At Ernie Ball Music Man, we’ve never been interested in tweaking existing guitars and calling it a “signature” model. Our aim is to push the boundaries and cultivate a new design that acts as the perfect extension of the artist and their creative process. When we approached Annie Clark — better known by her stage name St. Vincent — we were astounded by the enthusiasm she had for a signature model.
As we celebrate four years since the release of her innovative model, we’re taking a look back at the first time the indie rocker sketched us her unconventional design. Hear CEO Sterling Ball tell the story of the groundbreaking collaboration below:
by Sterling Ball
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.
About 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.
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.
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 it was pretty cool, but didn’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.
… we introduced a crazy retro design on one hand and a modern, highly playable tone monster on the other…
Our 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.
Learn more about the St. Vincent signature guitar here.