Designers and builders are diametrically opposite and when one tries to pass themselves off as the other, it stifles innovation and it dilutes their equally important and distinct roles which should be working in concert. The skills of a designer pushes a team vision into branding while the skills of a builder pushes the vision into non-aesthetic mechanics and technology.
If you live in the south and have shopped for houses, you may think that the sea of aesthetic atrocities and creative bankruptcies that is the ranch style or colonial, is a bit of a mystery. Especially, if you’ve lived outside of the south. Truthfully, it’s not a mystery at all. In fact, this has happened to many industries, including my beloved music industry. In the case of home design, it’s simply the lack thereof. There are home designers out there, but Google a southern town, and you’ll find like one truly contemporary designer. This is because we mistake builders as both, which in fact, they couldn’t be more opposite. A builder knows a few different basic designs and tinkers slightly in terms of modern tech advancements and layouts on the inside, to make it feel customized to the buyer. They cut out the middle man designer and produce hundreds of that same design they know so well over the span of a career. Think of the look from the outside looking in, not the inside layout. Before you know it, the entire town has the same house, but with a misplaced door, hallway, or staircase.
This is the same case with guitar design. Take the new John Mayer Signature PRS Silver Sky. There are only a handful of true designers in the guitar business, but there are hundreds of brands. How could that be? Well Fender, Gibson, ESP, Alvarez, Martin, Taylor, Breedlove, and every other mass producing brand out there, are builders. Great ones at that. All of those companies were founded by designers and as time went on they just promoted the best builders to take on the role of designer, while the CEO was plucked out of accounting from -insert bankrupted chain store here-. The same designs have been re-used since the 50’s and any advancement on a guitar design is always with modern tech in terms of hardware or the machines they use to build, which no one but them will have a connection to. Never the curves, the binding, using reverse grain, symmetry, or simply creating a piece of art out of wood. Always the new and improved NASA engineered pick ups that add ZERO to overall aesthetic. It’s amazing how with CNC machines we are able to make any shape we want to perfect accuracy and we choose to regurgitate the same 70 year old design over and over and over again. Unless you stumble onto a Ritter or Phil Thompson, or some obscure Nordic company, all you’ll find is a bunch of shapes we’ve seen for decades and to justify their existence it’s marketed with the most over used term in modern language, innovative.
I love John Mayer, by the way, but he “designed” his new guitar with the expertise of a top PRS BUILDER by his side. Not a designer. When this was rolled out it gave me an overload of cringe. Mayer said, “after two years of market research and strenuous design” and I threw up in my mouth. Design??? Dude you put a 30 year old PRS headstock design on a 70 year old Fender Stratocaster. This took NO aesthetic effort. The only design that took place was most likely how they made the prototypes and the companies that supplied the hardware.
Lastly, lets take a moment and think about what this means as a business strategy and what the market consequences are. It reminds me of when Chris Martin copied a great selling Taylor and immediately that told the market that your competition is superior. Here’s Martin a like 200 year old family business, that’s 10 times the size of Taylor, and they go off and copy an inferior competitor. It’s tragic really. They think what they’re doing is following market demand, but all they’re doing is diluting their own brand identify. You are no longer Martin. Now you’re just a factory that builds stuff. PRS avoided this trend for years until they started making semi hollow basses, half stacks, and now Fender knock offs.
When the original designer is no loner in the picture, they turn into Chinese style mass producing factories of random unrelated stuff.
This is where branding dies.