Jan
22

If She's a Player, Treat Her Like a Player: An Interview with Tish Ciravolo of Daisy Rock Guitars

If you are a female, and you haven’t already done so, this woman wants you to pick up a guitar. And she’ll do anything she can to get you to do it, and to help you feel right about it. She is that passionate about it.

Tish Ciravolo is the founder and President of Daisy Rock Guitars, based in Van Nuys, California. Formed 12 years ago, the company specializes in guitars and basses, made with specs for women. With lighter weight bodies and necks with less width, they have made playing easier for little girls starting out. Others enjoy playing them, as well.

Prior to forming the company, she played in several bands in L.A. Her husband is Michael Ciravolo, President of Schecter Guitars. He has held the position since 1996. The company was founded in the mid-70’s.

Daisy Rock offers models including the Butterfly, Daisy, Heartbreaker, Star, Pixie, Wildwood, Stardust Elite, Stardust Retro-H, Tom Boy, and Rock Candy series. In 2007, the company introduced the Stardust Retro-H De-Luxe Series, the Rebel Rockit Series, and the new Rock Candy Custom Special Bass. That year, the company also introduced the Rock Candy Pink Label guitar that was hand crafted in the USA by John Carruthers.

Among the features of Daisy Rock guitars is their look that attracts very young girls, with bodies that are shaped like hearts and other graphics that are attractive to them.

In an interview with Ciravolo, when asked if she thinks the trend of so many girls only wanting to play with girls, in all-girl bands, is a sign of insecurity, or being afraid to play with the guys. Ciravolo responds, “I don’t know if there’s a distinction as to if it’s I’d rather play with guys, than except that I feel a lot of the artists that we handle at Daisy Rock feel more empowered, or that they are bringing the cause along if they are playing with females.”

Still, wouldn’t it be more empowering for them to play with guys, like it’s not a big deal, and it’s not a threat, an issue or a problem? That they’re just guitarists, and not “female guitarists?” “It’s a matter of opinion,” she says, pointing out Jennifer Batten playing with Michael Jackson. “It is empowering to see her on stage on that level, when she did it, to be that accepted. So it is empowering that way. What if it was an all-girl band on that level? Again, I think it’s a matter of opinion between how people view it.”

She says, “Myself, I have my own sort of agenda, because I have the only all-girl guitar company on the planet. So I’m always trying to push forward women and girls playing guitar, because it is my passion.”

As an instrument retailer, is she concerned about the fact that today, most of the recording artists that are being promoted by the major labels no longer even play instruments, and that the music on their releases is predominately computerized?  Especially when it comes to females? “Oh, my gosh,” says Ciravolo. “The world is so different. I could not imagine being an active musician, and having the arsenal of stuff you have today to be able to record. Remember, I go back to ADAT in the recording studio,” the days of utilizing digital tape.

“It’s so different,” she says. “My kids went through this phase. Not to say anything bad about anybody, but it was all programmed singing, and kind of what I noticed is that it’s just a fad. Now they’re in a British boy band fad now, with groups like One Direction. So I’m not afraid it’s going to take over. I think everyone discovers music differently, and they go through these phases.”

“Of course, I wish every seventh grade girl in America would play a Daisy Rock guitar, yes,” she says with a laugh.

When asked what she thinks most of the young girls age 12 to 16 are playing now, she astutely responds, “Now, you’ve gone past the girls that are age seven to eleven, that are dominated by the parents’ ruling. For them, we’ve got all the different shapes and colors of acoustic guitars for those girls,” she states.

Daisy Rock Pixie Acoustic

Ciravolo says that there are basically two differences as they get older, asserting, “But the 12 to 16 year-old girls, we’re finding they’re into the basic electric guitar. There’s so much in these girls of that age range. They either go the Taylor Swiftesque style of players, and we’ve got a whole bunch of them, all very talented young girls, or we have the punk rock girls. And they’re more the electric, and they’ve discovered the pedals, and they’re making a sound for themselves.”

She notes, “The songwriting, some of the stuff I hear that comes out of the these 12, 13, 14 year-old girls is phenomenal. There’s so much talent out there. It just amazes me at times. And it’s girls playing guitars, and it just gives me chills. It makes me want to cry that it’s all the time now.”

