Rebranding the SUB

by Steve, April 16th, 2019

Hello nobody, what is happening. Hockey? Pens swept in four by the Islanders. Bolts swept in four by the Blue Jackets. I guess I’ll root for Toronto. But that’s not what I logged on to talk about. I’m here to talk about rebranding cheapo imported guitars! Sort of like how I rebranded my Walmart fat bike, I just finished rebranding a Squier by Fender Mini (an imported, miniature version of the iconic Fender Stratocaster) and a Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4 (an imported version of the iconic Music Man Stingray).

A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4
A Squier Mini and a Sterling by Music Man SUB series Ray 4, rebranded

With computer-aided manufacturing, these budget-line Indonesian-manufactured instruments have become very cheap at the same time they have become consistent and decent in quality. With these, along with G&L’s Tribute line (also made in Indonesia), you can get the same models as Fender, Music Man and G & L (all makers of guitars designed by Leo Fender and their descendants, by the way) you can get the same models as their American-made counterparts with¬†pretty damn good quality at a fraction of the price. (American models generally have higher end hardware, often, but not always, different pickups, and generally better fit and finish and quality control.)

Anyway.

I ended up with the mini on a trade. I always kind of wanted a mini electric guitar since I saw Howard Leese play one with Heart back in the 80s. now I’ve got one, and it actually looks, plays and sounds amazing (these things retail for $130 new). The SUB Ray retails for $300, and can be found used for $150.

ANYWAY.

These cheapo guitars sound great, play great, and look great.¬†Except the headstocks. I have a theory, which I’ll get to in a sec, but first fo all let’s just appreciate what I mean when I say the design is egregious. They are one-color (black) silk screen logos. The more expensive big brothers typically have two-color logos, often with one color being metallic. The Squier logo is in the classic Fender script, with “by Fender” in the same font smaller underneath, which is awkward. And then… blank at the rounded end.

Squier Mini, original branding
Squier Mini, original branding

The SUB is even worse. First, the branding on all Music Man instruments has become ridiculously confusing. Modern versions are branded “Ernie Ball Music Man”. The cheap import brand is “Sterling by Music Man.” The Stingray model is called the “S.U.B. Series Ray 4″, but they leave off the Ray 4 part on the headstock. (Current models omit the S.U.B. on the headstock and include Stingray, even though the model is the Ray. Ernie Ball Music Man also has a high-end model called the Sterling, which is totally bonkers.) So from confusing branding comes… confusing graphics.

Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding
Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Series, original branding

I decided to do tongue-in-cheek versions, based on 70s versions of the Stratocaster and original Stingray.

I did a little research, and came up with a plan. Inkjet decal stock from Amazon, some very fine (00) steel wool, and a can of Rust-Oleum satin clear coat.

First step is to remove the tuners and string trees and tuner hole washers or whatever they’re called, then put a little elbow grease and steel wool into it. It took about five minutes of rubbing to remove the logos on both. They were both satin finish, and both silk-screened. The steel wool doesn’t leave any marks or take off much finish, but just to be sure, I gave it a quick coat of clear coat after removing the original logo.

Sterling headstock in progress
Sterling headstock in progress

Then I designed the logos. I wanted the classic 70s look for both. The original Man Logo is a stylized “M” that forms the legs of two figures playing guitars. I decided to make a play on “Music Man” as “Mountain Man,” and make the guitarists skiers. And instead of “StingRay,” “SteveRay.” Instead of a ® symbol after the brand, I used a backwards “C” (copyleft) symbol.

For the mini strat, I wanted something starting with F, for the iconic Fender F. I somewhat randomly chose “Freeware” (inspired by the copyleft idea on the bass) and “Stevercaster” for the model. I also copped the fender “Original contour body” decal that is common on various strat headstocks.

Decals applied, ready for clear coat
Decals applied, ready for clear coat

Since inkjet ink is water-based, you have to seal the decals with clear coat before applying. I did three coats, and let them dry before cutting and applying to the headstocks. I practiced on the mini strat, and didn’t get the decals in exactly the places I wanted them. I ended up printing multiple pages of the decals because I kept messing them up.

After applying them, I did a couple coats of clear coat over the decals, and then re-assembled the hardware and strings. I think they look pretty good!

rebranded axes
rebranded axes

Some people take issue with making these budget brands look like their more expensive cousins, which I can understand if you’re being deceitful for the purposes of selling. I’m not, obviously, but back to my theory. I think, since these budget lines have gotten so good in terms of look, feel and sound, that the owners of the brands (Fender, Music Man and G & L) insist the budget lines have to appear cheap somehow. So they slap some cheap-ass branding on the headstock, and maybe you can keep some people interested in paying literally seven times the money for a properly branded model.