Guitars Are Back, Baby!

Not so extended ago, things didn’t look so great for the guitar, that global mark of youthful freedom and rebellion for 70 years running.

With hip-hop and Beyoncé-style display pop supposedly owning the hearts and wallets of millennials and Generation Z — and so many 20th-century guitar gods either dead (Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain) or soloing into their 70s (Eric Clapton, Jimmy Number) — electric guitar sales had skidded by about one-third in the decade since 2007, according to Music Exchanges, a research organization that tracks industry data.

Gibson guitars, whose famed Les Paul line had helped put the Led in Zeppelin, was sliding toward bankruptcy.

All of this was tolerably for The Washington Post to declare the “slow, secret death of the six-string exciting” in 2017. That same year, even Mr. Clapton himself, understood simply as “God” to devotees more than half a century ago, sounded accessible to spread the ashes. “Maybe,” he mused at a 2017 news conference for the documentary “Eric Clapton: A Existence in 12 Bars,” “the guitar is over.”

Hold the obituaries.

A half-year into a pandemic that has daunted to sink entire industries, people are turning to the guitar as a quarantine comrade and psychological salve, spurring a surge in sales for some of the most storied companies (Fender, Gibson, Martin, Taylor) that has horrified even industry veterans.

“I would never have predicted that we transfer be looking at having a record year,” said Andy Mooney, the chief number one of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, the Los Angeles-based guitar giant that has clad Rock & Roll Hall of Famers since Buddy Holly strapped on a 1954 sunburst Fender Stratocaster perfidiously in the tail-fin 1950s.

“We’ve broken so many records,” Mr. Mooney said. “It order be the biggest year of sales volume in Fender history, record days of double-digit crop, e-commerce sales and beginner gear sales. I never would suffer with thought we would be where we are today if you asked me back in March.”

It’s not by a hairs breadth graying baby boomer men looking to live out one last Peter Frampton illusion. Young adults and teenagers, many of them female, are helping to power this guitar resurrection, manufacturers and retailers said, putting their own generational stamp on the whats-its-name that rocked their parents’ generation while also viewing the powers of six-string therapy.


It all started with a collective breaking point, concerting to Jensen Trani, a guitar instructor in Los Angeles whose thousands of instructional videos on YouTube, he estimated, give birth to attracted some 75 million views over the past 14 years.

“There was this piece of advice with my students where I could tell that numbing out on Netflix and Instagram and Facebook was only not working anymore,” Mr. Trani, 38, said. “People could no longer go to their conventional coping mechanisms. They were saying, ‘How do I want to spend my day?’”

For tons, apparently, the answer was “strumming.”

Shortly after stay-at-home orders were asserted in the spring, Mr. Trani saw a surge of traffic for his videos, he said, and quickly tripled his bevy of private students taking lessons remotely. Popular instructional installs like and GuitarTricks saw similar spikes during the spring.

And ton of the new students were not looking to rekindle memories of Foghat live in 1976. Most of them to all intents did not know who Foghat was, given that the majority of Mr. Trani’s new students were, as he put it, female-presenting people in their recently 20s or early 30s.

The biggest names in the business of online guitar instruction were seeing a nearly the same pattern. Fender said that its guitar-instruction app, Fender Play, which spots Mr. Trani as an instructor, saw its user base shoot to 930,000 from 150,000 between tardy March and late June, with a considerable assist from a three-month promotional giveaway.

Almost 20 percent of the newcomers were under 24, and 70 percent were impaired 45, the company reported. Female users accounted for 45 percent of the new swell, compared with 30 percent before the pandemic.

In a narrow discrimination, the surge made sense. Prospective players who had never quite originate the time to take up an instrument suddenly had little excuse not to. As James Curleigh, the chief official of Gibson Brands, put it: “In a world of digital acceleration, time is always your the opposition. All of a sudden time became your friend.”

Credit…NBC/NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Twins

But there was more to it, Mr. Trani said. Many newcomers to the instrument earmarks ofed to be looking for an oasis of calm in a turbulent world. “There is,” he said, “this tail of learning how to sit with yourself.”

