Fender CEO Andy Mooney has been speaking of the incredible turnaround in the brand's fortunes, the company having survived a serious financial scare mid-pandemic to now selling more guitars than ever before
Record instrument sales are forecasted, yet speaking to Business Insider, Mooney admitted that Fender had been "looking over the edge of an abyss" as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered its factories in Mexico and the USA.
Staff were furloughed and salary reductions were applied across the board. Mooney described it as a "new comet" hitting the company's operations each week – "We did everything to make sure we had enough cash."
But as the supply chain took a hit, demand for instruments rocketed as people took up instruments during lockdown.
"We benefitted more than most," said Mooney. "The orders started coming in. Dealers started to report that business was really good."
Mooney said the company expects to post $700 million in 2020 sales revenue, up $100 million on 2019.
Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the music industry as we know it, we shall take good news wherever we can find it.
The next test is to see how many new guitarists stick with their instrument. As Mooney revealed to MusicRadar this time last year, only one in 10 beginner guitar players stick with the instrument beyond the first year.
"As an industry, we don’t have a problem attracting new entrants," said Mooney, "we have a member retention issue."
In an effort to improve your chances of persisting with the instrument, Fender has launched services such as Fender Songs and Fender Play. Fender Play offers a fun, online learning environment for guitarists of varying levels, but with a strong focus on the core skills beginners need to see some benefits from their practice.
There are now 980,000 Fender Play subscribers. A fifth of players who took up subscriptions to Fender Play were under 24, 70 per cent were under 45. Of these new subscribers, 45 per cent are female, up from 30 per cent before the pandemic hit in March 2020.
Justin Norvell, executive vice president of Fender Products, said that the company was trying to create a sense of community for musicians, enabling players to find their own path and get serious about their instrument.
"The path for becoming a guitar player is a really tough path if you think about it," he said. "You have to decide you want to play guitar. You have to decide between good guitar and a bad guitar, different specs and options, figure all of that out, and then you bring the guitar home and there really isn’t one way you are supposed to learn.
"Some learn by ear. Some take lessons. Some learn to read music. Some play along to their favourite songs and figure it out. Some learn from a friend. It is so hard. It is one of those things; a lot of people quit because playing the guitar is so challenging initially, but [it's] ultimately rewarding. We just felt that it was incumbent on ourselves to invent the path, to create the path."
A Fender Play subscription is available with a free three-month trial period.