While My Guitar Gently Weeps: Iconic Guitarists and Their Organizational Turnaround

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Seminar 31 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Tristan MAY, EMLYON Business School, France
This study investigates the role of iconic guitarists in the transformation of the electric guitar manufacturing industry during the 60s and 70s. This unusually revelatory setting highlights how cultural, only loosely corporately affiliated, high status actors co-created industry identities and stratifications.

In the 60s, confronted with the social movements and its aesthetic anti-schools, the guitar industry underwent pivotal changes. The guitar heroes of the time pushed the electric guitar away from its neat image in country, surf, and Broadway music, and redefined it as the roaring and liberating symbol of rock music. The manufacturers tried to keep distance to the emerging tendencies, and avoided direct associations with, let alone endorsement of, the uprising generation of rock guitarists at first. However, they could not bypass the identity cues of these rebellious guitarists in the long run. Nowadays the same manufacturers substantially base their identity claims around these, now iconic, guitarists. Even more, they reinvent their history using strategically the visuals of these icons performing on their branded instruments.

By analyzing the network of top guitarists and their impact on peers and consequent generations of top guitarists in terms of equipment and aesthetic influence, I propose that iconic guitarists and their choices of guitar models have been crucial for the specific models popularity and organizations economic success. In fact two organizations established dominant market positions and acquired minor competitors - despite decreasing quality and absence of innovation since the early 60s. Their front men guitar models remain the same ones played by the most influential guitarists of the late 60s while all newer models and modifications could not establish. These findings suggest spillovers in status from the iconic guitarist towards both, his guitar model and guitar manufacturer, and emphasize the icons impact in the shaping of the field, organization, and product level.