SF Chronicle Celebrates 50 Years of Guitar Player Magazine

The "Hometown" Newspaper Just Makes the 50th Anniversary Year
By Michael Molenda,

I have to admit I was somewhat depressed in 2017—a year that should have been a wonderful landmark for all past and present GP staffers, as the magazine celebrated a half-century in the publishing industry.

However, when I sent out media alerts about the anniversary around February 2017, it was crickets. For months... 

What made the silence more annoying was all the hoopla for another San Francisco Bay Area magazine that also started in 1967—a little thing called Rolling Stone.

I mean, I get it. Rolling Stone is a major-market consumer publication, and GP is a niche magazine for obsessed guitar players. Still, I hoped that someone out there in the mediasphere would care. Sigh.

Then, just before the holidays, Aidin Vaziri, the pop music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle—and a former freelancer for GP—emailed me and said his editors had finally approved the story. Whew! At least in the magazine's "hometown" newspaper, GP's big 50 would not pass unnoticed. 

The staff and I are indebted to Aidin and the Chronicle for making the story happen (it appeared online via sfgate.com on December 29, 2017, and in the print Datebook edition on January 1, 2018).

READ THE STORY HERE.

That said, a couple of important GP peeps were inadvertently omitted from the Chronicle feature.

Jim Crockett—who became the magazine's editor in 1972, and then its publisher—was obviously instrumental in setting the tone, editorial format, and vibe of Guitar Player. Happily, Jim wrote a book about his experiences with his daughter, Dara—Guitar Player: The Inside Story of the First Two Decades of the Most Successful Guitar Magazine Ever—which you can find RIGHT HERE.

And here's a 2015 interview with Jim from the NAMM Show about the book...

In addition, Don Menn—who was chief editor from 1977-1981, and is now a professor at San Francisco State University—didn't get a quote in the Chronicle story. Don was here before my time, of course, but I've heard from former staffers that he initiated another great evolution of the magazine's editorial content, and almost single-handedly produced ancillary issues such as the very collectible Jimi Hendrix special.

The full lineup of past chief editors—at least from what I've been able to glean from staff boxes—is as follows...

Maxine Stock (1967), GP founder/publisher Bud Eastman (1967-1971), Jim Crockett (1972-1977), Don Menn (1971-1981), Tom Wheeler (1981-1991), Dominic Milano/Editorial Director and Joe Gore/Senior Editor (1992-1996), Richard Johnston (1996-1997), and me (1997-present).

Finally, some great friends of GP sent in congratulatory notes — along with Joe Satriani, Elliott Easton, Jennifer Batten, and Adrian Belew— but didn't make the cut for the article...

“Big time congratulations to GP on 50 years of stringing us along! You’re the best! Since I was a young boy, whenever I receive my monthly copy of GP, my brain bathes itself with a serotonin flush. And If I’m on the cover, I experience a full-on Dopamine hernia.” —Steve Vai

"Guitar Player has been a staple in my life since I was 11 years old. It was THE first mag about guitar—my obsession, and still is. When I first read details about my fave players—about legends and their gear—it was our guitar ‘Playboy’ magazine. Naked guitars and my fave players in it! I never thought I would someday be on the cover a few times thanks to the amazing support over the years. Still far and away the best guitar magazine. Guitar Player has always covered amazing players of ALL styles with extremely valuable lessons and transcriptions. I’ve learned a lot, and still do, every month since its inception." — Steve Lukather

Lastly, I want to thank Gelb Music of Redwood City, who hosted the article's photo shoot with the Chronicle's photographer Paul Chinn on extremely short notice.

I had said in a personal post that you really find out where you stand in the universe when you put something out into the universe. I had thought that GP's 50th would have been more newsworthy, but perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part, or even a spot of arrogance about the magazine's stature in the vast galaxy of content.

But I do know this...

Throughout Guitar Player's 50-year existence, it has produced some truly talented and insightful editors and writers. 

We continue to have a rabid following of fantastic readers who love the magazine. They scream when we get things wrong—or if we publish things they don't dig—and they let us know when we help them achieve their goals of sounding better and playing better. Without this back-and-forth communication with our community, we would never have lasted 50 years, and we never take the readers' comments and criticisms lightly, or their support for granted.

GP is Ground Zero for guitar/gear magazines—it started the format, and all other guitar magazines that have appeared since GP's birth in 1967 owe us a bit of a nod. (Okay, if Bud Eastman didn't kick off the guitar magazine, I'm sure someone else would have, but Bud did manifest this crazy thing, so he gets to own it.)

Our art directors have evolved the design of the magazine with the times—sometimes, even slightly ahead of the curve—and have thrilled and challenged the guitar community.

The executive teams and owners of the magazine over the years have worked with the editors to ensure we can continue to serve the community of guitar players — even when the ebbs and flows of the publishing business have sometimes required tough decisions. Much as our readers love the magazine and what it stands for, GP is still a business, and it's no small achievement for an executive team to keep a company breathing, relevant, and stable for five decades.

GP has allowed me to personally work with a crew of brilliant people who have inspired me—and who still inspire me—every single day. Everyone who works for this magazine represents a legacy of journalistic ethics, intense collaboration, innovation, and joy. I know that every decision that I make today still carries the blissful weight of "What would Tom Wheeler do?" or "How would Jim Crockett react to this?" or "I wonder how writers such as Jas Obrecht, Jon Sievert, Tom Mulhern, Dan Forte, Andy Ellis, Joe Gore, James Rotondi, Chris Gill, and so many others would approach this story?"

It's an ongoing legacy. One that every staff protects, nourishes, and, hopefully, adds their own stamp. 

After all, you don't survive 50 years in the publishing industry by good luck alone.

Many thanks to all who served, and every reader and gear manufacturer who has supported the magazine, and enjoyed holding a Guitar Player in their hands.

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