How To

How To: Photograph Guitars

In the 1989 movie Drugstore Cowboy, the protagonist Bob (played by Matt Dillon), is a superstitious man with a bad drug habit.  Bob’s perception about how lucky he is at any given time drives his decision on whether to score drugs.  If Bob feels lucky, he successfully acquires more drugs.  He’s happy.

But, things can change quickly.  When Bob gets a bad sign, he takes a self-imposed hiatus from getting drugs.  No drugs = unhappy Bob.

What constitutes a bad sign?  The first omen occurred when Bob was watching TV – a number of dog food commercials appeared, all in a row.  That was a sign.  He informed his crew that there would be no more attempts to procure drugs for a month.  Not seeing any logic behind that decision, Bob’s crew asks if there are any other bad omens they should be aware of.  “Hats”, Bob replies, “if I ever see a hat on a bed in this house, you’ll never see me again.” Why a hat, they ask?  “Cause that’s just the way it is.”

Well, not long after this warning from Bob – spoiler alert!! – someone places a hat on a bed and things indeed go horribly wrong.

And at this point, you may be asking yourself, why is a blog post titled “How to Photograph Guitars” going on at length about Drugstore Cowboy and hats on beds?  Because, dear reader, if there is only one thing you take away from this post, it is this: NEVER PHOTOGRAPH A GUITAR ON A BED.  Not even if you’re Annie Leibovitz.  No good can ever come from a picture of a guitar on a bed.  It’s not aesthetically pleasing.  (9 times out of 10 you probably haven’t even made the bed.)  It’s lazy.  It will guarantee that no one will rent or purchase your instrument.  Why?  Cause that’s just the way it is.

Now here are some other tips for shooting decent pictures of your guitar:

General Setting

An uncluttered, simple background is best.  Are there any loose papers, food or clothing visible anywhere in the frame of the image?  If the answer is yes, delete the photo, remove all the background “noise” and re-shoot the picture.

Lighting

Type: Natural light, particularly during the “golden hours” of early morning or late afternoon, produces a warm glow that is ideal.  Normally, you don’t want your instrument in direct sunlight.  Using indirect, natural light during the “golden hours” makes just about anything look great.

Origination source: Regardless of the type of light being used, the origination or source of light should be coming from behind the camera, and hitting the surface of the instrument which is being photographed.  So, as a general rule, don’t take a picture of your guitar when it is in front of a window.

Example (bad): Lighting from behind an instrument

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Example (good): Lighting from in front of (or from the side) an instrument

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Distance/Range

Medium range to close up shots are the two best options.

Medium:

A medium distance is approximately 7 to 10 feet from the guitar.  This shot will provide a full view of the guitar from the top of the head stock to the bottom of the instrument.  It sets the context of everything.

Close up:

A close up distance can be anywhere from 2 feet to 2 inches from the guitar.  These shots are designed to zero in on specific parts of the guitar – the body, the head stock, the grain of the fretboard, etc.  Close ups can serve many purposes.  They can highlight details that are unique and aesthetically pleasing.  They can also show known issues with the finish or hardware.  It is always best to capture these imperfections and include them very prominently in your listing because you don’t want to mislead a potential renter or buyer.  You will get a negative reviews if you don’t.  You will get unhappy messages.  You will get requests for refunds.  Just save everyone the hassle – visually capture and share all of the known blemishes up front.

Focus

Is the picture of the guitar you have just taken in focus?

  • If yes, proceed to the next section.
  • If no, are you Annie Leibovitz?
    • If yes, then you probably have a good reason for taking the picture.  Carry on.
    • If no, then delete the photo and re-shoot the picture.

Parts of the instrument to photograph

At minimum, you should take the following shots:

  • Front of guitar – full length, head to toe
  • Back of guitar – full length, head to toe

And give serious consideration to adding these as well:

  • Front of body – close up
  • Back of body – close up
  • Front of neck/fretboard – medium or close up
  • Back of neck – medium or close up
  • Front of head stock – close up
  • Back of head stock – close up

Angles

Shooting straight on is the safest approach.  There is room for experimentation here, but if you review your photographs and notice that all of your “experimental” shots are only pointing down (e.g. the camera is pointing at a 45 degree angle from above the instrument), or only pointing up, then you should probably mix up the approach.

