Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Dear Fan, I'm in a band where one of our guitar players is an self-styled luthier. He's built his own guitars for a while but his latest creation is now his defacto guitar for the band's show and it's ugly as shit. Like, it's obtrusive and an eyesore and looks like the retarded, junkyard cousin of one of Prince's guitars. After every show, it's all people comment on. It sounds fine. It has a lot of sentimental value to him, but it looks like it belongs in an goth industrial band and doesn't fit with our band's style. What do I do? Jamie
Dear Jamie, I am envisioning something with a Barbie doll head hanging off the headstock once you got to the part about "industrial band" and am feeling immense second hand embarrassment for you. My condolences.
On one hand, be grateful that people comment on it and talk about this ugly-ass thing. In that regard, it's an asset. The bigger question is: does this guitar bring the rest of the band down? Are the comments bad or are folks marveling at it? Does your band have a fixed aesthetic or visual style that is an important part of the band (Are you mods? Crust metal?) and does this wholly distract and detract from that statement? Or, as you said, is it just ugly?
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If you and the rest of your bandmates (you don't mention them, but I assume they are sympathetic to your concern) are worried it's hurting your career, what do you ask him to do? Build himself a new one? Something "less ugly"? What if he builds a Gwar-style guitar or one of those Steve Vai style four-neck ones, but instead of a heart-body it's a scrotum as a replacement? It's not reasonable to ask him to build a new guitar and demand oversight; that's just a dick move and it'll lead to resentment if it does not break up the band outright. If you want him to have a "normal" guitar, maybe you could all chip in and get him some snazzy little white Strat from Guitar Center for his birthday--but you can't force him to play it. Also, put yourself in his shoes: this is an expression of his artistic soul and you wanna give it the boot because it makes you look like you're borrowing Ministry's backline. The answer here is to embrace this hideous thing, perhaps have him build new instruments for the whole band so at least that way you match. Then it can be your thing, together.