Sisters doing it for themselves: Guitars made for girls a growing trend in guitar industry
ANAHEIM, Calif. --"I want it!" squealed 13-year-old Hiiaka Kaneao, pointing to a sparkly, hot pink, star-shaped bass guitar hanging inside a pink fur-lined booth.
Her high-pitched voice is music to the ears of the guitar's maker, Daisy Rock Guitars.
The Los Angeles retailer's colorful and smaller-sized guitars for girls and women have gained worldwide popularity in the last several years and signaled a growing trend within the traditionally male-dominated guitar industry.
"The industry is looking for growth opportunities given the overall slump in guitar sales. Guitars catering to women is one area that we understand is showing some signs of strength," said Wall Street analyst Rick Nelson, who covers the industry.
The country's two top guitar retailers, Gibson Guitar Corp. and Fender Musical Instruments Corp., have each debuted lines with a girl/woman-friendly focus over the past few years.
Gibson has the thinner-necked, lighter-weight Les Paul Vixen and Les Paul Goddess guitars.
Fender has its own Hello Kitty guitars, with the iconic cat splashed across the bodies.
Women playing guitar is nothing new or unusual. Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow have been fierce players for years, Courtney Love pounded out rock riffs in her popular '90s band Hole, India.Arie's acoustic guitar has become her trademark, and even Madonna has strummed the strings. But for the most part, revered guitar gods have been men, from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton.
Why the surge of girl guitars now?
"Ten years ago, statistics showed that 96 percent of the instruments purchased were for men," said Gibson Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz over the phone. "The guitar is now becoming more a part of society in general."
There have been guitars aimed at kids before: Fender, via its Squier imprint, offers a kid pack, and Epiphone offers a smaller-sized kid's guitar around the holidays that's more like a toy, according to a guitar seller at the music retailer Guitar Center in Hollywood.
But Daisy Rock says its low-cost, lean and light line of electric and acoustic instruments jump-started the push specifically for girls. Guitars range from girly butterfly, heart and daisy-shaped gear for younger girls to glossy red, black, purple and pink standard guitars for women.
Daisy Rock reported 2006 sales of $2.4 million -- a feat for the business which Tish Ciravolo, herself a bassist, started in 2000 after sketching with her then-baby daughter, Nicole.
"She drew this daisy, and then I drew a neck on it, and then a leafy headstock on it, and I thought, 'This might change the industry,"' said Ciravolo.
She took the drawing to her husband, Schecter Guitars President Michael Ciravolo, and Daisy Rock was born -- with sales doubling each year, according to the company.
Recently, Ciravolo spoke passionately alongside other women retailers on the trend panel "Pretty Good for a Girl" at Anaheim's International Music Products Association NAMM show -- the music industry's largest trade exhibition.
Twenty years ago, when Ciravolo started out as a musician, she said she didn't feel welcome in guitar stores. Now guitar-playing singers such as Avril Lavigne and Miley Cyrus of Disney's hit show "Hannah Montana" are making guitars more popular for younger women. Lavigne has a signature model Fender Telecaster set to come out later this year.
"My company has started a revolution," Ciravolo told the audience, to cheers.
Added panelist and hit singer-guitarist Lisa Loeb, who works with the Hello Kitty campaign, "Daisy Rock's guitars are definitely fun."
But the company's guitars, which range in price from $279 for a daisy-shaped guitar to $699 for a sleek custom black Rock Candy special, are not toys.
"They play professionally," said one-time guitar seller Dell Burchett, 51, who checked out Daisy Rock's sprawling pink booth at NAMM. "When Daisy Rock first came to the NAMM show, in 2001, they may have been considered toys, but at that time I thought they had beautiful finishes. The way they play is fantastic, and they're affordable."
Fender and Gibson acknowledge Daisy Rock's place within the industry.
"No doubt Daisy Rock was an influence in our decision" to start making the Vixen and Goddess guitars last year, said Gibson's Juszkiewicz.
Juszkiewicz emphasized, though, that his company's high-end guitars do not directly compete with Daisy Rock. The Les Paul Vixen retails at $1,429, and the Les Paul Goddess at $2,499, according to Guitar Center's Web site.
Hello Kitty guitars -- which go for roughly $333, both in acoustic and electric form -- have tapped into the tween and teen markets, according to Richard McDonald, Fender's senior vice president of global marketing.
"Just to invite girls to the guitar party was important," he said. "It's more interesting for us right now because of community building with the Internet."
Fender, unlike Daisy Rock and Gibson, also made the decision not to change the size and weight of Hello Kitty gear from regular Fender guitars.
"We have 12,000 skews of guitars. To say to the female market place, 'Here are three models that are right for you,' ... It's an attitude that we refuse to take," he said.
Juszkiewicz, however, noted that both women and men have complained about playing standard heavy gear. Hence, the need for lighter options.
There's even a rave from the Cure's Robert Smith about Daisy Rock's small, heart-shaped $279 Heartbreaker guitar on its Web site: "I'm smitten, I'm bitten, I'm hooked, I'm cooked/ I'm stuck like glue/ The Daisy Rock red hot red Heartbreaker electric is too good to be true."
No one would agree more than girls themselves, who flocked to Daisy Rock's NAMM booth.
"I like that they sell girl guitars and not just to boys," said Sofia Oroteza, 10, who has been playing for two years. She checked out a jet black guitar she described as "more rocking" than a daisy-shaped one.
Hiiaka, who traveled to NAMM from Hawaii with family members including her father, a guitar manufacturer employee, was starry-eyed as she touched the Daisy Rock star bass she coveted.
"I love stars and I love pink," she said, a big grin spreading across her face.
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