Pandemic despair breathes record-breaking life into guitar sales

Guitars and tutorials have surged in popularity this summer.

Young woman playing guitar. Music concept. Home atmosphere on background.

As people calmed down from hoarding toilet paper and beans, tired of their sourdough starters, and added civil unrest to their list of stressors, many turned to music this summer. Guitar titan Fender is having its biggest year of sales ever, according to The New York Times, and it’s not the only one. Gibson, Martin, Taylor, and six-string purveyors like Guitar Center, Sam Ash, and Reverb have had a sales boom as people settle into quarantine.

The thrill was gone — Just three years ago, The Washington Post all but eulogized the guitar industry. The entire industry was only selling a little more than a million guitars a year (compared to 1.5 million a decade earlier) and the major players were embroiled with debt or other financial problems.

In a longwinded struggle to rebound from The Great Recession, guitar companies had to contend with the durability of their products and a cultural shift towards electronic music — which became increasingly accessible to produce without the callouses. Still, by the end of last year, sales topped $8 billion with roughly 1.25 million instruments sold, according to Music Trades.

Phoenix rising — A two-pronged source of motivation has fueled this summer’s guitar boom: an unprecedented amount of free time and a growing need for a meditative hobby. Neuroscientist, musician, and author Daniel Levitin told NYT that “using your brain for something that is challenging, but not impossible, tends to be rewarding, and hence comforting.”

While the industry took a hit along with many others at the pandemic’s onset, around June, most saw the beginning of soaring demand that would last all summer. Overall fretted instrument sales are still down about 2.4 percent compared to last year, partially due to a dip in imported guitars, but companies are thrilled with the general upward trend for guitars specifically.

Smells like teen spirit — Fender’s guitar-instruction app Fender Play saw its user base explode from 150,000 to 930,000 this spring. Nearly a fifth of the new users were under 24, 70 percent were under 45, and female users climbed to 45 percent from 30 percent. Baby boomers get to claim dozens of shredding idols, but now that the construct of time is disintegrating, every generation after them is racing to pick up the mantle.