world.Turns out, the world seems to love it just as much as we do.
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TONIGHT! Catch Fabi in the Glenn Branca Symphony at Masonic Hall with 8 other guitarists blowing your eardrums and your minds. #sheshreds #sheshredsmag #RBMA #glennbranca #Repost @redbullmusicacademy ・・・
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St. Vincent Guitar Videos
Watch our short film on the making of the St. Vincent guitar, as well as review videos from Guitar World and Premiere Guitar, below. You can also explore the St. Vincent signature guitar and find a dealer to order here: http://musc.mn/1WNb7va