New Strings

Designing Guitars for Women

By Aimee Terravechia

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, recently partnered with Ernie Ball to design guitars specific to women rockers. It may seem like pandering to an untapped demographic, but unlike other companies who have tried to create female-centric products (think Bic's failed attempt at "lady pens"), this one has purpose.

Although traditional guitars may not pose a huge problem for the casual female player, they aren't really designed for someone with a smaller frame. As Clark told Guitar World in a recent interview, "I'm not a very big person. I can't even play a Sixties Strat or Seventies Les Paul. I would need to travel with a chiropractor on tour in order to play those guitars."

Of course, size isn't the only thing that Clark's designs account for. Along with a promotional photo, Clark posted to her Instagram account, "There is room for a breast. Or two."

Rock is often seen as a boy's club, and that's part of the reason why there are organizations dedicated to inspiring young women to pick up an instrument or microphone. And as Clark points out, it's hard to get started when you can't even work with some of the equipment as easily as your male counterparts. Of course, learning to play an instrument goes beyond self-expression for young girls. Picking up a guitar can also help in literacy, brain development, and overall academic success. It can also help to break down barriers behind the scenes in the music industry. There's a lack of female producers, as was pointed out when Taylor Swift won Best Album at Monday night's Grammy's (the only female artist to have won twice), while surrounded by male producers.

Encouraging women to pick up a guitar goes beyond just making a manageable piece of equipment. Clark was also able to design a sleek instrument, one with asymmetrical lines and classic flare. It channels St. Vincent's signature style. Missing are the frills and pastels that usually mark gender-specific designs. Instead, Ernie Ball and Annie Clark have brought the masses effortlessly cool esthetics with an ergonomically-minded design. This means that the sorts of young women who would want to pick up a traditional quality guitar can achieve that same look, that same style, as the boys -- all while being afforded a piece of equipment specifically designed for their anatomy.

Bringing in women at every level of the music industry can help address the pay gap and gender divide. According to Creative & Cultural Skills, over two-thirds of all music industry jobs belonged to men in 2013. The statistics are even more glaring when you look at record label owners. Overall, women tend to be promoted less, paid less, and represented less within the industry. Having the sort of front-end exposure of more female musicians (especially guitarists, who are overwhelmingly male) can help provide more representation to women at every level. 

It isn't clear whether Clark partnered with Ernie Ball to target aspiring female rockers or established ones -- but either way it's likely to encourage girls to pick up a guitar and learn to play, and that can only be a good thing for the music industry.

Published February 19th, 2016

Aimee Terravechia is a writer, teacher, and grilled cheese connoisseur. She is currently working on her second novel Memes Anonymous . She has written for The Powder RoomScary Mommy, and The Cubic Lane. Her fiction has been published in Apocrypha and Abstractions. When not writing she can be found teaching college composition and creative writing, herding cats, or wrangling her toddler.