Fender boss speaks out on the rise of female players and how ‘the diversity of the guitar is beyond the advent of punk’

"When someone's taken the time to declare the death of the electric guitar, I wish they'd taken the time to check their facts"

The CEO of Fender Guitars has spoken out on the rise in young women taking up the instrument, declaring that ‘the diversity of the guitar is beyond the advent of punk’.

Back in October, it emerged that females now make up for 50% of beginner guitar players in the UK and US – citing “a different cultural context and popular music landscape”, as well as rising young guitarists “changing the way guitar is being used”. Speaking to NME, CEO Andy Mooney has said that it was once considered to be ‘the Taylor Swift Syndrome’ and a temporary trend has now emerged to be something far more long-lasting.

“Women’s interest in the guitar has sustained and has actually grown,” Mooney told NME. “A lot of those women who first picked up the acoustic guitar and mastered it then went ‘OK, now I want an electric guitar’. The first couple of years I was here, the acoustic guitar was growing quicker but now it’s flipped.”

Mooney said that the ‘intimidation factor’ of women in male-dominated guitar shops had decreased, with more females buying and learning the instrument online.

“It’s like the kind of club that you need to be in it to join,” he continued. “Anybody who’s a new player gets pretty intimidated, but it can be more intimidating for women. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. I went into a store with a very accomplished female guitarist and the clerk came up to her and said ‘Are you looking for your husband or boyfriend?’ If you ask that question then you’ve already lost a customer for life.”

St Vincent, live in Cambridge. Credit: Valerio Berdini/REX/Shutterstock

It is also believed that another reason for the increase is more visibility of female musicians as role models.

“I was reading a great article earlier this year where they interviewed Liz Phair,” said Mooney. “Back in the day, her label was telling her to wear less clothes, look cute, and it was more about the female form than the music. There were very few female artists that she could share a stage with. Now she says that she can go to so many more major festivals and see female artists headlining, and in some cases showcases of all female artists.

“It’s even more in South East Asia. We haven’t conducted the research but anecdotally we think that as many as 70% of all new guitar-buyers are women. That’s because of things like K-Pop and J-Pop. When you listen to bands like Scandal, they’re not unaccomplished musicians and they’re playing a really broad range of genres to a really high standard.”

Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell

Statistics show that only 6% of people picking up the guitar have hopes of taking to the stage to perform, while only 3% of new starters want to make a living out of it. In the UK, new starters are largely looking for ‘a new learning experience’ and to have fun, but Mooney argues that the increased ethnic as well as gender diversity of new guitarists is a promising sign for future stars.

He added that the industry has been growing steadily since 2014 due to people being less overwhelmed by the instrument – as well we adopting it for recreational purposes as well as songwriting and recording in a proliferation of genres.

“When someone declares the death of the electric guitar, I wish that they’d taken the time to check their facts,” he argued. “To me, the way that the guitar was used changed with the advent of punk. Up until that point, the heroes were guys like Hendrix and Tony Iommi. These were the guys that you looked up to, but could never really emulate. Then along came punk and if you could play three chords and had a pulse then you could get up on stage. The guitar became less of a compositional and performance instrument and more about having fun.

“Today, the diversity of how a guitar is used is way beyond the advent of punk. It has never been more widely used geographically or genre-wise.”

This news comes as they hope to open up the instrument to a wider audience with the launch of Fender Play – a new app of instructional tools and simple video tutorials to teach people guitar, bass and ukulele.

However, despite the diverse tastes of millennials due to streaming culture, their most searched-for song remains ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.

“Yes, it’s a simple three-chord song,” Mooney added. “It’s the type of moment where you first feel in control of your guitar. You’ve got to your first point.”

The hopes to increase the number of young female musicians were echoed by HAIM at the NME Awards earlier this year.