Example – Straight On

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Example – Down

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These are just some of the most obvious suggestions for how to photograph guitars.  For more detailed and expert advice on photographing guitars, here are some additional resources:

Gary’s Classic Guitars – https://www.garysguitars.com/advanced-techniques-photographing-vintage-guitars

Digital Photography Review – https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3860366

Annie Leibovitz’s Masterclass – https://www.masterclass.com/classes/annie-leibovitz-teaches-photography

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

Rewarded for Respect

Operating a two-sided marketplace, like Fretish, can be a complicated thing.  First you need to find a supply of cool musical instruments.  This can be a challenge.  Then, almost simultaneously, you need to notify the right set of musicians that there is cool gear to be played.  Also, not an easy task.  But, having built and operated digital brands over the past 20 years – including AOL Instant Messenger, Monster.com and CoachUp – you become adept at overcoming marketplace challenges.

What feels unique about this latest endeavor is how central the role of respect must play – on all sides of the marketplace.  A culture of respect is required to make Fretish successful and sustainable.  And this culture must be shared by all participants: the company, the supply side of the marketplace (instrument owners and guitar builders) and the demand side of the marketplace (the renters and buyers of equipment).

Why is respect so important?  Because it directly benefits you (the Fretish member), regardless of which side of the marketplace you reside.  If you are a guitar player and are respectful, then you’ll get to experience playing that really cool guitar.  And, you’ll receive a positive review which will make other owners interested in renting to you.  If you are an instrument owner and are respectful, then you’ll earn money from your collection.  And you too will receive positive reviews.  For the company, respect is central to the brand identity.  If musicians don’t feel – at a gut level – that Fretish is a company dedicated to respect, for people and musical instruments, then the foundation for a sustainable business does not exist.

Some examples of practicing respect:

Players (renters or buyers)

  • When making a rental request, suggest possible times and location for pick up (if location hasn’t been specified on the instrument details page).
  • Respond promptly to owner inquiries.
  • Provide complete answers.
  • Be on time for instrument pick up and drop off.
  • Take extremely good care of the instrument while it is in your possession.
  • Thank the owner for entrusting you with their instrument.
  • If you are seeking to negotiate a lower price on gear that is for sale, don’t engage in endless debate on “what the instrument is worth”.  Succinctly present an alternative offer.  If the owner says “no thanks”, then consider the negotiation concluded.  Don’t pester the instrument owner.
  • Make sure to leave a review of the transaction so that other Fretish users know if this was a good experience or not.

Owners

  • Make sure to complete the payment settings on your account when listing instruments.  Users cannot rent from you until you complete those steps – nor can you get paid.
  • Respond promptly to player inquiries.
  • If your instrument is unavailable for rent or sale, then either a) update the availability of the instrument on your availability calendar or b) de-list the instrument from the site.
  • Inspect the instrument before it is delivered for rent.  Are the electronics working as they should?  Are the strings (relatively) new?  Is the guitar in tune?  Has it been wiped off with a soft cloth?  Yes, to all of the above?  Great!
  • Be on time for instrument pick up an drop off.
  • Make sure to leave a review of the transaction so that other Fretish users know if this was a good experience or not.

If you ever encounter a disrespectful experience on Fretish, let us know here https://fretish.com/en/user_feedbacks/new so we can address the issue as soon as possible.

photo credit: BET

Uncategorized

The case for respecting guitars

Image uploaded from iOS (9)
Joe Perry smashing a perfectly good instrument.

