Imagine Ed Sheeran on stage, guitar and loop-pedal in toe, looking pretty sweaty-headed during a performance of ‘Sing’. Now, imagine Joan Jett on stage, hooking the audience into synchronised head-banging before the first play of ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’s’ recognised riff. Spot the difference?
Ignoring the obvious aesthetic dissimilarities and opposition in genre, a fundamental difference between Sheeran and Jett is symbolised less through themselves, but the instrument that they both play, and the relevance of this for their respective genders. In other words, it is much, much easier for a man to comfortably play the guitar.
When I started learning to play the guitar at the age of eight years old – being so small that my first guitar was actually bigger than I was – I was blissfully unaware of any such issue at all. But now, at my grand age of twenty-two (and having probably grown a mighty five inches in height), how comfortable it was for me to play my instrument was less to do with its general size, but it’s shape. And the shape of me.
Writers concentrating on a guitar’s shape often refer to the instrument as having an anatomy, and it’s clear to see why. Guitars inherit a number of the human physique’s parts – the neck, the back, the waist and the ribs – in composition of it’s overall body. A body which bears incredible resemblance to that of a woman, in mirroring a smaller top pair of curves compared to the larger lower pair. To put it bluntly, a guitar’s curves essentially depict a pair of boobs above a perfectly proportional pair of hips. So if the guitar’s configuration is emulating the female, is there not a certain gender-inferiority-irony that women often have to adjust their style of play?
Take the example of Jett. Don’t get me wrong, there’s undoubtedly an unwritten rock ‘n’ roll law that it looks cooler to lower the strap and play the guitar as close to the ground as possible. I don’t dispute that (despite having experience of technical difficulties). But let’s say that Jett woke up one morning and wanted to hang up those rock boots in exchange for a bar stool and an acoustic guitar. The previously mentioned pair of guitar boobs would ultimately clash with – or rather, squash – one of Jett’s real boobs, whilst the waist-like ident provides the most perfectly flawed dip for her second boob to hang into. Sound snug to you? My boobs and I can tell you that it isn’t.
Now I’m not making the point that women cannot play guitar as well as men. In fact, I am advocating the opposite. It is the design defects of the guitar which I believe can hinder many women from fulfilling their rock, reggae or rap potential. Consider it less of a glass ceiling, and more of a wooden instrument. And I can imagine what you’re thinking – if this problem is as big, bold and bloody annoying as I am making it out to be, then why has nobody done anything about it?
Enter St Vincent.
March 3rd will see St Vincent’s new female-friendly model of guitar make its debut on the retail scene, having first been shown off by its founder (real name Annie Clark) herself at a Taylor Swift concert two years ago. With Clark being at the forefront of contemporary female guitarists, and due to release her fifth album this year, it seems both the perfect time and perfect person to (as her guitar’s website states) have “crafted [a guitar] to perfectly fit her form, playing technique and personal style”.
And no, before the obnoxious voice sounds itself, the creation of this guitar has not now triggered a role reversal in the instrument’s gender inferiority. Clark has not created a guitar that only women can play – she has invented an instrument that everyone can play. Her attitude to women, her aspirations for women, and her accomplishments as a woman go against a common grain within the music industry that, consciously or not, often squashes not just a lady’s boobs, but their importance too.
This should only be the beginning. The novelty of Clark’s guitar needs to wear off, to promote female inclusion and inspirations, and dispel of fundamental flaws within the music business. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, current eight-year-old girls who want to play guitar will do so without growing up to find a gross gender gap.
So guitar, in a rehash of Sheeran, I’m not in love with the shape of you.