Teenage boys trying to be Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix are, it turns out, only half the picture when it comes to amateur shredders. A new study released Tuesday by guitar-maker Fender shows that women account for 50 percent of all beginner and aspirational players. And the instrument-maker is adjusting its marketing focus accordingly.
Fender worked with consultancy Egg Strategy to survey a representative sample of guitar players in the U.S. and U.K., adding on British data to a similar survey it conducted across North America three years ago with much the same results. Women consistently emerged as half the customer base, though the company did not release a breakdown of the gender data by age or other demographics. Those initial findings led the company to seek relationships with female artists, highlight more women in marketing campaigns and rethink its marketing strategy around a massive new audience that it’d previously been ignoring. It promoted a new millennial-focused line of guitars in 2016 with the women-led bands Warpaint and Bully, for instance.
“The fact that 50 percent of new guitar buyers in the U.K. were women was a surprise to the U.K. team, but it’s identical to what’s happening in the U.S.,” Fender CEO Andy Mooney tells Rolling Stone. “There was also belief about what people referred to as the ‘Taylor Swift factor’ maybe making the 50 percent number short-term and aberrational. In fact, it’s not. Taylor has moved on, I think playing less guitar on stage than she has in the past. But young women are still driving 50 percent of new guitar sales. So the phenomenon seems like it’s got legs, and it’s happening worldwide.”
Fender’s study also found that 72 percent of guitar players pick up a guitar for the first time to gain a life skill or improve themselves; 61 percent also simply want to learn how to play songs by themselves or with close friends and family, as opposed to trying to make it big. And 42 percent say they view guitar as part of their identity.
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All that is in spite of rock music slipping out of the top charts, ceding the throne to newer genres like hip-hop, which suggests that the persistence he guitar has as much to do with its value to individuals as an educational and social tool as its stage presence. Fender is now trying to draw out those quiet enthusiasts, who Mooney guesses have already been around for a while. “The advent of punk opened up an aperture to playing the instrument,” Mooney says. “It was less about virtuosity and more about having fun and self-expression. I think that applies both to bands and individuals who just wanted to pick up the instrument and master it to their own comfort level.”
While guitars have cooled a fair amount in sales since their rock-and-roll-era peak — and made bleak headlines, thanks to events like Gibson’s bankruptcy earlier this year — research firm IBISWorld notes that American guitar manufacturing has seen consecutive growth in the last few years and seems on the upswing. IBISWorld calculated Fender’s market share in U.S. acoustic and guitar manufacturing in 2017 as 37.2 percent, making it the industry leader ahead of Gibson (32.8 percent), C.F. Martin (10.9 percent) and Taylor Guitars (9.3 percent).