GUITAR STYLES | NOTHING TO FRET ABOUT
Local rocker Leanne Binder can't understand why a girl's guitar can't be black and have a lightning bolt.
By SHERRI L. SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- With colors of pink and baby blue and decorations including butterflies, flowers and hearts, guitar manufacturers are looking at what has previously been a little-mined market: females.
With MTV, VH1 and other musical outlets pumping out image after image of male rockers, over the years, girls have gotten the idea the guitar may not be an instrument designed for them.
In an effort to change the landscape and get more girls and women interested in the instrument, though, companies are pumping out guitars these days that come shaped like flowers or hearts, or have other feminine touches to them.
But is it working?
"In all honestly, these are not the ones girls are buying," explained Mark Tirabassi, owner of Hubbard Music. "By far, the guitars we are selling to girls are natural or black."
Tirabassi said his store has sold a "handful" of the guitars, but to younger girls -- in the 9- to 12-year-old range.
"Every guy I know wants the 'girl' guitars," said 16-year-old Kimberly Root of Lowellville. "I don't really like the 'girl' guitars, with things like butterflies ... no. I don't understand why they have to distinguish between 'girl' and 'guy' guitars."
Kimberly has been studying guitar for a few months, picking it up after seeing a lot of her male friends starting up punk and grunge bands.
Tirabassi said Kimberly is just one of a girl guitar clientele that steadily keeps growing. As their numbers swell, guitar manufacturers seem to be looking for ways to draw in even more players.
"It's nice that they are trying to acknowledge them, but it's unfortunate that gender roles seem to apply to instruments," he said.
"There are some great girl guitar players, just like there are some great guy flute players.
"Instruments should not be gender specific," he added.
Leanne Binder, who has become one of the region's premier girl rockers, agrees.
After spending years studying piano and opera, she picked up keyboards and eventually guitar as a different way to approach her music.
"I was always the singer in the bands," she said. "The guys wouldn't let me play guitar, so I thought, 'Forget it, I'll weasel my way in.'"
She first bought an acoustic guitar when she was in her 20s, and has since learned to rock on electric with the best of them. These days she not only performs acoustic in her duo Acoustic Jukebox with fellow musician Rajma McKenzie, but also fronts her metal-rock band Binder.
For Binder, it was difficult breaking into the music industry as a female rocker who wanted to play guitar.
During a stint in Phoenix, she pounded on doors and made all the right calls to get into bands, "but you wouldn't believe the number of times people hung up on me," she said.
"They would say 'You're a girl and you want to play guitar?' The next thing I would hear was 'Click.'"
What was tough
Despite the inroads made by rockers like Janis Joplin and Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Binder found it hard work breaking into what was seen as a man's world of music.
"It was very difficult," she said. "You look at how things have changed, especially now, when it's almost trendy to see a girl with a guitar. When I started. it was a completely different situation.
"But it made me work harder," she continued. "I thought, 'Boy, will they be sorry. I'll show them.'"
While she is excited to see more area teenage girls entering the world of rock via guitars, she sees the creation of "girl guitars" as a situation of guitar manufacturers pandering to females.
"Why do they have to play down like that?" she asked. "Why does it have to have flowers and hearts? Why can't a girl's guitar be black with a huge lightning bolt on it? What's wrong with that?"
Andrea Armeni, 14, of Liberty hasn't made the move to a black guitar, but she does like her Fender Stratocaster.
"I always liked some of the older music, like the Beatles, and I really wanted to play electric," she said.
Andrea, Christina DePizzo, 17, of Liberty and Erin Shea, 14, of Hubbard all really wanted to learn how to play guitar.
Though Christina is studying to learn to play the acoustic her brother gave her, Erin leans toward the harder edge, studying electric like Andrea and Kimberly.
"I wanted to be able to express myself through music," said Christina. "And guitar was what I wanted to use."
Erin wanted to learn to play the type of music she listens to, especially the punk bands like Newfound Glory and the Ataris. And hearts and flowers on guitars just don't match her tastes.
"I really don't like them," she said, shaking her head, her face giving off a look of disdain. "I want something that will really play my type of music."
All of the teens said so far, none of them has experienced any of the negative reactions Binder seemed to encounter in her early days as a guitarist.
They said their friends and family are all pretty supportive of the fact they want to play guitar, and none of them has been urged to try something a little more "girlie."
Which is how Binder thinks things should be -- a world where girls and guys can rock together.
And her advice to future girl rockers?
"Never let anybody tell you that you can't do it," she said.