Annie Clark, a.k.a. the music star St. Vincent, has designed her own guitar, in collaboration with the Ernie Ball music company. And unlike most guitars, this one is designed to fit a woman’s body. "I wanted to design a tool that would be ergonomic, lightweight, and sleek," Clark wrote on Instagram. "There is room for a breast. Or two."
It's not uncommon for famous guitarists to have signature models with their names on them, as a kind of sponsorship deal, but they’re usually customized versions of existing models. The St. Vincent guitar was designed from scratch, mixing 1980s German synth-pop aesthetics with American muscle-car colors. The structure considers the practical needs of a guitarist who knows exactly what she needs from an instrument.
Aside from some 1960s experiments, the shape of the electric guitar has remained pretty standard. If you drew one, it’d have one or two horns at the top of its body, a waist, and a round bottom. The shape is practical—those horns are the leftovers from cutting away the body so the guitarist can reach the highest frets, and the waist lets the body rest on your knee without slipping away—but it’s also bigger and heavier than it needs to be.
Clark wanted something easier to handle than the standard electric rock guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, or Gibson Les Paul. The famously heavy Les Paul weighs around nine to ten pounds. "I would need to travel with a chiropractor on tour in order to play those guitars," Clark told Guitar World. "It’s not that those aren’t great guitars, but they render themselves impractical and unfunctional for a person like me because of their weight."
Her new guitar weighs around seven pounds, mostly thanks to its narrow, elongated body, which is devoid of curves. And that slim shape isn’t just there to cut weight. "I was always finding when I was playing onstage and wearing various stage outfits the guitar would cut across one of the best features of the female body, which is your waist," she says. With this guitar, held up high, her stage costumes can be much better seen.
To reach the finished design, Clark worked with Ernie Ball’s senior engineer Drew Montell and CEO Sterling Ball. "The design challenges were to keep the integrity of her original design while making sure that it stayed light and balanced while playing and that the shape of the guitar fit her form," Ball told Co.Exist. "For example, her model features a lower cutaway to perfectly fit the guitar to her body and her unique playing style."
Up to a dozen prototypes were made, starting from a sketch by Clark. "I was struck by how serious and thoughtful she was about developing a guitar," says Ball, "which made the ground up design approach for her guitar a very rewarding process,"
The aesthetic and ergonomic choices might be the most striking, but Clark is also an innovative guitarist, and the insides of her signature guitar are just as unusual as the outside. The wiring, for example, is completely non-standard. The five-way switch allows the player to mix and match the guitar’s three pickups (the magnetic "sensors" that translate the movement of the strings into an electrical current that is then sent to an amplifier) in combinations not usually possible.
From a guitarist’s point of view, the St.Vincent guitar looks like it’s just as comfortable to play sitting on a sofa as it is rocking out on stage. And that may be more important than you might think. While Clark’s design was made to fit herself, and therefore, by definition, be good for the female form, the shape is equally well suited to smaller people in general, or to folks who just want a guitar that’s more comfortable to play. That, along with its unusual electrical design, might make it popular with players unhappy with the rather backward-looking offerings of a vintage-obsessed guitar industry.