Ciravolo makes note of the fact that her company is distributed by Alfred Music Publishing. Ciravolo points out, “I have written a couple of books for Alfred Music Publishing. I’ve written the Girls Guitar Method books I and II. I also wrote The Girls’ Complete Guitar Method with Janet Robin.” Robin, who has played with Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, has spent time doing Daisy Rock clinics. Ciravolo adds, “I then I re-wrote The Girls’ Bass Method, and they’re our distributors. We’re one of their many assets, as I like to say.”

When asked what her experiences were when shopping at Los Angeles chain retail stores, prior to her running the company, she described the service she received, or often didn’t receive, as being from “male chauvinistic a**holes.” When making this statement, the extremely pleasant Ciravolo laughed, but her disgust when looking back is clearly evident.

Comparing experiences, I mentioned one of my own experiences when replacing a vintage Les Paul. The salesperson responded, “This is for your boyfriend, right?”

Familiar with the experience, Ciravolo immediately responded, “Oh, this must be for the guys in the band, right?’ ‘You’re the manager of the band, right?’ ‘Did the guys have you come into pick up strings?’ or ‘What do you mean, you’ve got to get an amp? You can’t carry that.’ All those kinds of comments. I could go on and on,” she offers.

Ciravolo says, “And you know what’s really sad? And this is the part that is still astounding to me. Like today, I’ll have somebody in my office, who tells me they just had that experience. Still. Not so much in L.A., because you know, we’re a blue state. East Coast, West Cost, we’re all a little bit hipper, and much more educated.”

“But I get some of the worst horror stories from these girls, from Colorado to Georgia that are still experiencing this,” she confirms.

Reacting to the situation, she adds, “In fact, last year, we did a women’s initiative with Guitar Center, where we brought in some SKUs and we did some endcaps, just to make it more inviting for girls to be in the Guitar Center stores, to pick up a guitar, a Daisy Rock, hang out, play and feel like it was an inviting place to be.”

“One of the things I did is that I went out and spoke to 600 of their employees. It was one of those things where they brought me in,” she relates. What kind of reaction did she get? Most of the chain’s employees are males, except for the rare women that work in accessories, or the security girls at the front door, who check what gear customers are bringing in and taking out of the stores. Ciravolo reports, “They introduced me, ‘Here’s Tish Ciravolo,’ and I was there to explain ‘how do you sell a guitar to a girl?’”

Says Ciravolo, “So after I got on stage and told them what all my experiences had been as a female in the music stores in the last twenty, twenty-five years, I said, ‘Basically, you sell a guitar to the girls the same way that you sell it to a guy. Don’t treat her any differently. She’s not odd. If you stop treating her as if she is odd, it will be a better experience for both of you. If she’s a player, treat her like a player. If she’s not a player, treat her like any guy that walks into the store, and doesn’t know how to play guitar. But don’t make her feel like a pariah because she’s a girl.’ That was my whole speech,” she says with a laugh.

Many women, right off the bat, from beginner to pro, feel they are not going to be taken seriously as players, as the world of guitar and bass is largely promoted as being solely a man’s domain, as noted by the sexualized advertising aimed towards males when it comes to the sales of instruments or products.

Much of advertising for guitar and bass products feature models in bathing suits holding a guitar in a way that someone would hold a guitar that doesn’t know how to play, and never held one before. For a typical example, the cover of Guitar World’s 2013 Review Guide features models, donning bikinis and stilettos, with oversized, freakishly oversized fake breasts. The guitar magazine’s cover notes the issue features “our playmates of the gear.”

For years, advertising from music retailers has portrayed women as freakish sex toys that can be yours, simply if you purchase their brand of distortion pedal.

What does Ciravolo think of this idea of Guitar World’s consistent marketing where women belong in the bedroom, and not on stage? “I’ve been fighting this for years,” she says. “All I’ve got to say is the first NAMM Show that I get to have some Playgirl models, a couple of guys in G-strings, all greased up and buffed out in my booth, and have them whine about how hard it is to play guitar. I mean, come on. If we did that, as a girl guitar company, some of the stuff these other companies have done, to promote my products, could you imagine the backlash I would get?”

