Heartwood Guitar Company was the fruit of the labor and love accumulated throughout my college career. Pennsylvania College of Art & Design hosts a Senior Show & Celebration every spring to showcase the graduating seniors and their theses to the public. It all happens one night, typically during May’s First Friday event in Lancaster. The college opens up all five floors of its facilities, with each floor hosting its own major, so people can come in and view the seniors’ artwork. Each student is given a designated area in the school to showcase their work.
Each senior’s thesis is worked on for the final semester (14 weeks) of their college career. As a graphic design major, my thesis had to incorporate the creation, whether real or hypothetical, of a company and brand. Some students created businesses for themselves while others created a fake brand. I decided to create a hypothetical guitar company that gave back to the community. I named the company “Heartwood,” stemming from the idea of giving back (heart) and the main materials used in building a guitar (wood). It’s also a nice little factoid that many electric guitars are manufactured from the “heartwood” of trees, which is the wood in the center of a tree that has been chemically changed naturally into a harder, more durable state.
Heartwood Guitar’s core model is to produce bare-bones, no-frill guitars with no paint or fancy finishes to acquire a natural, classy, and simple look. Professional guitar players typically only have a guitar rig of what they need, which in a lot of cases may only be a single pick-up, or a single volume knob. Heartwood encompasses this feel of simplicity and adds a layer of elegance. The model also includes giving back to the music world. In a Toms Shoes fashion, for every guitar sold, an instrument will be given towards music education.
For my thesis, I created a logo and branding around the company. I also created the offered products, packaging, a catalog, website, and other collateral. The biggest setback in the process for me was getting a hold of three differently styled guitars that were cheap to buy, and cheap enough that I didn’t feel bad hacking them up and sanding them down. I purchased cheap guitars from friends and craigslist. My first step was taking all of the hardware and wiring out of the guitars and sanding them all down to bare wood. Later, I stained them just to give my audience a faux idea of “wood choices” a hypothetical customer would have when purchasing a guitar from Heartwood. Below are some progress photos:
When it came to the actual design work of the project (because this was for my graphic design degree after all), I started with the logo design. One thing many of the huge manufacturers in the guitar industry lack is a logo mark that can standalone on its own. Almost all guitar companies’ logos are just the name of the company stylized. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s a recognizable mark. I wanted to do things differently though so I strived to have a mark that could stand alone as well as work with the name. I ended up making a monogram of the “HW” for Heartwood in a circle utilizing the Habana typeface. I chose Habana because it was a very distinctive ‘H’ and ‘W’ and has island-ish, natural feel that one might see on an old wood sign or something similar. In making the monogram, I overlapped the ‘H’ and ‘W’ to create a simple, symmetrical design that could stand on its own. I then used Habana for the name in the logo and the only change I made was enlarging the inner circle in the ‘O’s of the typeface to represent the heartwood of a cut tree trunk. Once I had designed the logo, I had a branding iron made to burn the logo into the guitar headstocks to further instill the idea of simplicity and to add another level of differentiation between every guitar made.
I started to think about the website, collateral items, and packaging for the guitars. I wanted the packaging to be just plain wood with straw added to cushion the guitar during shipping and delivering. It gave the look and feel I was going for and offered something different than other guitar manufacturers produce (typically just cardboard boxes). There would be boxes made specifically per style of guitar so the fit would give the best protection during handling. For the sake of the project I only built one. I used a plywood that was light on the outside and dark on the inside and gave it a slide-top lid (another thing you don’t see very often in the guitar world). I wanted the consumer experience while unveiling their new product to be something that they had never experienced before. There are photos below of the website, collateral items (a guitar pick, t-shirt, & poster), packaging, and catalog:
The next biggest part of the whole thesis is setting up for Senior Show. Over the years, the graphic designers were making a point to give their spaces an immersive feel. As people come through to view your work, you want them to feel like they’re immersed in your company, whether it be a store-front-type feel, or in my case, the feeling that you’re in a guitar shop. I had a Marshall half-stack amplifier set up in my space with the packaging box leaned up against it. The three guitars hung from the wall in a V-shape with the company logo “floating” above in the middle. I had my business cards set out and my computer set up, and it was a great experience being able to put myself out as an artist about to hit the workforce!
Designing and developing Heartwood Guitar Company was an extremely immersive, challenging and fun project for me. I got to work with my hands a lot (something I don’t get to do a lot when designing on a computer), design and build packaging (a huge passion of mine), and create something within the music industry (another one of my passions). It was an awesome experience to see all the learnings from my four-year college career culminate together for one final hurrah. I still have all the guitars hanging in my office at home as a reminder of the hard work put in and the knowledge gained at my time at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design.