The Venue Menu

As a designer, I am always looking to create something that will catch the eye and appeal to as many guitarists as possible. Indeed, if you are going to design a guitar or product you want it to be commercially successful when in production. Last year, I wrote an article entitled, “The Times They Are A Changing”. I observed that the majority of guitarists can only visualise Mainstream guitars as their only choice of guitars that are worth looking at and, subsequently, purchasing. I also observed that there is now an alternative to Mainstream design for those guitarists who require something a little different. “Alternative Mainstream” is gaining momentum, sales are growing and design is in the ascendancy once again. With this project, therefore, I wanted to bring the two market sectors together and create a brand that would reach out to everyone who loves guitar design.

Where to begin? A little while ago I designed a guitar called “Ground Zero (The Blues Alley)”. This guitar was my tribute to the owners, performers and patrons of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS. Initially; it was an experimental design exercise, however, it soon became apparent that there was more to this project than I originally thought. The Ground Zero Blues Club experiment was an early attempt of deliberately fusing together elements of both Mainstream and “Alternative Mainstream” design. Following on from “Ground Zero (The Blues Alley)”, I created the experimental “Po Monkey” guitar where I took a scaled down Jazzmaster style body and added our own “Alternative Mainstream” pickups and control knobs. Encouraged by all the positive feedback I received when these two concepts were posted on Facebook and Twitter, I asked my good friend, Gary Grainger, for his opinion. Gary was immensely supportive informing me that I should take this approach of design further, and expand upon designing guitars based on iconic music venues. If the designs don’t fit, he told me; you will still have the guitars for your portfolio.

Encouraged by Gary’s endorsement I started to jot down the names of famous iconic music venues. I quickly had a list of ten venues or so and countless bands and artists who had, over the years, performed at them. I asked Gary again for his input and between us we discussed the merits of each venue and their role in the development of rock music and popular culture. After much discussion and constructive debate we finally chose The Star-Club in Hamburg, CBGB in Manhattan and The Crocodile Cafe in Seattle: three venues who’s impact on twentieth century popular music and culture was, and remains, monumental. Having chosen the venues, the guitars almost designed themselves!

The Star-Club, St Pauli, Hamburg

Located in the St Pauli, red light district of Hamburg at 39 Grosse Freiheit, a side street off the Reeperbahn, The Star-Club became renowned as the venue where The Beatles perfected their stagecraft. The club’s historical importance, therefore, is colossal. We could have chosen the Cavern Club in Liverpool but Gary and I decided on The Star-Club because it was one of the first European clubs to open purely to promote rock and roll artists.

The Star-Club opened on 13th April 1962 and among the first acts to appear there were Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and a host of British and European performers. Jerry Lee Lewis played The Star-Club in May 1963 backed by The Outlaws, a British group with whom Ritchie Blackmore was their lead guitarist.

One other reason for choosing The Star-Club was because West Germany had a thriving guitar manufacturing industry, subsequently, many a guitar player who performed there would have played German made guitars as American made instruments were either, out of reach, or too expensive to buy. Incidentally, Ritchie Blackmore’s first electric guitar was a Höfner Club 50.

The guitar Gary and I chose for The Star-Club’s blueprint was the Framus Strato de Luxe, a guitar hugely influenced by the Fender Jaguar. We thought it would be rather cool to work with a guitar that I would term “Alternative Mainstream”, yet is quintessentially Mainstream, albeit German!

We have called our contemporary reflection “The Reeperbahn” and kept the design as original as possible simply adding little design clues along the way. Gary and I both love this guitar because to us, she represents much more than early ‘60s German guitar design. Fundamentally, we believe she characterises the Reeperbahn and the red light district of Hamburg where pornography, prostitution and rock ‘n roll were the menu of the day.

CBGB, 315 Bowery, Manhattan

From Hamburg’s Reeperbahn and the ‘60s beat revolution to Manhattan’s Bowery district and the birth of New Wave and Punk. Consequently, CBGB chose itself as the next venue in the menu.

