Speaking of unconventional merch, I’ve long been fascinated that Taylor Swift has her own signature guitar for sale.
Our world has a lot of boys’ clubs — Congress, the Papacy, John Boehner’s golf course — but one of the most concerted sausage fests in existence is that of the guitar nerd. Browse through Guitar World or something, and you won’t just see men all over, you’ll see really hairy men who are rubbing their manly manness all over the pages as if their masculinity is synonymous with the very idea of guitar playing.
(On the landing page of the Guitar World website, there is not a single woman mentioned, though there is a link to its “Girls of Guitar World" page, which features models holding guitars — though not always in a position suitable for playing. In the "Features" drop down menu, there’s a link to this interview with Ana Popovic, a guitarist who is a woman. I did a search for Marnie Stern, and the magazine does have a recent interview with her. These article are both in a sub-section of the site, called “Guitar Girl’d,” which is distinct from and much less prominent than the “Girls of Guitar World” page. Anyway.)
I suppose this is because guitarists tend to be focused on rock, which is pretty male-dominated, and on the technically proficient end of rock in particular, which is even more male-dominated. The result is that when guitar manufacturers want to put an artists name on one of their guitars, it’s usually a man’s name. Fender sells Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Jeff Beck Strats, and Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore Jazzmasters. There is no Kim Gordon bass, however. In fact, of Fender’s listed “signature artists,” there are no women at all, though the company’s subdvision Squier produced a Courtney Love model, the Vista Venus back in the late ’90s.
Gibson has Eric Clapton, Chad Kroeger, and Buckethead Les Pauls; Pete Townshend and Angus Young SGs; and even a Jonas Brothers Melody Maker. The only Gibson I could find with the name of a woman attached is the Joan Jett Blackheart. (BB King’s “Lucille" doesn’t count.)
And yet, in this hostile market, Taylor Swift has had her own branded guitar for sale through her website since the early days of her career. (I’m not sure when it was first produced, but I noticed it pretty early on, and I’ve been poking around Swift’s career since her first single.) Considering the rest of Swift’s merch leans heavily toward the t-shirts and cute trinkets end of the scale, and considering she isn’t anyone’s idea of a maestro on the instrument, I think it says a lot about Swift that she’s for so long maintained a product that does not traditionally code feminine, but does make a claim for her being a musician and a songwriter.
Of course, it helps that she has a natural synergy with the label that makes her guitars. It is called Taylor as well. Its other signature models include ones for Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz, and Serj Tankian, but Taylor is the only female artist represented at Taylor.