Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 50

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat

FRETTED ADDITIES, PART TWO
Guitar Advertising in the 1960s
By Peter Stuart Kohman

F

or much of the 20th century, print advertising was the primary medium for promoting
guitar playing and guitar hardware to the
general public. While radio and subsequent
TV ads bombarded consumers, the musicalinstrument business - even during the boom of
the '60s - was just not in a league with the makers
of soaps, cars, and household goods.
By the 1950s and early '60s, big American
consumer-products corporations were pouring
millions of dollars into increasingly competitive
and creative ad campaigns. The guitar business
was small potatoes compared to the broader
mass market and promoted mostly in specialist
publications catering to musicians (or at least,
music fans). Even so, some of the techniques
seeped into the mix, resulting in instruments
being branded and sold in somewhat the same
way as, say, cars or cigarettes.
Though not to the extent of products like soft

	

drinks, over time, some instrument brands developed an advertising personality that reflected
the outlook of their makers - "Fancy ads don't sell
guitars," grumbled Kay in '62 (in a magazine ad!)
and it was true to an extent. Still, a well-designed
campaign could help establish brand character.
Kay, incidentally, was one of the least-prolific
advertisers of the '50s and '60s - obviously, the
concept "the medium is the message" did not
impress their Chicago team! Of the thousands
of such ads produced over the years, many are of
nostalgic interest, but some remain linked to how
we still perceive the instruments today. While in
the 1950s and '60s, hands-on interaction of the
player (or prospective player) with an instrument
in a music store or studio was the primary way
guitars were sold, the perceived character of the
brand - "cool" or square, traditional or futuristic
- could be shaped by the way it was advertised.
And though many players were influenced by

VINTAGE GUITAR	

50	

February 2017

(FROM LEFT) Cherry Red elegance. From Gibson's
1963 catalog. Gretsch and Jaguar, 1955.

what prominent artists were using, that was also
often subject to arranged marketing, as well!
No sales team appreciated this more than
CMI/Gibson. From the 1930s into the '60s,
Gibson generally identified itself as the classiest of
options, de rigueur with jazz musicians and the
top rung of entertainers. This was certainly not a
bad strategy, as even many young rock-and-roll
players respected the more-sophisticated artists
who appeared touting Gibsons at the time. A
comprehensive "who's who" of jazzers including
Tal Farlow, Johnny Smith, Barney Kessel, Herb
Ellis, Mundell Lowe, Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell,
Barry Galbraith, Jimmy Raney, and many more
appeared in the Gibson Gallery of Stars posed
with their archtops. In the '50s, Kessel and Smith
tried signature instrument endorsements with
other companies (Kay and Guild, respectively)
but both returned after a few years.
By the early '60s, Gibson had the jazz market
pretty much sewn up, and many established
country artists - the old-line cream of Nashville
- were featured by them, as well. Still, as times
changed, this left the company open to being
perceived as old-fashioned as the swinging '60s
picked up steam. In its '62 catalog, the only art-



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 1
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