About a week ago, the following picture appeared on my Instagram feed.  It’s Joe Perry, of Aerosmith fame (and a guitarist that I long held in high regard), smashing his guitar at a recent performance.  You may also notice the following details:

  • This is Joe Perry’s official Instagram account
  • Joe appears to be in reasonably good physical shape
  • Supro amps power this rig
  • Johnny Depp is in the background
  • I have not liked this post

I admit that, in my youth, seeing Townshend or Cobain smash their instruments provided a surge of adrenaline – like a visceral thrill one gets when witnessing a stadium demolished in a controlled explosion.  No longer, though.  Now, watching people destroy their instruments intentionally, produces a sense of frustration and lost opportunity.

How did we get here?

Pete Townshend is generally credited with being the first guitarist to smash his guitar on stage in the early 1960s.  The crowd’s reaction so impressed Pete, that he decided to make this a somewhat regular gimmick of Who concerts.  Somewhat after the fact, Pete argued that his destruction of guitars was a legitimate artistic statement: the “auto-destruction” motif, inspired by Gustav Metzger.

Jimi Hendrix then took auto-destruction to a new level at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 – both lighting his Stratocaster on fire and then smashing it to bits.  No artistic rationale was provided.

Over the five decades since, guitarists of various fame and notoriety have mimicked their guitar heroes by laying waste to their gear.  But, with each successive “homage” to Townshend and Hendrix, the act of destroying guitars generates less publicity and dilutes any artistic integrity which may have actually existed in the first place.  Whatever the motivations are by these guitar-breakers, to the outside observer it’s seems like an act of desperation – someone trying to become or retain their relevancy.

The alternatives

Getting back to Joe Perry’s post.  I was heartened to see a fair of amount of commenters giving the picture a thumbs down or asking why he destroyed a perfectly good instrument.  Indeed, there were quite a few suggestions of what he could have done with the guitar instead of smashing it.  Here are a few of my own suggestions for any musician who considers destroying their instruments:

  • Don’t smash your gear.  Put it back in its case and continue to play it.
  • Donate your unwanted instrument.  There are tons of charities who accept instrument donations, including Girls Rock Campaign Boston.
  • Gift the guitar to one of the fans in the audience.  How much goodwill and positive word-of-mouth would come from that?  A ton.  You’d have a fan for life.
  • Sell your unwanted instrument.
  • List your instrument for rent on Fretish.  It’s free to join.  It’s free to list.  Your fans will get to play your gear, you’ll make money and you’ll deepen your relationship with your fan base.

Final thoughts

When George Harrison started to learn sitar from Ravi Shankar in the mid-60s, he committed himself fully to the endeavor, practicing for 3+ hours per day.  But, Ravi demanded more than time.  In one of his earliest lessons with Ravi, George recalled getting up to use the restroom.  He placed the sitar down and stepped directly over the instrument.  Ravi immediately reprimanded the young Beatle.  Respect the instrument George was told!  Respect your practice.  Respect the art.  Respect the instrument.  That lesson stuck with George for the rest of his life.  And I think it’s one we should all consider.

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How To

How To: Pack A Guitar Like A Pro

When I was 16, my first boss shared an invaluable lesson with me: always go beyond what the customer expects.  That first job of mine was a lowly service role.  I was a pool maintenance guy.  And the only way my company was going to stand out versus all other pool maintenance companies was to go above and beyond the specific tasks laid out in our service level agreement.

So, beyond vacuuming the pool, brushing the tiles, cleaning the filters and making sure the pH and chlorine levels were correct, I would spend an extra 10 minutes to tidy up the surroundings of the pool like brushing the surface area around the pool and arranging the deck furniture.  When I was done, not only was the water clean and inviting, but the entire pool area looked like it was ready to be photographed for the cover of Architectural Digest.

The memory of that first career lesson came back to me earlier this week when I received a guitar that I had purchased from Capital Guitars Online.  The guitar is a blonde 2007 Fender Telecaster GE Smith Signature Model.  It looks great.  It plays great.  And I love it.  But, there was one additional thing that has stuck with me several days later – the way the guitar was packaged.  It was, by far, the best packaging of any guitar I have received in the last decade.  Capital Guitars Online could give a masters class of packaging.  But, rather than relying on CGO to share the do/don’ts of preparing a guitar for shipping, the Fretish blog will provide this tutorial.