All of this promotion of women as groupies by Guitar World and other companies in the music business helps to create and continue a culture that puts up a sign that says women are unwelcome. That women have not been treated well by sales people when demo’ing guitars in chain stores is not surprising.

Is it any wonder that many women don’t want to go into major chain stores any more, because they expect that they will not be taken seriously? Many women have opted out, and have started buying guitars online, not just from ebay or Craigslist, but also from retail guitar websites that welcome female guitarists, and that are marketed towards female players, such as GuitarItUpForGirls.com.

The “boys club” attitude of guitar magazines runs deep. As recently as in the last six years, one major guitar magazine even ran a survey entitled, “Should women play electric guitar?” The responses from many male readers expressed a resounding no. This mindset is not unexpected, given the marketing these players have grown up seeing in the guitar magazines all these years.

What are the issues involved with editors at guitar magazines that they feel the need to denigrate women, and reduce them to the category of porn star status when it comes to their guitar magazine?

Is it surprising that there is only one female listed in the masthead of most guitar magazines, if any? And that if women are hired, they are only assigned and relegated to write about other female players?

Is this sexist culture really a bright idea for retailers?

Is there a feeling of insecurity among a certain amount of guitar players, wherein it hurts their sense of masculinity or pride if a female can play guitar, as well?

What is the problem at these companies?

“I know there are people in high places at some of these Guitar Center stores, who are saying this old school rule of thumb has got to stop,” Ciravolo asserts. “And I know they’re trying every day to move that needle. It’s a massive, massive ship to get to move,” she says emphatically. “But it’s moving. It’s slowly, but surely.”

Ciravolo is working hard to change the situation, working to create an atmosphere in the music community where women players will be accepted and respected. She notes of her Daisy Rock Company, “Go back. Go back to 2000, and there wasn’t even a girl guitar company. 2012, it’s a lot different today than it’s ever been. I just wonder, in 2024, what’s it going to be?”

“Then, maybe, we don’t have the playmates on the cover of a guitar magazine, holding a guitar, and sucking on the headstock, like, ‘Hey, that’s how you really do it in real life,” she says, sounding hopeful. “So, yeah, I think it’s disgusting,” Ciravolo says. “Are we trying to change it? Yes. Do the people that do it know that it’s wrong? On every level they do.”

With such imagery in the guitar magazines, does Ciravolo think there is a lot of pressure on young girls, not just as far as how well they play, but also as far as how they look? Is there pressure on them to be “hot” like the models in the guitar magazines?

She acknowledges there is pressure to look more attractive that the average girl. “Oh, I think in any industry.” She says, “All you have to do is look around to see what women look like who have broken into certain circles.”

I start to ask Ciravolo, “Do you think that female guitarists feel they have to be some kind of sex symbol to uh...” Before I complete my question, Ciravolo immediately speaks up, and finishes my sentence by saying, “To be taken seriously as a player in the industry?”

“Of course,” she says. “I think it’s on any level. If you’re a musician, it’s obviously going to open more doors for you, just like when you’re an actress. It’s just the culture of how you look seems to sell it.”

Just as the guitar world is predominately run in this very calculated way, Ciravolo says, “I’ve seen all of this sex in advertising on every level. For anything, because I have two young daughters, I’m so much more keyed into how much stuff hits them, to see that it’s okay for them to dress a certain way, or okay for them to wear too much make-up, because that’s what’s being sold to them all the time in magazines and on TV shows.”

Given this, she says, “So I don’t know if it is only musicians, but of course, it is in some respects. But I think there is a really strong sum of pressure for girls to look, no matter if they’re playing a guitar, bass or drums, or if they’re an actress, or a model, or just a normal teenager.”

“As if it has anything to do with your talent level,” I point out.

“It doesn’t,” she says decisively. “You know it, and I know it, because we’re mature. But you get this pervasive society that really puts so much into physical attraction. So I deal with it a lot as a mom, and then I know exactly what you’re saying, as I see our artists that come here. I know that they’re under a lot of pressure, that they have to feel like they’re going to have to look like Orianthi, if they’re going to play a certain fast way. Because you know, Orianthi’s really pretty, she wears a lot of eye make-up, and I wear a lot of eye make-up, so I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that.”

