There is a continuum of philosophy on the subject of naming guitars. Some people have strict rules that guitars should only have blues era female names. Others have a more playful whimsical approach. Then there are those who loathe the idea of naming a replaceable inanimate object, typing this with the sort of boredom induced decision making that leads to silliness, like creating a Social Media page dedicated to share the events in the life of a pet rock. In the middle of this spectrum is the argument that one forms a personal and sentimental connection to a guitar because of the time spent, the music, and the memories created, along with a sense that the instrument either exhibits a particular personality of its own, or becomes an extension of yourself. Another reason for naming a guitar could be the memorialization of a decisive life moment, or perhaps a cathartic event in your life.
There is nothing in this tradition that is either novel or unique to guitar players. Davey Crockett named his firearm “Old Betsy,” succeeded by a newer firearm that he named “Pretty Betsy”. And, a scientifically unreliable web survey I found relays that at least a quarter of all people have named their cars.
Back to the topic of guitars, there is a very long list of famous artists who have named their guitars. Examples that I am aware of include, of course, BB King’s, “Lucille”, and also Yngwie Malmsteen’s, “The Duck”, Eric Clapton’s, “Blackie”, and my favorite, Eddie Van Halen’s, “FrankenStrat”.
I have named most of the guitars that I have owned. My first guitar was a Washburn dreadnought acoustic with a single cutaway that I bought used. I regret selling this guitar because I learned to play on it, wrote many songs on it, it had a great sound, and it therapeutically pulled me through a very lonely and difficult time in my young adult life. I named it “Wanita” because of the “W” in Washburn.
My first electric guitar was a used candy apple red Japanese Fender Stratocaster which I still own, although it has been significantly modified over the course of time. I named this guitar “Sylvia” because of the “S” in Stratocaster, and the metallic (aka silvery) finish in the candy apple red paint. At the time I purchased it I did not have enough money for an amp. To get around this, I rigged up a cable with a soldering iron in order to line into the mic input of a small cassette player. Using my finger, I would force down the safety tab in the cassette player mechanism so the record button would engage, allowing me to monitor the mic line input. This offered up a rather good clean Strat tone through the tiny cassette player speaker.
I traded “Wanita” for a new Yamaha APX 7 slim profile acoustic-electric. This guitar travelled around the world with me, was most certainly the best neck, best fingerboard, finest build quality, and most easy to play instrument I have ever owned. It was played to death, yet, I never truly bonded with it. It felt to me more like a well purposed, utilitarian tool for a trade. Solid wood guitars were once trees; ancient and alive. This Yamaha, being built largely from composite and synthetic materials may have prevented that organic connection to something that is somehow still “alive”. The bracing eventually warped causing the top to sag, and the rosette cracked into pieces, while it developed adjustment and tuning stability problems, probably because of heavy air travel, and careless baggage handling in a poor quality case.
On these travels, I met my wife, who owns a slim line Celebrity Applause; the affordable answer to the Ovation range. While strictly not my guitar, it has a definite place in my guitar family. I find the bowl back on the Ovation body causes the guitar to slide, forcing my wrist into difficult contortions. Therefore, I call this guitar “Tendonitis”.
After trading the Yamaha, I passed through a frustrating and wasteful process of elimination on a series of budget acoustics, eventually deciding to just spend some money on a decent instrument and be done with it. Enter a Taylor grand auditorium acoustic which I named, “Tatiana” because, yes, you guessed it, the “T” in Taylor, but also because she can be used for a variety of purposes, thus being flexible like a Russian gymnast. Tatiana is simply perfect, marred only by Taylor’s underwhelming proprietary expression system, which only works effectively when paired to an outboard pre-amp to “fix” the poorly pre-amplified piezos. A few years and some clever equipment trades later, I picked up a second Taylor in a dreadnought form factor. I named this guitar, “The Dreaded Nought”.
Because I often gig around the Nazareth area, it is sometimes impolitic to play a Taylor, so I picked up a used and somewhat abused Martin dreadnought with a cutaway, and a nasty crack in the headstock. I called this guitar, “Martina Crackhead”. Despite the headstock issues, this is a very playable guitar that expresses personality in spades. If you pardon the extended personification, “Martina” is like a puppy that was rescued from a bad situation, and I get a sense she is happy when played, appreciating the good home.
On the electric side, I picked up an affordable Epiphone Les Paul because the ache and roar of an overdriven Les Paul grips me in a visceral kind of way, and I really wanted to emulate that type of sound. Sadly, Les Paul’s and I don’t get along. The humbuckers are too hot, and don’t respond well to the dynamics in my playing style. This particular guitar kept coming out of adjustment and exhibited tuning stability issues. I understand this was a common issue at one time with the affordable Epi Les line. I hated the chunky neck profile. I found the dense single cutaway body to be crude and heavy with the controls stupidly placed when compared to the thoughtful layout, and comfortable contoured design of a Strat. I never named this guitar. There were a few magical wonderful times when that gut grabbing, soaring tone happened. I played it a lot, held onto it a long time, and tried to figure it out. But all too often it behaved like an angry caged predator; unwilling to cooperate, lashing out unpredictably. It bit me too many times when I needed it to behave. I have heard many people play the Les Paul with refinement and control. I clearly lack the magical beast taming qualities those people have. I found it to be sonically out of control, while coming out of tune, or out of adjustment at critical times. With disappointment I decided to trade.
After a lot of research I traded the Les Paul and picked up an entry level PRS Custom 22 with a solid antique white finish. I was lucky to find a PRS like this because the typical visually contrasting flamed maple finishes on most PRS guitars are garish to my eyes; just not my thing, so I am happy this has a solid finish. While not quite the voice of a Les Paul, it is still in the mahogany with a maple cap sonic family, so it is close enough. The guitar is impeccably well-designed, responsive to dynamics in my playing, with the ability to tap the coils and play either as a single coil, or humbucker. A very comfortable, well-balanced body design, as well as a very comfortable neck matches my preferences perfectly. I named this guitar, “Birdy Guitar” because of the bird inlay design element on PRS guitars, and because she is liberating – you forget about the guitar while you play and can really get in to the music, and sings oh so sweetly.
Thus concludes my guitar-naming experience to date. My naming philosophy loosely follows a convention based on the brand, with a mix of practical whimsy occasionally thrown in. I feel it is completely appropriate to name an inanimate object if there is a sentimental connection, if it is an extension of how you express yourself, and it means something to you.