Numerous studies have demonstrated a surge in streaming, gaming and other online activity since the coronavirus pandemic forced people to spend more time at home, yet there also has been an uptick in more traditional pursuits – and guitar sales are booming as a result.

Until earlier this year, when lockdown restrictions began to be imposed, the outlook looked bleak for guitar retailers and manufacturers, even including famous brands like Gibson, which had filed for bankruptcy protection in 2018.

Changes in music trends and a sense that six-stringers were the preserve of older generations led many, including rock legend Eric Clapton, to wonder whether the industry could survive.

But a recent report in The New York Times has revealed a remarkable turnaround, with guitar sales now soaring on the back of demand from young and often female consumers.

“I would never have predicted that we would be looking at having a record year,” said Andy Mooney, chief executive of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

“We’ve broken so many records,” he said. “It will be the biggest year of sales volume in Fender history, record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and beginner gear sales. I never would have thought we would be where we are today if you asked me back in March.”

Kurt Listug, who co-founded Taylor Guitars – a supplier to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, among others – agreed. “We just had the biggest June, in terms of orders received, that we’ve ever had since we’ve been in business,” he said, adding that June and July alone accounted for half the orders that the company had projected, pre-pandemic, for all of 2020.

The trend extends to acoustic guitars too, according to Chris Martin, chief executive of C.F. Martin & Co., a supplier to the likes of Ed Sheeran as well as legends like Bob Dylan.

“It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable the demand there is right now for acoustic guitars,” he said. “I’ve been through guitar booms before, but this one caught me completely by surprise.”

And alongside physical guitar sales, companies are benefitting from online teaching services. According to Fender, its guitar-instruction app saw its user base surge from 150,000 to 930,000 between late March and late June.

Nearly 20% of these newcomers were aged under 24, and 70% were under 45, while female users accounted for 45% of the new wave, compared with 30% before the pandemic.

For Gibson CEO James Curleigh, the trend suggests there are deeper psychological currents at play as people are forced to adapt to the new circumstances forced on them by COVID-19.

“First, we were figuring out the basic essentials – where to buy toilet paper, making sure you were isolated in quarantine. Then the psychological reset hit,” he observed. “People said, ‘Well, I can still self-actualise, I can still self-fulfil.’”

Jensen Trani, a guitar instructor from Los Angeles, agreed that many people taking up the guitar appear to have a psychological need, perhaps seeking calm from the therapeutic benefits of playing an instrument.

“There was this point with my students where I could tell that numbing out on Netflix and Instagram and Facebook was just not working anymore,” he said. “People could no longer go to their usual coping mechanisms. They were saying, ‘How do I want to spend my day?’ There is this sense of learning how to sit with yourself.”

Sourced from The New York Times