She comments, “For the younger girl guitar players, who are just discovering their talents and finding out who they are inside, it can be confusing when seeing what is marketed to them.”

Ciravolo points out that the older guitarists may be comfortable in their own skin, “But I see these girls who are trying to find their style that fits. Not a lot of 13 or 14 year-olds do I know, who are completely decided on what they are yet.”

Ciravolo notes that she used to be on the Board of GAMA (Guitar and Accessories Manufacturers Association) board for the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). “It was all the presidents of guitar companies and string companies and marketing departments for companies like Yamaha. The whole objective of GAMA is we support music teachers to go to Duquesne University, and get a degree in the summer to be able to teach guitar in the classroom, and give free guitars to all the classrooms they are able to teach. So it would really support getting music back into the schools.” 

“When I was on the Board, I was able to meet Bill Mendello, when he was the President of Fender,” she states. Mendello served as the CEO/Chairman of Fender Guitars for more than three decades, and retired in 2010.

“This was a program that Bill Schultz, who was the President of Fender for many years, had instituted through NAMM many years ago,” she noted.  Schultz died of cancer in 2006.

“I got to meet a lot of the other guys. I also met Matt Sandero, the President of ESP, a lot of kind of my peers, but I never got to meet Les Paul,” she says. It would have been interesting to see what the late innovator and guitarist would have thought of Ciravolo’s  line, crafted for female guitarists and young players.

She then lavishes praise on the tribute to Les Paul at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and asks if I have seen it yet. “No,” I tell her, “but I interviewed him once.”

We then get into a conversation about the excesses in rock and roll. She speaks in jest about people in the business not being able to party any more, due to getting older. She has a great sense of humor.

Ciravolo says she is often asked what her advice is for young players, a question she finds absurd. “You’re finding your way. You just have to practice. You’ve got to find your sound. You’ve got to find out who you are. You have to practice, and just practice, practice, practice. It’s the only way, and it’s such a simple answer. I wish it was a paragraph, but it just isn’t. It just comes down to finding what’s inside of you that needs to get out. And you can only do that if you’re practicing.”

What is going to be new for NAMM in 2013 from Daisy Rock?

“Well, we always come out with new designs,” she says. “I’m still looking at stuff on my wall to be decided. One thing I like is the big graphics. I think the more graphic guitars are, the more fun they are. I think the big surprise will be that I might be debuting a Ladybug guitar, because I’m always trying to inspire those younger girls to pick up a guitar for the first time. We always do the fun shapes, like stars and daisies and hearts. So you might see a Ladybug guitar at NAMM.”

She keeps her prices relatively low. Ciravolo confirms this. “$99 on our starter acoustics and up,” she says. “The most expensive guitar that we have ever done was $799.00, even though we have done one USA Pink Label Daisy Rock guitar that was three thousand, but that was just a one-off kind of thing.”

She expounds, “But even the Bangles signature model guitar that we have for the Bangles is $349.00, and that’s because the group wanted to keep it at a great price limit for girls, in case they want to pick it up, and play like the Bangles, they wanted it to be a price that could be affordable.”

Daisy Rock Signature Bangles Electric Guitar

Ciravolo adds this is crucial to getting more young girls to start playing in a recessed economy that prohibits so many people from buying new instruments.

A major factor, arguably when it comes to girls, is that with electric guitar being primarily a “guy thing,” some parents are doubtful about their child becoming a musician, and they don’t want to spend the money. “Do we stand up and pay it?” “Is she going to stick with it?” The parents wonder, is it going to be something they want to do with their life, or, “Do we just kind of put a little money into it to see if it’s something they want to have?”

She adds, “That is the case out there, and I totally get it.”

Are there any older females playing Daisy Rock Guitars on tour? Ciravolo enthuses, “Oh, yeah!”

“We’ve got six hundred artists that I deal with. Basically three hundred active. So on any given day, people can go to the Daisy Rock website, and there is a news and events section. It has a daily, rotating updating feed on all the artists that we’re signing,” she comments.

