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The Recommender

St. Vincent Redesigned The Electric Guitar Into A Small, Lightweight "Rock Machine"

Singer Annie Clark partnered with Ernie Ball Music Man to create the sleek St. Vincent guitar.

Ax to grind: Annie Clark rethought every element of a guitar to create her model for Ernie Ball.

[Photo: Will Anderson]

Annie Clark, aka the Grammy Award-winning musician St. Vincent, had a beef with standard electric guitars. At nearly four feet long and about nine pounds, they overpowered her slim, five-foot-seven frame. She decided to create something more manageable.

Last year, Clark presented a sketch to Sterling Ball, CEO of Ernie Ball Music Man (the company behind the iconic StingRay bass, favored by artists such as Queen’s John Deacon). In March, they released the seven-pound, $1,900 St. Vincent guitar. Where a typical guitar’s waist is flat, hers has an angular body that slopes toward the guitarist. And the strap button, normally positioned on the center of the guitar, is located higher on the body to more evenly distribute its weight. Clark also revised the wiring: A five-way switch lets the player mix and match the instrument’s three pickups (the magnetic "sensors" that translate string movement into an electrical current) in new combinations. "I reconsidered every aspect of a standard electric," Clark says. "I was looking for maximum tone flexibility."

Couple that with the guitar’s intricate angles and the result is a small yet versatile instrument. "I play her guitar all the time, and I’m a big guy," says Ball. "I think of it as a little rock machine."

A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.

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