Located at 315 Bowery, Bleecker Street in the borough of Manhattan, CBGB (Country, BlueGrass and Blues) opened in 1973. The intention of the club’s owner, Mr Hilly Kristal, was to promote music associated with the name, however, it quickly became a frenzied feeding ground for all the American New Wave bands that were emerging in the mid to late 1970s. The B-52’s, Blondie, The Cramps, The Dead Boys, The Dictators, The Misfits, The Ramones, Patti Smith Group, The Voidoids, Talking Heads and Television, to name but a few, were all regular performers at CBGB.

It wasn’t just the New Wave bands who played at CBGB. AC/DC played there in May 1974 having just signed with Atlantic Records. They immediately impressed company founder, Ahmet Ertegun, who was in the audience that evening, with their musicanship and boyish swagger. In the 1980s, Hardcore bands such as Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, Warzone and Youth Of Today played at CBGB.

The band which epitomises CBGB the most are The Ramones. Despite achieving only limited commercial success, the band was a major influence on the Punk Rock movement. Therefore, when it came to choosing the CBGB guitar blueprint their was only one contender: Johnny Ramones’ Mosrite Ventures II solid body.

I didn’t want to copy the original because I wanted the guitar to be representative of CBGB and not The Ramones. I have made subtle changes to the original Mosrite design by adding humbuckers and our own “Alternative Mainstream” headstock. I would like to think that “315”, as I have called her, captures the spirit of CBGB, the vision and fortitude of its founder and the historical significance the club played in the development of New Wave, Punk and Hardcore. For those reasons alone “315” is a worthy addition to the menu.

The Crocodile Cafe, Belltown, Seattle

From Manhattan’s Bowery district and the beginning of Punk to Belltown, Seattle and the birth of Grunge. Just like CBGB, The Crocodile Cafe chose itself and is the third venue in the menu.

Back in the late 1980s a new form of rock music emerged on the scene. Originating in Seattle, Grunge Rock put songwriting, angst and attitude back on top of the musical agenda. Grunge was inspired by Hardcore Punk, Heavy Metal and Alternative Rock and is characterized by heavily distorted guitars, usually second-hand Fender Jaguars, Jazzmasters and Mustangs (which is why I love Grunge), aggressive vocals and stripped down, in your face, production. Three leading exponenets of Grunge were Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. All three bands played at The Crocodile Cafe.

Located at 2200 2nd Avenue at Blanchard Street in the neighborhood of Belltown, Seattle, The Crocodile Cafe opened its doors in April 1991 and quickly established itself as the home of the “Seattle Sound”. Other noteable acts who played “The Croc” included Alice In Chains, Mudhoney, Porcupine Tree, R.E.M. and The Ventures. Yoko Ono even played there. Gary and I chose The Crocodile Cafe because it represented (the original club closed in 2007) the last major significant development in popular rock music. You may disagree and argue that Nu-Metal has had the final word. It’s all subjective and perhaps Billy Joel was right all along when he wrote, “It’s still rock and roll to me”.

The guitars which epitomises Grunge and the “Seattle Sound” are the aforementioned, Fender Jazzmaster, Jaguar and Mustang. When it came to choosing The Crocodile Cafe guitar blueprint the choice was made for me. The question I had to answer was where do I go with them? I did consider doing something with Kurt Cobain’s Mustang but that has already been done and I wanted the guitar to be representative of The Crocodile Cafe and not Mr Cobain. After consulatation with Gary I came up with “Stephanie”, in tribute to Stephanie Dorgan, the club’s owner and founder. “Stephanie” is very curvacious and jazzy with just the right amount of Grunge thrown in for good measure. The pickups are based on our very own “Breuer” collection and will produce as much “Seattle Sound” as you can physically handle. For those reasons alone Gary and I both think “Stephanie” is a worthy addition to the menu.

“The Venue Menu” marks a significant change of direction of us. With Gary’s help, I deliberately set out to create a range of guitars that would appeal to both Mainstream and “Alternative Mainstream” fans. I have endeavoured to create a marketing brand that has every chance of being commercially successful. If you are a manufacturer and agree with my ideology please get in touch, I would love to hear from you. As always, thanks for your time and support. SR