Exterior

Image uploaded from iOS
Exhibit A – Plain Brown Box

Less is more: Keep your package contents a mystery by choosing a box with no obvious text or images which scream “highly valuable musical instrument in here”.  Adopt a blank canvas approach.  Most retailers or online instrument marketplaces tend to slap their logo and an outline of their most popular model on the box, leaving no doubt to potential porch pirates that this is their lucky day.

Image uploaded from iOS (4)
Exhibit B – Short & sweet messaging

Clear, simple labeling: Concise instructions are better than verbose ones.  People will retain a three word message better than a ten word message.  And if you can use intuitive icons instead of words, like an arrow to indicate “this side up”, that’s even better.

Image uploaded from iOS (3)
Exhibit C – Seasonally relevant messaging to prevent instrument damage

Additional instructions with proper explanation: Receiving an instrument from the post man is always an exciting time.  But, to open your package immediately after it arrives during a harsh New England winter could lead to bad outcomes.  To be on the safe side, always label your package between November to March (even longer, depending where you live) with a sticker telling the recipient to wait 24 hours before opening their package.  This sticker above works well because it sets the context (“hey, we’ve shipped this from a very cold environment”), provides the instruction (“wait 24 hours”) and the risk one assumes if they don’t follow your direction (“finish checking”).

Interior Packaging Materials

Image uploaded from iOS (2)
Exhibit D – Peanuts, bubble wrap or heavy stock paper

I didn’t properly document this photographically, but here are the steps they appeared to take:

  1. Stack the box vertically (see Exhibit A photograph above)
  2. Line the “bottom” of the box with a layer of bubble wrap
  3. Load guitar case gently into the box, leaving space for shipping peanuts and/or heavy stock wrapping paper on all sides
  4. Add shipping peanuts and/or heavy stock wrapping paper so the instrument has equal protection on all sides.  Also, please consider using biodegradable shipping peanuts.
  5. Top off the box with a layer of bubble wrap

Inside the Guitar Case

Image uploaded from iOS (1)
Exhibit E – More bubble wrap, heavy stock paper and plastic cushions

This is where they went from good to great in my opinion. Bubble wrap on the head stock is becoming a more common packaging practice, particularly with brands that have notoriously weak head stocks (e.g., Gibson).  But, make sure the bubble wrap does not lift the neck above the built-in neck rest of the case.

Image uploaded from iOS (5)
Exhibit F – Head stock bubble wrap

Paper lining, between the strings and the fretboard, is also becoming more common.  But, what made Capital Guitars Online’s approach different was the heavy stock used, the way it was perfectly measured slightly wider than the neck AND the fact that they triple folded it to add an extra bit of “cushion”.

Image uploaded from iOS (6)
Exhibit G – Perfectly measured paper to protect the fretboard

Here is what I have never seen before – one layer of bubble wrap over the top of the guitar and the use of plastic cushions in the corners of the case and just below the strap button.  Was it necessary?  Probably not.  Did it make me think that this box could have withstood a drop from a two story building?  Definitely.  That’s going above and beyond.  Hat tip to Capital Guitars Online.

Image uploaded from iOS (7)
Exhibit H – Top, sides and bottom all taken care of

 

How To

How To: Set a Rental Price for Your Guitar

A common question I get asked by instrument owners upon joining Fretish™ is, “what should I price my [guitar brand] [guitar model] at?”  Sure, there are some simple formulas one could apply:

Scenario 1 – My guitar is an unexceptional instrument.  It works properly, produces quality sound and has a standard finish.  But, there is nothing unique or special about it.  If this is the case, then consider a nightly price somewhere between 3% – 5% of the instrument’s retail value.  Example: $1,000 Retail Price for American Made Fender Stratocaster * .05 = $50/night

Scenario 2 – My guitar is an exceptional instrument.  Not only is my guitar rare, it is a beautiful sounding instrument.  A work of art with extensive purfling and magnificent detailing.  In this situation, one could charge potentially a third of the instrument’s retail value.  Example: $6,000 Retail Price for Gibson L-5 * .33 = $1,980/night

Scenario 3 – I, the instrument owner, am guitar legend Edward van Halen.  In this case, the formula is P=WTFYWTPI*  (* – Whatever The F**k You Want To Price It.)