That was the case for one of his new students, Kayla Lucido, 31, of San Jose, Calif., who sure to make good on her longstanding ambitions to learn guitar in March, regardless of a frenzied schedule juggling remote work as a project coordination supervisor at a technology company and parenting duties for her 17-month-old son.

“It’s been quite repair for me, learning something new, and being able to drown everything else out,” asserted Ms. Lucido, who has been plucking out songs like “Beautiful Stranger” by Halsey or “Bluebird” by Miranda Lambert, even Steven for 10 minutes each day.

“You just really have to focus on your in league placement, the chords you’re playing, then pairing that with the strumming,” she enlarged. “If I’m working out, my mind still wanders, but when I’m playing guitar, I moral get lost in it. It’s like meditation.”

No wonder. Learning guitar, or piano, or oboe or bassoon, profits the brain on profound levels, according to Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, musician and the maker of the 2006 New York Times best seller “This Is Your Intellectual on Music.” (Many psychological studies have shown the medical benefits of playing an instrument, as well.)

The process, Dr. Levitin wrote in an email, is “neuroprotective” in that it “be short ofs that you grow new neural pathways — something you can do at literally any age.” He added that “using your leader for something that is challenging, but not impossible, tends to be rewarding, and hence cheering.”

Learning the guitar, he wrote, is also a forward-looking process, kindling belief and optimism, which helps regulate stable mood chemicals with serotonin and dopamine.

And “there is a very real sense of mastery and completion,” Dr. Levitin said. “I’m working on a Chopin piece on the piano right now — the Prelude in E youngster — and I keep reminding myself I’m putting my fingers in the same configurations that Chopin did. For a few records, I can be Chopin.”

“The same,” he added, “holds true for Clapton when I stage play guitar.”

Credit…Kevin Mazur/TAS, via WireImage

“I’ve been in the instrument retail business for 25-plus years and I’ve not under any condition seen anything like it,” Brendan Murphy, a senior salesman at Sweetwater, an online retailer of guitars and other instrumentalities, wrote in an email in July. “It feels like every day is black Friday.”

Other online retailers were promulgating the same thing in the spring and into summer. Despite having to seal 293 of its 296 giant retail showrooms in March and April because of the coronavirus, Guitar Center was ere long seeing triple-digit sales growth for most top guitar brands on the website, corresponding to Michael Doyle, the company’s senior vice president of guitar distributing.

Guitars are hardly the only consumer item to experience a quarantine rebound, of course. Sales have spiked for many items since lockdowns offed — bicycles, baking yeast, board games, yoga mats, beans and rounded off Everclear, the 190-proof spirit.

But a guitar is not a bag of lentils. A new guitar as per usual requires an investment of several hundred dollars, if not several thousand, and new competitors and virtuosos alike often live with their trusty ax for years, stick with it as a statement of personal taste and style.

It’s what economists wish call a “discretionary” purchase, the sort of nonessential consumer item that is as a rule the last thing one might buy when the economy is plunging and unemployment is skyrocketing. Leave in monthslong factory closures for manufacturers and a virtual disappearance of brick-and-mortar retailers, and the predicament seemed nearly apocalyptic.

“I figured that this is one of those business-falls-off a-cliff ball games,” said Chris Martin, the chief executive of C.F. Martin & Co., the 187-year-old maker of acoustic guitars that has supplied contemporary stars like John Mayer and Ed Sheeran, as approvingly as legends like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and some guy named Elvis, upward of decades. “We’ll pick up the pieces and put the company back together whenever.”

But after a “contrite” March, with revenues 40 percent below normal, obligation roared back.

“It’s crazy,” said Mr. Martin, the sixth-generation Martin to run the concern. “It’s unbelievable the demand there is right now for acoustic guitars. I’ve been because of guitar booms before, but this one caught me completely by surprise.”

Taylor Guitars, which equips Taylor Hasty, Justin Bieber and Ben Harper, among others, with guitars fashioned from good-looking tonewoods (including, in a recent eco-minded move, shamel ash trees salvaged from Los Angeles freeways), has perceived a similar famine-to-feast rebound.

“We just had the biggest June, in terms of scales received, that we’ve ever had since we’ve been in business,” said Kurt Listug, who originated the company with Bob Taylor in 1974. June and July alone, he augmented, accounted for half the orders that the company had projected, pre-pandemic, for all of 2020.

