Disclaimer: This is a case study I wrote for my Musicians in Society Class. We had to write a case study about how the pandemic affected musicians.
Locked inside for most of the year, people have taken a new habit to cure their abundance of boredom. There is so much social media consumption that one can take. People at home have taken the time to partake in new hobbies, such as bicycling, baking, practicing yoga, and even music-making. Guitar companies such as Fender has seen “record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and beginner gear sales” (NYT, 2020). Online guitar teachers also have a significant increase in their audience and video views. The tie between being inside for lockdown has given the guitar —both electric and acoustic— back the popularity it once had, a sales boost, and increased the number of new players.
Guitars have not been the most popular instrument in the closet, especially in the last few years. As hip-hop and rap music replaced rock as the most popular genre in 2017, electric guitars have declined in radio play. Add in the fact that electronic and synth-pop also had an immense emergence in the mid-2010s. There was and still is a looming question mark on what exactly is “rock” in modern music. Vulture Media describes why rock is so confusing to pinpoint,
“Think of R&B, country, disco: the names operate at once as an aesthetic descriptor and as shorthand for a set of social allegiances, whether of region, race, gender, or class. For decades, rock was the exception to this nominalism. It was a mansion large enough and hospitable enough that everyone could fit within. When you pointed at it, you weren’t pointing at a fraction, but the whole.”
The Washington Post wrote an article promoting the idea that “the electric guitar is dying” in 2017. The article used plenty of statistics and annual reports of how major guitar sellers were in serious debt and declining profits. A year in 2018 after the article, Gibson guitars filed for bankruptcy, which caused an uproar in the guitar sales industry. Many outlets agreed and disagreed that it does not mean the industry was dying or declining.
However, lockdown prompted millions of Americans to stay at home. The pandemic halted many professional musicians’ lives, yet it also allowed so many amateurs and hobbyist guitarists to make time to play. Stuck inside and bored with social media, people with extra time made the decision to pick up the guitar. This leisure time led to more people also purchasing more guitars and guitar learning services. Even guitar players before the lockdown now had the time to practice.
Gibson, Taylor, Martin, Fender, and others have seen a massive increase in guitar sales in 2020. This boom in sales caused a positive outlook on the guitar world.
Fender announced that it might have its biggest year of sales ever. Its CEO, Andy Mooney, told the New York Times, “We have broken so many records…I never would have thought we would be where we are today if you asked me back in March.”
Gibson has rebounded from bankruptcy and focusing on its guitars. Taylor Guitars “had the biggest June, in terms of orders received, that [it has] ever had since [it has] been in business. According to Martin CEO, Chris Martin, this station is a “guitar boom” (Guitar World, 2020).
The senior salesman at Sweetwater, a popular online relator for instruments, described the influx of guitar purchases as “…feel[ing] like every day is Black Friday” (New York Times, 2020).
Guitar teachers have also seen a jump in their line of work. A surge of traffic for L.A. based guitar teacher, Jensen Trani, peaked during the spring lockdown. A guitar player from Lincoln, Nebraska, also saw a 25% increase in students since March, according to Journal Star. He also saw more girls learning at this teaching studio.
Fender’s guitar-instruction app also saw significant growth with 930,000 users from 150,000 users between March and late June, according to the New York Times. The app continues to offer a free three-month subscription for new players. One-fifth of newcomers were under the age of 24 years old. “70% were under the age of 45. Females made up nearly half of the new app users at 45%, which is up 15% from before the pandemic.
Baby boomers are not the only people picking and purchasing the guitar. Young adults and teenagers, especially females, are pushing for this revival for the guitar.
Back in 2019, Fender introduced more signature guitars for females. They also conducted research that showed that women “were opting more often to buy an acoustic guitar than an electric guitar for the first guitar.” Women also “more likely to buy online than in a traditional store. CEO Andy Mooney also added that both the lack of female sales associates and intimidation of being a new player contributes to the lack of in-store buying.
Guitar companies have ignored and placed the younger generation and females on the backburner for years. This whole time they failed to market towards women players. When Fabi Reyna, the founder of female guitarist magazine, She Shreds, few people in the industry paid attention. She told Rolling Stone, “…brands started to realize that was happening.” Fender has reached out to female artists to highlight them and collaborate on guitar lines. The future of rock music and guitars are up in the air. Business Wire estimates that the guitar marker will grow by 3% during 2020-2024. Months after the peak of lockdown in the spring and early summer, online tutorials’ have seen a drop in views. Some outlets eager at the idea of the uptick in sales, bringing back rock, but it is uncertain to say.