“I sign somewhere between five and ten artists a week. So it’s crazy how many people we actually have,” she says. Some of them can be seen on the Daisy Rock website.

“Another thing we try to do is, of course, any time someone is playing out, to put it on our Facebook page, too, and let everyone know. On Fridays, I ask girls that are going out if we can put it on our Facebook page, ‘so people know and can come see you,’” she explains. That is one way that Ciravolo adds promotional support for her artists.

“I want to support everybody. I try to support every artist we have on social media every time they play, or they record, or they have something coming up. Like the Dollyrots, one of my favorites,” she says, referring to the all-girl punk pop unit. “They had a new album come out in September last year, and we’re trying to push them. They followed up with a UK tour. Another band I love is the Sledge Grits Band, and they’re getting ready to sign a deal.” In the fall, they opened up for Jordin Sparks at the Susan B. Komen breast cancer concert in Washington. So just off the top of my head, there’s two,” she says.

It is clear that her guitars have changed a lot of young girls’ lives.

“I’ve made a guitar for Joan Jett before,” she adds. “When I first started my company, I think it was in 2002. In 2001, we made a guitar shaped like a heart, because of her band,” states Ciravolo, pointing to her band, the former Runaways’ band, the Blackhearts. “I got on the phone with her, and she went over some stuff she wanted done with the guitar.  One was putting all the Hammer pickups in it that she loves,” said Ciravolo, referring to Jett’s Red Rhodes Velvet Hammer modifications. “I sent it off to her, and she’s loved it ever since. Her and Kenny have always been great supporters of my company,” she said, gratefully acknowledging Jett’s longtime business partner Kenny Laguna.

“So I’ve been at SXSW with them a couple times, and saw some of the shows that they’ve done. Then when she was dealing with Kristin Stewart for the Runaways film that they did a couple years ago. I sent over guitars to practice on, so she could show Kristen Stewart how she played.” The 2010 feature film The Runaways, based on the band’s history as from the point of view of Joan Jett and former Runaways lead singer Cherie Curie, featured Stewart as Jett.

“Obviously, they were using authentic Gibsons in the actual movie, because it is a time-piece,” concedes Ciravolo. In her Runaways days, Jett was most often seen playing a goldtop Gibson Les Paul Custom or her Gibson Melody Maker. “But we sent the guitars over, so they could get to know each other, and for Stewart to learn how to play guitar, and for them to play together, and all that. So Joan’s just always awesome. The Go-Go’s, The Runaways and the Bangles. Those are like our top three. And, of course, Nancy Wilson from Heart. But there are so very few goddesses to look up to from that time period, and Joan Jett is obviously one of them,” says Ciravolo.

When asked about Lita Ford, the Runaways’ lead guitarist, she says that she is not familiar with her latest solo album. She says, “But Cherie Curie, I do a Pretty In Punk showcase every year, where I try to pay tribute to an all-girl band, and last time we did it, we did a tribute to The Runaways, and Cherie Curie showed up, and sang, and played a couple songs with my band.” She adds, “I would do everything I could for her and the band.”

“If there’s any way to make them more popular, more exposure, I would,” she states, well aware of the band’s impact and influence on future players.

Involved in numerous causes, at one point, Daisy Rock Guitars donated a guitar for auction to raise money for the Grammy Foundation. Says Ciravolo, “We have so much that we’re always involved with.”

The instrument donated to the Grammy Foundation is a pink guitar, signed by Nicky Minaj, who performed her hit “Roman Holiday” at last year’s 54th Annual Grammy Awards. “We give them guitars, and people sign them.”

When it comes to the guys, Ciravolo laughs, and says, “Well, you know, when you make something for the girls, a whole new thing happens.” She says she would be happy to have endorsements from artists like Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters to endorse the line, and she would love for him to show his support of young girls playing guitar. “If he shows up to our office, we’ll give him a guitar,” she says eagerly. “The guitar he plays looks just like our retro Ice Blue anyway. I love him,” she gushes, revealing that she is big fan of the Foo Fighters. “I was a big fan of Nirvana back in the day,” she recalls.

