Time for break. A change from the norm. A trip to Berlin and a visit to the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung – that’s the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum to the likes of us – and what a wonderful experience. A striking and wonderfully lit building populated with all manner of historical instruments, including a collection of early guitars.
What is eye-catching about some of these early guitars is how richly and beautifully decorated they are, covered in intricate carvings, inlay and sometimes flowing patterns*.
Such designs offer a striking contrast to today’s more minimalist aesthetic where acoustic guitars tend to follow classic and simple lines. Indeed, it sometimes almost seems that the more expensive the guitar, the more minimal its decoration.
This observation is reflected in recent feedback from luthiers and retailers about our project to the effect that the high-end or professional sectors of the market are unlikely to be interested in heavily decorated guitars. There may of course be good reason for this. Perhaps a minimalist aesthetic speaks of seriousness or perhaps of a player who will let the quality of the wood, the build, and of course the sound speak for itself? Or perhaps its just the current fashion; one in which spiraling prices sometimes sometimes seem to mirror ever diminishing differences in design and construction.
Things might change though. Even the conservative acoustic guitar market has its fashions (read the guitar press right now and you’ll feel decidedly naked if you are not sporting a mahogany parlour guitar). There are perhaps some promising signs of a change in the wind. First, there is something of a fashion for retro looks in new guitars, which sometimes even involves pre-distressing them at the factory (at least for some electrics). It may feel like a crazy idea to deliberately batter a new guitar as it’s made, but it does hint at interest in a richer visual aesthetic as well as a desire for guitars with stories to tell.
In a different vein, Martin’s recent Ed Sheeran signature model is notable for its low-tech looking etching.
Is this deliberate nod towards musicians who personalize their well-travelled hard-working guitars with stickers, slogans and signatures.
So where does this leave us? Will the younger – and presumably cheaper – end of the market will be more receptive to our interactive decoration, especially given the way that young musicians have taken to social media? Maybe the young folk will want to decorate and personalize their instruments and then use them to connect to their musicians profiles and audiences. Or will personalisation eventually spread to all sectors of the acoustic guitar market?
Or perhaps the acoustic guitar industry is just too conservative. But then again, isn’t that a sign of a market that is ripe for disruption?
*Find out more from the official catalogue from the museum’s recent guitar exhibition Fazination Gitarre.
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Thoughts on the aesthetics and fashion of acoustic guitars …