Branding Lessons From the Guitar Gods: Taylor, Gibson, Fender and More

Today we’re going to discuss how design projects often require you to take a step back from who you are as a designer and forget your own personal taste while taking on the personality of a given brand.

The companies who hire you will have vastly different brands, strategies, and most importantly, customers. This principle is displayed quite prominently in the brands of major guitar manufacturers. Let’s dive in and see how Taylor, Fender, Dean, Gibson and more target the right customers through design.

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Taylor vs. Dean: A Tale of Opposites

Guitar companies often have richly developed personalities that arise from decades of consistent brand strategy and extremely loyal customer bases. It’s a fascinating market, one that I’ve personally been following as an amateur guitarist for over twelve years.

Guitarists are a mixed bag. The shape, tone and purpose of these instruments vary dramatically and therefore so do the people who play them. This is of course something that the brand managers for these companies are intimately aware of.

These ideas become extremely evident in a simple glance at two very different guitar brands: Taylor and Dean. We’ll start with Taylor, my particular favorite guitar manufacturer.



Taylor Guitars is a brand that just about every guitarist is familiar with. If you walk into a guitar shop full of merchandise sitting out and welcoming you to sit down and play, Taylors are often the guitars sitting in the back locked in a glass case. Like Martins, these acoustics easily reach into the multi-thousand dollar category.

These are premium instruments whose owners take pride in solid craftsmanship and beautifully rich tones. When a Taylor man or woman picks up a guitar, you’re much more likely to hear Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” than something from Dream Theater or Rush.

Given this knowledge, their branding makes perfect sense. Here’s a snap from the Taylor website.


The design here is simple with lots of white space, a heavy emphasis on the beauty of the product and an aesthetic that is an interesting mix of classical and modern. New world stark white backgrounds like the one above are intermingled with old world lifestyle product shots like the one below.


Taylor sells guitars like vineyards sell fine wine, the verbiage on their site speaks of “tonal flavors” and “renowned playability,” clear indicators of a sophisticated audience.



One look at the Dean Guitars logo above and you can probably tell that this company will stand pretty far from Taylor as far as branding. Where Taylor’s logo conveyed an almost country western appeal, Dean’s is adorned with outstretched wings, a common visual idea in the world of rock and roll.

The screenshot below of the Dean website confirms our suspicions about this brand, the logo definitely fits with this aesthetic:


In place of whitespace and clean product images we find thick, heavily populated design spaces adorned with terrifying creatures of myth and men with questionable hygiene flaunting long greasy hair and faces full of piercings.

The typography is grungy, chiseled bevels are everywhere, black is the color of choice for just about everything; you can practically hear the wailing guitar solos just by looking at it.


The customer here is obviously a very different one than Taylor’s. Dean has some great high end stuff, but their bread and butter seems to be affordable guitars for hardcore rockers. Some Taylor fans, myself included, might look at the Dean website and think that it seems like a big mess, but I’ve personally witnessed several guitarists drool over this site and its products.

Even when Taylor ventures towards the market of electric guitars, their clean design style prevails and is nothing like what Dean is doing above.


The folks at Dean know the type of people that buy their guitars and they’ve set up their brand to clearly target these individuals. In countless ways, this site is aesthetically perfect when you consider the target audience.

This is a key to being a good designer. Given the opportunity, could you design a new website for both Taylor and Dean while maintaining each of their unique personalities? Opening your mind to such a task makes you a more versatile, and therefore more valuable, designer.

Other Guitar Brands

Now that we’ve gotten a feel for how different guitar brands set themselves apart and target different portions of the guitar purchasing market, let’s take a look at a few more popular guitar manufacturers and briefly discuss their design styles and goals.

Fender: Every Man’s Guitar

We’ve all grown up with the idea that Fender is one of the coolest companies on the planet. As with countless other individuals, my very first guitar was a Fender Stratocaster, the quintessential electric guitar whose trademark design is the very stereotype of what an electric guitar looks like.

Fender is the great American guitar brand, and their style reflects that image:


Everything about it is middle of the road. It’s classic but not grungy, clean but not too minimal. Fender wants you to know that they sell guitars for every man, woman and child that dreams of standing on stage in front of a screaming audience.


Their image is a blank slate that you can project yourself onto. They somehow seem retro, modern, rock, country and blues all at the same time. Whether you’re 55 or 12, you can’t help but like Fender.

The Fender brand identity is one we can all identify with in our own way. It’s not an easy feat to pull off, but they do it with style and grace.

Gibson: The Apple of the Guitar World?

Planning out this topic, I definitely didn’t expect to compare Gibson to Apple, but it turns out their two sites are remarkable similar:


Keep in mind that there is way more to brands than their websites, but these do in fact typically serve as decent indicators for a brand’s visual style and conceptual personality (as we saw above).

Through this lens, maybe Apple and Gibson aren’t really that different after all. Both appeal to customers with great taste from all walks of life. Neither brand is necessarily out of reach for middle class America and yet they both ooze style and class.

Also like Apple, Gibson stands on a rich history while looking steadfastly at the future. They value innovation, unique perspectives and award-winning product design. Perhaps the Les Paul could even be considered the Macintosh of electric guitars (I’m probably stretching with that last part, don’t over think it).

Gretsch: Reveling in Retro

Like Dean, Gretsch is a brand that firmly embraces its product design aesthetic and directs that towards a target market. The Gretsch website and brand is undoubtedly retro.


Their guitars are aimed at people with a taste for the beautiful curves that appeared in guitars, cars, men’s hairstyles and everything else in the 1950s. In sharp contrast to the crazy looking mad men on the Dean site, the guys on the Gretsch homepage have slicked back hair and wear suit jackets that haven’t been in style during my lifetime.


The vintage appeal of their product line extends well beyond guitars that B.B. King would be proud to hold and into just about everything that they create:


The great thing about Gretsch’s style is that it’s not really as constrained as you might think. People of all ages and walks of life love retro. From teenage hipsters to the aging baby boomer generation, it’s difficult to find someone who wouldn’t love to have one of the amps shown above, whether for actual use or mere decoration!


Despite appearances, this article isn’t really about guitars at all. It’s about developing a brand image that says what you want it to say and nails your target market in an effort to maximize exposure and acceptance.

As designers, we too often get caught up in the latest trend or our own personal aesthetic leanings. Instead we should focus on who are clients are and niche of human beings they’re seeking to appeal to on a personal level. This is how unforgettable brands are built.

For all you guitarists out there, which brand do you play? Have a look at their website and other communications and tell us why their brand appeals to you in the comment section below.