Customization gives musicians creative freedoms

Artists are capturing their identities through their guitars

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By MAIYA SUZUKI

The COVID-19 pandemic killed live performances for months, creating an opportunity for musicians who had free time to customize their guitars.

Now that live shows have resumed, the unique style of guitars that musicians created are helping them compete for gigs. 

Gavin Youngash, Vancouver-based freelance guitarist, said the halt of live music shows gave musicians the free time to modify and invest in their instruments. Youngash used the downtime to design and put together a guitar alongside his friend who is a guitar builder. 

Guitarists will make minor colour and design modifications to display their desired aesthetic, he said.

“The same choices you might make for your attire and your appearance generally might be echoed by your choice in an instrument. Like if you’re all dressed in pastels, you might want your guitar to match that,” said Youngash.

No more gigs for guitars

In March 2020, all live show venues in Vancouver were forced to postpone shows indefinitely due to B.C.’s Ministry of Health social gathering guidelines. On Oct. 24, 2021, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that concerts and other social gatherings were permitted at 100 per cent capacity.

According to analysis by Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, as of the first quarter of 2023, the live performance market value was still 5.3 per cent less than its pre-pandemic level. 

Accessory to branding

Musician and guitar builder Meredith Coloma of Coloma Guitars in Vancouver said musicians can accessorize themselves with their guitar and express their personal sound to fit their brand.

“Their showmanship is part of how they express themselves on stage and that’s why they’ll modify, and then other people are looking for a sound,” said Coloma. “Some people are building their guitars as an accessory to their brand.”

Many musicians and guitar collectors have a specific vision for their ideal guitar that can come to life through custom-guitar builders. Rob Bustos, master builder at Prestige Guitars Ltd. in North Vancouver, said there are various pieces that go into creating the perfect guitar. Customers can choose customizations from the material choices for the body of the guitar to internal wiring options.

“Big thing is the material choices, which can affect sound, but also the look, and you know the finish of the guitar can really add your personal touch as well,” said Bustos.

Youngash said having unique art on your guitar plays a role in the performance and helps to increase the audience’s enjoyment.

“I mean that just adds to the whole package of how visually how a performance is received,” said Youngash.

 

Modern Musicians: Strings and Bling

Guitarists are building unique designs, for a unique performance

By tailoring the look of their guitars, musicians are using their instruments as an extension to their identity.

“Kids don’t really want to play their grandpa’s guitars anymore. They want something unique,” said Cooper Milani, a musician in Port Moody.

Milani designed his first guitar inspired by his favourite childhood cartoon, Sonic the Hedgehog. His guitar has a royal blue glitter paint and the shape of the guitar body is inspired by the silhouette of Sonic’s quills.

Milani aims to have the look of his guitar align with his music while performing.

“My whole goal was to make guitars that played as fast as possible, which kind of relate to removing things that inhibit you from musically expressing yourself,” said Milani. “It was just about capturing who I am and the energy that I want to give off.”

Hank Budd, guitar builder of Hank Budd Guitars in Vancouver, makes electric guitars by hand with a blues, country, and rock aesthetic. Budd combines the functionality and aesthetic preferences of the customer to create their perfect custom guitar.

“It has to look good, but the esthetics can never interfere with the use because its primary function is an instrument,” said Budd. “So, you try and come in like you got to meet them both ways. The guitar is kind of an extension of your performance.”

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