- Fender partnered with a research consultancy and a neuroscientist to learn about guitar players.
- The results of that research suggest that playing guitar could contribute to well-being.
- A surprising number of new guitar players have no rock-star ambitions whatsoever.
- Fender has also gathered interesting data from its Fender Play online learning system, which launched last year.
When it comes to guitars, and electric guitars in particular, no company is bigger than Fender. The 72-year-old company has a 47% market share and is legendary for its axes and amplifiers, which are used by pop, rock, jazz, blues, and country royalty.
Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster. Eric Clapton still plays one. And with instruments ranging in price from $US100 to many thousands (for special orders from the company’s custom shop), a lot of aspiring and established musicians start out with Fender gear and later use it to make a living.
But as musical tastes evolve, questions have arisen about the future of rock-n-roll and the destiny of the guitar as a symbol of creativity.
To investigate the contemporary guitar zeitgeist, Fender recently joined forces with research consultancy Egg Strategy and McGill University neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin. The research covered 500 individuals in the US and UK, and the results were published in a report titled “Illuminating the State of Today’s Guitar Players.”
Some of the findings confirmed what many people already knew: playing guitar can be good for you. But for Fender and its business, there were also some surprises.
The company already understood that a relatively small number of guitarists harbored rock-star ambitions. That isn’t a concern for Fender, given that many current and future rock stars do make use of its gear. But the report also revealed that 72% of players took up the instrument to improve themselves, and 50% of guitarists in the United Kingdom play for themselves, rather than aiming to entertain an audience. Guitar players might also be looking to improve their well-being.
Wandering through music might increase productivity
Fender sought the help of Levitin, whose 2007 book, “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession,”delves in the role music has played in human evolution.
“Letting your mind wander is the key to reducing anxiety,” Levitin said in a statement. “We get our minds to wander by walking in nature or playing music – that’s what hits the reset button on the brain. Even just 15 minutes of ‘wandering’ and playing an instrument can increase productivity.”
That’s a good thing to keep in mind for any aspiring guitarist who thinks they have to practice for hours a day and achieve mastery in order to justify buying an instrument.
According to Fender CEO Andy Mooney, the company has also learned some intriguing things about its customers since last year’s launch of Fender Play, an online guitar-instruction system.
“We have 67,000 users in Fender Play,” Mooney told Business Insider. “Our assumption was that it would be mostly young people picking up the guitar for the first time. But a much larger percentage is at the upper end of age spectrum. They see it as way to self-develop, as a meditative investment in themselves.”
Beneficially, those older players have both money and time, so they can commit to more learning at a slower place – and purchase more of Fender’s pricier equipment. But younger players haven’t disappeared. And Fender learned that 50% of new players are women.
To a large extent, this pattern is an early sign that Fender Play is achieving key goals: bringing new players into the fold, decreasing the rate of attrition, and growing the overall market. It’s a well-known fact that most new players abandon the guitar after a short period of time and never return to it. Mooney reasoned that if the abandonment rate could be lowered by just 10%, Fender Play could assist in giving music-industry sales a huge boost.
He said that this would logically raise all boats – including those of Fender’s competitors – but that Fender would reap considerable returns, given that it controls nearly half of the market. Sales have been improving, and for Fender, the needle has been moving up on prices across the company’s entire range. In September, it shipped more equipment than any previous month in its long history, and its factories are running at capacity.
Rumours of the guitar’s demise, it seems, have been exaggerated.
Challenges remain, however
“Nearly half of beginners stated they quit learning an instrument due to time constraints, and 33% of beginners shared they were not growing skills fast enough or as fast as they thought they would,” Fender said in a statement about the Egg Strategy research. “The reality is that it’s much easier for a person to binge-watch a Netflix series in their free time than learn guitar, but the rise of digital technology also has an upside, especially for specific types of learners.”
Mooney said that Fender has observed Play users dividing into two groups: one that wants quick results; and another that’s more patient. The resource is designed to address the needs of each contingent; it can be used on desktop and laptop computers, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices.
The company has also unveiled a new incentive to spur people to commit to Play for the long haul. On Tuesday, Fender started offering an $US89.99 yearly subscription that comes with a 10% discount on Fender equipment purchased through the company’s e-commerce channel or at participating retailers. That 10% savings on an $US825 Classic Player Jazzmaster guitar, for example, would return almost your entire Play annual subscription.
Previously, the Play service was only offered at a $US9.99 monthly fee, following a free trail. (With that option, users can cancel whenever they want.)
I’ve tested Play and found it to be an excellent way to learn guitar and improve one’s skills.
According to Levitin, developing your musical side also appears to be a great way to stave off the negative effects of ageing – and to enhance your cognitive talents early in life. He has explored this in his own research, going back two decades.
“After 60, playing an instrument can help you retrain and remap neural circuits that are inclined to atrophy, which helps you stay mentally young,” Levitin said. “Learning an instrument can also help develop your brain when you are a kid.”
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