July 2008

Guitar culture is weird. We defend our personal guitar heroes with almost jealous ferocity, but we bash just about every other guitarist who dares to plug in and play. That’s the truth in the old joke that goes, “How many guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Answer: “One to screw in the bulb, and 7,500 to say they could do it better.” Obviously, these kinds of shenanigans also occur in the GP mailbox and on the forums. Recently, Slash took his share of abuse. Mostly, it seems, for his nose ring, top hat, curly hair, and Ray-Bans. Those snipes—which, interestingly, did not extend to his tone or technique—started me thinking again about our cover artists, and I’d like you to weigh in.

In planning covers, the GP staff has the nail-biting responsibility of serving core-reader interests, seducing potential newsstand buyers who aren’t regular GP readers, “greening” the community by appealing to younger guitarists, and selling more than 30 percent of the total issues distributed to newsstands. The last goal is a hard business reality that typically scares us away from putting deserving niche players with small fan bases on the cover. And the maddening truth is that with all the research into what elements move magazines off the racks, actual sales figures can be directed solely by voodoo. For example, a “risky” choice with the decidedly non-mainstream Nels Cline sold very well (March ’05), while the usually reliable Eric Clapton (May ’04) took a screaming nosedive.

As you can surmise, unless you go with perennial favorites that always sell—hello, Hendrix!—making cover decisions is kind of like walking in a pea-soup fog without a flashlight. This year, with the demise of the much-respected Guitar One, the GP staff decided to differentiate itself even further from our fine competitors at Guitar World by promoting classic-rock and jazz/fusion legends on our covers. To date, the published and planned 2008 covers are: Brian May, 50 Great Guitar DVDs, John Fogerty, Allan Holdsworth, Ultimate Guide to Pedalboards, Slash, Al Di Meola, Black Crowes, and Pat Metheny.

However, this decision may have compromised our mission of appealing to the next generation of younger players, as zero new artists have graced our covers this year. (And while we cover all types of new and established artists inside the mag, the 2008 covers may continue to drive the perception that GP is for old guys—a myth that, quite frankly, drives me insane!)

So, what do you think of our cover strategy thus far? Too many mature players? Forget the “talentless” kids, keep featuring the legends? Drop artists entirely, and offer more how-to features and lessons? We’d love to hear your views, so that we can manage course corrections based on tangible guitar-community desires. To say your bit, just go to guitarplayer.com, click to the forums, and post your views under the heading “GP Covers.” If you really want to help us critically assess your views, please provide your age range, your sex, the music you play/like, and whether you’re a subscriber or a newsstand buyer. Then, just let your comments fly. I can’t wait to read your thoughts.