Ciravolo gives an example of the guys that contact her about Daisy Rock Guitars. “I have a band that just came over from Sweden named Crash Diet, and I get these crazy emails, saying, ‘I love Daisy Rock guitars,’ ‘I just got a Daisy Rock bass and have been playing it for five years, and I want to come meet you. I am in this band called Crash Diet.” She says, “They’re a lot like Mötley Crüe, a la 1988. You go, ‘Wow, that style is really still out there, and still popular.’ They came out here and did a tour of The States. Peter London of the band came to see me,” she notes. “He needed a bass to use while he was in tour in L.A. So yeah.”

“Robert Smith from The Cure was one of the very first people that signed up and said, ‘I love this company, and I’ll support Tish in whatever she does,’” she revealed.

Guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, whose licks have become the Holy Grail of hard rock, has even given Ciravolo a shot in the arm. “I met him at a Guitar World dinner about five or six years ago at NAMM. If you can imagine, since it’s Guitar World, it’s nothing but men. Guitar World was purchased by Future Publishing, and they had this big, blow out party, to announce that they had bought Guitar World.”

“Jimmy Page was the guest of honor for the dinner,” she remembers. “So I went, and I don’t know if you know this, but my husband is the President of Schecter Guitars. So this is a top-of-industry only event. I’m also part of Alfred Music Publishing, which is the top music publisher in the world.”

“It’s kind of a high-powered event, and Jimmy Page walks by the table, and he stops and turns around and says, ‘Tish Ciravolo.’ I was like, yeah? because he’s not talking to anybody. He’s like, ‘Would you like to sit and have some tea, and talk about your guitars?’

“I’m like, Yeah! And abandoned my husband!” she says, laughing. “So I sat at Jimmy’s table, and of course, there’s a line, and he’s got this guy trying to keep everybody away from the table, but every guy in the industry is trying to get next to Jimmy. He was like, ‘They just bore me. Let’s talk about the Rock Candy model you have,’” she says.

Ciravolo marvels, “He started telling me he’s checked out my guitars, and then he’s like asking me what my favorite Led Zeppelin songs are, and that he’s got several kids, and he talked about them. So we decided we’d send four guitars over to his daughters in England.”

She said, “He kept saying, ‘The Les Pauls are too heavy. They’re just too heavy for them.’”

And that’s one thing that Ciravolo has always kept in mind when it comes to the manufacturing of her Daisy Rock line. “Not that Jimmy Page would ever go out and play a Daisy Rock, himself. Jimmy Page and his Les Pauls are historic,” she acknowledges, recognizing his long history with the guitar line, which eventually bonded Page with Les Paul, himself. The version Page was most interested in was the Rock Candy model.

Ciravolo says, “That’s our version of the cutaway,” referring to the body of Gibson Les Pauls. “The Rock Candy line has developed a lot since he’s seen those. I think at that time we had maybe four colors. We always have the Atomic Pink, because it’s for girls and it’s pink. No matter how many times I try to come out with anything different, purples and blues and greens and yellows, it’s always the pink that is the hottest,” she comments.

“But he had seen it. But it’s Jimmy Page!” she exclaimed. “I couldn’t believe I was talking to Jimmy Page, and he’s telling me my guitar company is really cool.”

She has a cherished photo of herself with the iconic guitarist that hangs on the wall of her office. As far as Page’s guitar playing, “All hail to the King. That’s all I have to say,” of the guitarist that has inspired countless hard rock guitarists for over four decades. Inarguably, the album Led Zeppelin II alone has sold countless guitars, a result of people hearing the album, and saying, “I’ve got to get a guitar, and do that.”

Tish Ciravolo and Jimmy Page

Many female guitarists have enjoyed playing songs from Page’s endless repertoire, as well. In fact, just recently, Heart’s guitarist Nancy Wilson and her sister, vocalist Ann Wilson performed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at the Kennedy Center Honors, at the request of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

“He was saying the same thing that I was. That getting more girls to play guitar, that is important,” she says.

As far as the imagery of her guitars, Ciravolo says, “However you have to do it. If it has to look like a flower to get a girl to do it, however it has to happen. It’s just important.”

Daisy Rock Guitars will be at booth #4522 at NAMM 2013. 

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