Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 56
COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat
(LEFT) The Rolling Stones for Gibson, 1966. (RIGHT) Martin's 'Kissin Cousins' ad, 1962.
General Custer and
1966 was a crass imitation of the Fender Cali-formula, except the kids have
an East Coast look and the guitars are Japanese. Even Gibson got into the act,
though the artwork in a '64 Firebird ad remains comparatively understated.
In '65/'66, Gibson signed the Rolling Stones as endorsers and made hay
in the Gibson Gazette showing Keith's out-of-production Les Paul Standard
purposely misidentified as an ES-125T. Passing notice was even taken of the
Beatles' playing a J-160E in the Gazette.
Even Martin's advertising - always plain, blunt, and dry to the point of
aridity - got cute and chatty in the style of the era. For much of its history,
Martin had done little promotion, content to take orders as they came. This
changed in the early '60s, when the young Frank Herbert Martin was appointed sales manager and dragged the hyper-conservative company into the
modern world. Its "Kissin' Cousins" ad from '62 is typical of the approach
- conceptually related to Fender's insouciance and visually related to the
cheerfully upstart but self-deprecating style Doyle, Dane, Bernbach created
for Volkswagen around the same time. Instead of focusing on product, it
takes a gently humorous slant. The company's "General Custer" ad from
'69 goes further into irreverence while slyly reminding the world of Martin's
Through the '60s, Martin catalogs remained straightforward, if increasingly colorful, but their advertising persona got a hip twist. It did not use
endorsers (and in fact resisted many entreaties to do so) at the time, but did
have its own character.
By the later '60s, guitar promotion was big business, with corporate money
everywhere and many groaningly off-key attempts to be hip. Today, these
ads are easy targets for ridicule. One must remember, though, that the
companies were run by men far beyond the age of the players they courted,
and often scrambled to figure out the times and their customers.
The guitar business grew up in the 1960s, and the visual style pioneered
by Fender - instruments and the methods used to sell them - were a huge
part of that history.