Guitar Aficionado Magazine

So I only picked this up because I was counting the magazines in Borders with Jeff Bridges on the cover (there were a lot). It’s completely different from what I was expecting. I thought I was going to see dry, copy heavy, middle of the road layouts with some crappy manufacturer-supplied photography, and a feature well phone interview with Jeff Bridges filled out to 20 pages with whatever publicity stills and photos they could rustle up from the interwebs.

First of, Ralph Lauren, Aston Martin and then some random and (I assume) incredibly expensive bottled water manufacturer each have double-page spread ads prior to the single page contents page opposite a David Yurman full-page ad. The photo of Bridges on the contents page is awesome, way more interesting than the cover, but I suppose having a slightly bored looking, hairy Jeff Bridges sans guitar wouldn’t have been an option for the cover anyway.

It’s refreshing to see a contents page where the blurb for each page isn’t a novel in its own right, and really allows room for the photography. Both the contents pages are functional and a pleasure to look.

The ed’s letter and reader’s letters are all contained on a single page. I like this for a couple of reasons: it makes me think the editor values space for content over his own ego, and – I think – does a good job of changing the perception that Editor is God with one simple space-saving combination of content.

Ok, so it’s a lifestyle magazine, not a guitar magazine. But it’s obviously guitary enough to be placed among the other audiophile and musicians magazines in the bookstore. If you’re 45+, you’re about to embark on (or perhaps you’re in the middle of) an incredible mid-life crisis, and you’re itching to spend some of your kids hard-earned college fund on yourself, this is the magazine for you. I really like the mixture of fonts they’ve got going on throughout the issue, and REALLY like this opener to the ‘Effects’ section up front. This I guess is where they satisfy the advertiser requirements for some kind of editorial without being too blatant.

These pages all look great, with a good amount of white space and some decent product photography. The ‘Accessories’ and ‘Watches’ products pages are pretty cheeseball in their styling (SHINY! BLACK!), but it’s all very high-end and middle-aged looking without ever succumbing to full-on advertorial. Leather driving gloves and bright red calf skin golf shoes?

I’m not digging this Garamond-like body-copy font in some places… I can’t tell if it’s a registration issue or a boldface font that just looks a little heavy, but this page in particular stands out as looking clumsy compared to the rest, and isn’t helped by the awkward image placement and runaround (indicated by my fat finger in the photo above).

So we get to the cover story, where like I said, I wasn’t expecting there to be much more than stock photos. Instead there’s an awesome looking opener with some very cool photography and typography – and I like the page number in the middle of the page on the left – very cool. None of it is far removed from the look and feel of what’s come before, and there’s a beautiful second spread with another fantastic Bridges portrait in profile this time.

Love the graphic treatment on the pull-quotes, and that despite an obvious abundance of great photography from Bridges’ shoot, they haven’t ran page after page of him in as many poses with a guitar as they can think of (and which admittedly they probably didn’t ask him to do anyway).

Then that’s over and there’s a completely random departure in look and feel while we read about some random guy’s house in the desert where he finds his inspiration through – another assumption – being very rich and having a very cool house. It completely took me out of the middle-aged male’s unnecessarily expensive accoutrement, but after spending a minute looking at it, I can see how it fits in the grand scheme of the magazine (though given what I think is their target audience, it might have been a more effective piece if it was just photo-driven and a few captions). The typography on the opener is nice, but it’s kinda blah compared to the richness of the previous feature, and comes across as a very generic home magazine overall.

However I forgot all that crap as soon as that feature ended I turned the page to an incredible (and back in GA style) story on Rocco DiSpirito’s love of vintage guitars and Springsteen. Awsome looking spread, and again he incorporation of the page number and the ‘GA’ is really nicely done without coming across as gimmicky. The photography is also great on the opener, and while it doesn’t really hold up for the rest of the feature, it’s only three more pages anyway, and not hard to look at.

And again, we get to another feature and another complete change of pace and content, this time for a story on the demand for precious woods and how it affects international guitar trade. It’s very GQish, the use of type and more documentary style photography looks great in the context of the story, but again looks like it was lifted from another magazine entirely.

Jesus Christ, how many features are in this? Now we have James Hetfield from Metallica in an interview discussing his love of vintage guitars and cars, which I’m sure would have been the cover story were it not for Jeff Bridges. While the choice of fonts is a little removed from the rest of the magazine, you can see the same visual cues from the Bridges and DiSpirito features in the pull quote and photography that made those layouts so effective, and it works here too.

So it must be almost done now right? Nope, now we move on to a 7 page travel feature on Bangkok, with another lavish looking opening spread (again with little to no relation to the main feature or department pages look and feel), and following pages filed out with great looking photography, but very much a feeling of being filler at this point (to their credit they did manage to squeeze in a photo of a guy playing the guitar on the street).

A short piece on one of the co-founders of the Tribeca Film Festival looks great, and the photography reminds you that yes, you’re still reading a magazine with the word ‘guitar’ in the title. A fairly standard looking layout, with some decent but underwhelming photography stretches it out to 4 and a half pages.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the Style section, featuring Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady talking about his likes and dislikes regarding clothing and guitars, and feels completely out of place. I know that GQ (for example) has pages and pages of this stuff at the front and the back of their book, but they’re GQ! They cn do that without anyone batting an eyelid. But here it comes across as more awkwardly produced and looking filler, or maybe an attempt to hit demographics. There are a few more random single page stories after this – reviews, a finance page, advice on spotting forgeries – but nothing worth writing home about.

I cannot believe that this magazine is only 114 pages plus cover. It feels incredibly dense, and a good value for money, despite my criticism of the filler-like features. I LOVE the look of the front of book pages, cover story typography, and the graphic elements used throughout. I’m confused by the look of the cover as compared to the interior – is the cover the last remnant of an earlier stage in the magazine’s lifespan before things like contemporary typefaces and white space became more important? I’d guess – and may be completely wrong – that the interior is indicative of an attempt to have a far broader appeal and life past the middle-aged, upper income readership, and the cover is the one element they don’t want to mess with while those guys are still spry enough to walk into the bookstore and look for their favorite guitar/cash black hole magazine. I’m definitely going to buy this again, partly out of curiosity regarding the imbalanced feature well look and feel, and partly because I think that overall it’s a great looking magazine.

Explore posts in the same categories: Advertising, color choice, contents pages, cool, Covers, design, Influence, Magazine Death, Magazines, men's magazines, Photography, Production, Readers, Typography, Why is it like this?, Why magazines?

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One Comment on “Guitar Aficionado Magazine”

  1. scadden Says:

    cool review, u got more? Wud love to see one on the revered GQ. Especially british GQ…

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