I found in my storage area a box of my old guitar magazines from the 80’s and 90’s. It’s fun to see who was popular, who still is, and who has fallen off the face of the earth since. But what struck me was the ads. The style and the quality hasn’t aged well at all. Bad cut & paste jobs (and that’s actual cutting with scissors and pasting with glue, kids. No CTRL+V/CTRL-P here.), cheesy slogans and sometimes dubious celebrity choices were the norm. And the hair. Oh my, the hair. It’s funny, because I remember living through the 80’s thinking technology was super advanced (it was!), but 30 years in the future, we may not have the flying cars yet, but the 80’s look like the Iron Age by comparison. But they worked at the time; I remember drooling over all that gear!
So I started scanning the more interesting ones to share with you all. Here we go!
1- Chris Squire (YES) for Mouradian Guitars
In this ad for Mouradian guitars (never heard of them since), bass legend Chris Squire looks ready to squash an ant colony while playing a flame shaped bass. At first I thought I’d bungled my scan but since the text is clear, it’s Chris’s picture that’s problematic. It looks like they blew up a grainy out of focus photo. Couldn’t they get a better shot? I mean, Yes was quite popular at some point, I’m sure SOMEONE took a few good pictures of the band?
And what’s up with the upper case S in 80’S?
Their slogan is “Our Guitars, Your Abilities, Tomorrow’s Sounds”. So, in mathematical terms, g x a = s. Since we never heard again from Mouradian, we can safely assume that the sound of tomorrow turned out to be the sound of silence, thus s = 0. Squire’s abilities are humongous, so by using basic algebra we can deduct that their guitars were in fact worth zero.
There you go. Scientific proof that those guitars sucked.
2- Angus Young (AC/DC) – Gibson SG-62
Gibson proudly proclaims in this ad that their SG guitars have the “fastest neck in the world!” Considering the fact that a guitar neck can’t be fast by itself, they probably want to tell you that if you buy a Gibson SG-62, you’ll be able to play as fast as Angus Young. Which does sound better than “play as sloppily as Angus Young”.
How fast is that? Well they pasted the picture of the guitar in front of a jet engine, which are known to be fast. They also produce a similar amount of decibels to that of an AC/DC concert, although AC/DC is much more pleasant to listen to.
3- Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) – Kahler tremolo systems
Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora is sporting a Gibson Les Paul custom modified by Rod Schoepfer. (He used that guitar on “Slippery When Wet”, “7800 Farenheit” and “New Jersey”) I consider it an abomination to add a whammy bar to a Les Paul, but whatever. Let’s not forget the important part of this ad: Richie’s “mean business” look and gravity defying hairdo.
4- Bob Kulick (session musician, Meat Loaf, Paul Stanley) – Washburn guitars
This ad by Washburn starts off with a clumsy word play on the title of Meatloaf’s hit song “Two out of Three ain’t Bad”, and it never really recovers. Washburn guitars weren’t exactly top of the line, which just proves that musicians will endorse anything to get free guitars. Bob Kulick has played with tons of musicians, live and in the studio, but is mostly famous for not being chosen for KISS because a bald guitar player didn’t fit their look. He later on ghost played on a few of their records when Ace Frehley wouldn’t show up. Eventually Kulick got the KISS gig, except it was his younger brother Bruce, who sported a full head of hair. Now isn’t it ironic, as Alanis would say.
And I think his “look out!” pose is to draw away our attention from the guitar. Because nobody who was serious about playing guitar played Washburn guitars. Nobody.
5- Ace Frehley (KISS, Frehley’s Comet) – Laney Amps (and incidentally Washburn Guitars)
Except this guy. Now, it’s anyone’s guess as to why he ditched the Les Pauls in the 80’s. Maybe Gibson stopped taking his calls once he left KISS? But apart from the fact that Washburn promised him a lightning bolt shaped guitar, why did he switch to that brand? And did he play them in the ads only? Anyway, this ad is for Laney amps, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Except Ace’s awkward pose. And his red jumpsuit. And his “What the hell am I doing here?” look. And the lightning shaped guitar. The amps are cool though.
