The Guitar Poster Turns 30

Below is a press release from a few years ago on The Guitar Poster’s 30th anniversary.

Inspired by the Woodstock Poster

The Guitar Poster and its inspiration, the fabled Woodstock posterwhich Morrison bought as a souvenir at the Woodstock Music festival in 1969. The colors have faded and the corners are tattered after decades of being up and down on dozens of walls. The small postcard  in the corner of the frame shows what the Woodstock poster’s original colors were like.

For Immediate Release

Petaluma, CA, Oct. 12, 2010.

It was over three decades ago that a novice guitar player had the inspiration for a poster that would become a classic in the industry and help millions learn to play the guitar.

“I was in college on the GI Bill, taking a guitar class, and had only been playing a few weeks,” explained the producer, Scott Morrison. “I’d been to Woodstock ten years earlier where I’d bought a souvenir, the famous poster showing a dove on a guitar neck. On my wall right next to it I had tacked up a chord chart and other printouts the teacher had passed out, such as the Great Staff, Circle of Fifths, and a transposition table.

“One day, as I was trying to figure out a chord, I glanced at the Woodstock poster next to the chord chart and thought, ‘Wow, if the guitar neck were turned around so it was vertical and had all the notes written out, learning the neck would be much easier.’ The next day I went around to music stores hoping to buy one, but nobody had heard of anything like it.

“So I did some research, and when I read that the Gallup Poll reported there were fifteen million guitar players in America, I thought I’d stumbled on the proverbial better mousetrap, a can’t-miss, million-dollar idea.”

Morrison had been preparing to go to law school when the entrepreneurial bug bit him. He put together a team of experts who knew far more about music, art, graphics and printing than he did, and founded Castalia Communications to publish The Guitar Poster.

“A friend who was a guitarist as well as a graphic artist, Jack Nau (later to become vice-president of EMG pickups), thought it was a great idea and we began to develop it,” Morrison said. “We soon recruited a fine art painter, Robert Butters, and instead of a simple graphic like the Woodstock poster, it evolved into a combination of educational graphics and fine art.”

As the poster was being developed, Morrison took more music classes. One day he brought the prototype to class and asked his fellow students for feedback and someone said, “If you really want to take this to the next level, you’ve absolutely got to talk to Keith Allen.”

Allen was a local guitar teacher and the Bay Area’s premier studio guitarist who gigged with everyone from the San Francisco Symphony to the Steve Miller Band and Bonnie Raitt. A few years earlier, while teaching at San Francisco’s Blue Bear School of Music, Allen had developed the C-A-G-E-D system of five interlocking moveable chord and scale patterns. It was so innovative that Guitar Player Magazine, in their May, 1975 issue, published a feature article on the twenty-one year old guitar wizard and his revolutionary playing system.

“I set up a meeting with Keith,” Morrison said. “He took one look at the prototype, said ‘I’m in,’ and on the spot he sat down and drew out the first draft of what was to become the Chord & Scale Table.”

Allen’s deep knowledge of both music theory and guitar technique elevated the concept from a simple compilation of chords to a complete roadmap to harmony for guitar that puts the answers up on your wall. Using the poster’s cross-reference system of tables and charts, you can find and play any chord or scale, in any key, anywhere on the guitar, even if you don’t read music. From beginners learning their first chords and DO-RE-MI to professionals playing hot jazz, The Guitar Poster has something for players at every level.

After more than a year in development, the poster made its debut in 1981 at the National Association of Music Merchants trade show and was an instant hit. Since then it has sold over two million copies and counting. Castalia went on to publish a series of music posters for keyboard, rock guitar, saxophone and electric bass as well as a variety of other music education items.

“Having been at Woodstock affects me to this very day,” says Morrison. “If my dad had told me I couldn’t take the car that weekend, I’d have never bought the souvenir that inspired The Guitar Poster, and I’d probably have ended up becoming a lawyer.”

Over two million guitar players are thankful that his dad let him have the car.