But, for everyone else who is not a guitar legend, there are nuances to setting a rental price.  Consider the following when pricing your guitar(s):

  1. Determine your goals.  Are you a guitar builder trying to get your instruments into the hands of as many players as possible?  Consider pricing it on the lower end of the spectrum.  One guitar builder on Fretish, Peter Occhineri, takes a very aggressive approach to pricing his custom builds – listing several as low as $6/night. Or, are you interested in maximizing profit from your instrument collection?  Then price at the higher end of the market.
  2. Estimate demand for your listed instrument.  Do you live in a town where guitarists would appreciate a one-of-a-kind Rickenbacker?  You may have room to price the instrument relatively high.  Or, are you located in the heart of Nashville where Fender Telecasters practically line the streets?  Then, that tele you just listed may need to be priced more aggressively (i.e., lower).
  3. Consider the cost of renting out your instrument.  How much gas will you use to reach your pick up/drop off location?  How much profit do you want to make from renting out your instrument?  Make sure these considerations are factored into your price.
  4. Set a price.  Watch what happens.  Do you have tons of rental requests?  You probably have room to increase the rental price of your guitar.  Or, are you hearing crickets?  Consider lowering your nightly rate since you have priced yourself out of consideration by the market.
  5. Adjust your price as necessary.  The wonderful thing about being part of an online marketplace is that nothing is set in stone.  (Now, to be clear, once you have accepted a rental request at a certain price, you cannot ask for more money.  But, if you have no pending rental requests or orders to fulfill, then modify your instrument’s rental price as much and as often as you like.)

Have additional suggestions?  Let me know: https://fretish.com/user_feedbacks/new

How To

How To: Prepare Your Instrument for Rent

So, you’ve joined Fretish™.  Listed an instrument.  Someone made a rental request.  And you’ve accepted the request.  Congratulations!

Now what?

To ensure that the person renting your instrument is satisfied with the transaction and, as importantly, that you receive a positive review once the rental is complete, you should consider taking the following steps:

  • Clean the guitar.  Are there fingerprints on the finish?  Is there “gunk” between the bridge and the pickups?  Are the tuning machines looking a bit tarnished?  Now is the perfect time to use an air duster, an extra soft toothbrush and/or a soft cloth to gently remove any schmutz.
  • Change the strings.  Use your judgment on this.  If the strings were changed within the past three months and the instrument has only been played a few times, it may not be necessary to completely change the strings.  But, if you cannot recall the last time you changed the strings or there is obvious wear (signs of rust or sections where the nickle is worn down), just do the right thing – change all the strings.  Also, make sure that if you’ve listed a particular gauge string in your Fretish listing (i.e., .11 high E), that the replacement strings match what you have “advertised”.
  • Confirm that your pick ups and volume/tone knobs are in working order.  (Obviously, this only applies to electric guitars.)  Plug in your guitar to a functioning amplifier.  Run through all the settings on  your instrument – neck pick up, bridge pick up, any other pick ups and all the different configurations your instrument supports (neck and bridge pick ups simultaneously engaged, etc.).  Are the pick ups working?  Is the volume working?  Is the tone working?  If not, get thee to a guitar repair person – prior to the rental.
  • Tune the guitar.  Before meeting the renter at the pick up location, make sure the instrument is in tune.  It’s the little things that make a transaction go from good to great.
  • Document your good work with a short video or set of pictures.  Whether you choose to share all the steps you’ve taken prior to the rental with the person renting the guitar is up to you.  But, at a minimum, it’s a nice way to keep a record for yourself of the shape the instrument was in each and every time you rent out your gear.