6- Krokus – GHS Strings
Krokus is probably the best metal band to come out of Switzerland. Probably the only one too. Back in the 80’s, they looked poised to hit the big time, but they never did and just faded away. You know you’re in trouble when your breakthrough hit is a cover (Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”).
GHS Strings ads were all over these magazines, but you have to admire their faith in Krokus to take out a full page color ad touting their endorsement. I wonder how many people saw the ad and went “Oh shit, I got to switch to GHS if pros like Krokus use them.” At least Krokus got free strings out of the deal.
7- Ray Gomez – Peavey
Now this one is my favourite of the bunch. Ray Gomez, with his big nerd glasses (I had almost the same. Takes one to know one.), rocking his Peavey gear. Now, I remember that back then everyone had Peavey guitars and amps. Why? Because they were well made but fairly inexpensive. Me? I wouldn’t touch them. They all sounded like Peavey. And that sound was nowhere to be heard on any of the albums we were listening to, which told me that none of these pros used Peavey.
Now, my big question is Ray Who? I mean, the guy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, which in 2015 means you don’t exist. (I don’t have one either so ponder this philosophical question for a while) But he does have a website (http://www.raygomez.com), and it looks like he’s had a very good career that just flew under the radar, like so many other talented musicians before and since. Oh, and he has an extensive gear page that lists with minutia all the equipment he uses. Guess what? No Peavey anywhere.
But the best part of the ad is the quote by the legendary Carlos Santana. “Hearing Ray Gomez play is like eating fresh watermelon in summer”. Man, I gotta hear that. And Carlos: lay off the weed.
8- Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen) – Kramer Guitars
This ad from Kramer guitars asks the age old, burning question “Beside Eddie Van Halen, who are the greatest guitar players in tennis today?”. Apparently John McEnroe tried to put together a music career after his tennis days were over, with very little success. The power of the Internet allowed me to discover that the other guy is Vitas Gerulaitis, who sadly died at the age of 40 when an “improperly installed pool heater caused carbon monoxide gas to seep into the guesthouse where Gerulaitis was sleeping, causing his death by carbon monoxide poisoning”. (Wikipedia)
Further proof that the copywriters at Kramer were punsters, the words LOVE, FAULT and MATCH are all in caps, probably because they are all tennis terms. All kidding aside, it’s a cool ad, and you have to admire the effort they put in it, because Eddie’s name alone would have sold a ton of guitars for them.
9- Alex Lifeson (Rush) & Andy Summers (The Police) – Dean Markley
I’m combining both of these because they were obviously part of the same marketing campaign. Both guitarists are featured in artistic poses with the company’s gear, and you’re clearly meant to feel impressed by their seriousness.
Obviously the company thought Andy Summers needed an introduction, since his name and band are printed right by him, or they were afraid that readers would mistake him for Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon. But the real kicker is Lifeson’s ad. We’ll forgive the mullet, but wonder about the props included. Why a spyglass on the amp? Or the Japanese umbrella? And why is he sitting in front of a cemetery, where someone is flying a kite? And why the rainbow? Or the dove in the upper right corner?
Still, because of the power of marketing, I’m getting the impression Dean Markley’s gear is classy, and destined for people who make art. Don’t you think?
10- Mark St. John (White Tiger, KISS) – G&L Guitars
G&L ads were EVERYWHERE in these magazines in the 80’s. The company, boasting the skills of Leo Fender (of Fender guitars fame), clearly spent a ton on advertising. Which meant they had to go for a C-level star for endorsements. Mark St. John was in KISS for about 47 minutes before Reiter’s Syndrome prevented him from touring behind the Animalize album, leading to his replacement by the aforementioned Bruce Kulick. A pure shredder, St. John was brought into KISS in an attempt to be more relevant in the hair metal, guitar shredding era. He clearly had the hair, he shredded like the best of them, but he was a bad fit for KISS. Success would keep eluding him, with the high mark being “(working) with former Knight Rider star David Hasselhoff, even appearing in his video, “Is Everyone Happy”” (Wikipedia). He died in 2007 of a brain haemorrhage brought on by a meth overdose.
He's also a regular contributor at the excellent news site Montreal Rampage