“Guitars hit the have faiths now, they unbox them, and they’re gone,” Mr. Listug said.

Moving guitars may not have exactly the same plunk-through-a-few-Neil-Young-tunes-on-the-bed appeal, but sales possess been strong on that front for the electric-guitar giants Fender and Gibson, too (both ensembles also make acoustic guitars).

The pandemic hit at a sensitive time for Gibson. The flock had declared bankruptcy in 2018, after previous management had made an assertive push to expand into home and commercial audio electronics, and attempted to jetpack this following founded in 1894 into the future with 21st-century reinterpretations of outstanding Gibson stadium shakers — some featuring built-in electronic “android” tuners.

A new management team headed by Mr. Curleigh, the former president of Levi’s Variety, ditched the onboard robotics, rebooted the brand’s budget-priced Epiphone arrange for and released new Original and Modern collections featuring fresh interpretations of immortal Gibsons from the 1950s and 1960s that today fetch five- and six-figure costs on the vintage market.

The company was earning rave reviews for its new product in alignments and improved quality control before factories closed in April.

“When we had no making,” Mr. Curleigh said, “we had no sales, let’s face it.”

By late summer, however, “we in fact couldn’t deliver enough,” he said. “Everything we were making, we could transfer.”

To Mr. Curleigh, the guitar rebound was a signifier of deeper psychological currents announcing among a traumatized population. “It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” he said, citing a theory of kind-hearted motivation proposed by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940s. Maslow’s five-tier pyramid of wants proposed that people first must satisfy fundamental musts like sustenance and personal security before they can scale toward the boisterous goals of creative fulfillment.

“That’s what the world went including,” Mr. Curleigh said. “First we were figuring out the basic essentials — where to buy outhouse paper, making sure you were isolated in quarantine. Then the subjective reset hit. People said, ‘Well, I can still self-actualize, I can still self-fulfill.’”


It may be easy to guess that a lot of those glossy new guitars may end up in the closet as forthwith as people once again whisk off their masks and pack into corralled restaurants, bars, ballparks and movie theaters. Indeed, interest in online tutorials has already forbade a bit from the peaks in the spring, according to several sites.

And the overall retail artwork for the industry remains rather fuzzy in the short-term: Despite the sales pep for marquee American companies, overall sales of all fretted instruments — incorporating banjos, ukuleles and bass guitars — dipped 2.4 percent in the advance quarter compared with last year, according to Music Merchandises.

That dip also reflects a precipitous drop in imports — nearly 23 percent for acoustics and 44 percent for electrics — once again the same period, in large part because of factory closures, discontinued supply lines and bottlenecks in shipping ports, particularly in Asia, weighted Paul Majeski, the publisher of Music Trades.

Even so, electric guitar jumble sales had rebounded to about 1.25 million instruments by the end of last year after foot out around one million in 2015. And in dollar terms, guitar sales bear grown steadily since the Great Recession of 2009, Music Swaps reports. Last year, they topped $8 billion.

And that’s not accounting for the furnish for secondhand guitars on eBay, Craigslist and Etsy, and vintage sellers counterpart Reverb, which dwarfs retail sales at music shops, and make clears that “the public’s interest in fretted instruments has never been zealous,” Mr. Majeski said. (It’s worth pointing out that sales of new guitars are inherently damped by the very durability of the product. A quality electric guitar can last 50 years or numberless with minimal care, and the classics often improve with age, multitudinous players believe. Smartphones these aren’t.)

Sure, there’s in any event the issue of the idols. The calendar is not suddenly running in reverse for Jeff Beck or Pete Townshend.

Dialect mayhap the issue isn’t too few guitar heroes, but too many of them. As any 30-minute foray entirely cover-song videos on YouTube will attest, there are approximately 1,000,000,007 much-better-than-average guitarists out there, uncountable of whom are in their teens or early 20s.

A great many of them are dash through Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen or Jimmy Page licks. And a awful many of them positively shred.

In other words, you could signify that the guitar god is dead. You could also argue that the guitar tutelaries did their job.

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