The annual Coachella Music Festival has become one of the largest musical gatherings in the world, bringing together some 120,000 fans to witness more than 150 acts spanning every genre imaginable. But a constant throughout this year’s three-day event, which takes place over two consecutive weekends – and featured Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Swedish House Mafia with the Weeknd headlining – was the apparent popularity of Fender guitars.
Gearboxes were the first to notice of the market penetration Fender had at the festival, with some reasoning that the brand is a favorite of indie rock bands, which have generally been a big draw for Coachella crowds. But as many outlets have observed, on this year’s lineup — following multiple postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic — guitar-based bands have factored less into the bill. In fact, where the main stage has in the past hosted Radiohead, Paul McCartney, AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – the 2022 edition has seen a host of Latin and R&B acts take up the torch, including Anitta, Karol G and Daniel Cesar.
On the outdoor theater stage were performers more often associated with guitars, like Phoebe Bridgers and Finneas, and in the tents were Italian glam-rockers Maneskin, Japanese Breakfast and hardcore newcomers Turnstile – all but Bridgers, that rocked a BC Rich Warlock, Fender devotees.
It is not by chance. While Fender has long been favored by older musicians – Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton come to mind – the company has gone to great lengths, and gains, to attract not just younger audiences, but female audiences. Among the company’s programs are Fender Play, an all-in-one guitar, bass and ukulele learning platform with a extensive song library to play with, from the Rolling Stones to Green Day to Billie Eilish. Fender also recently launched an online beginners hub, which helps budding musicians with tips, tools, apps, and advice on everything from choosing your first guitar to playing your first riff. The Fender Custom shop, meanwhile, works with brands and artists like Hot Wheels and Shawn Mendes.
Women who literally rock also carry the Fender banner, as the luthier has released models with names like HER, Japanese Breakfast and Chrissie Hynde. And in September, the company partnered with Mattel for a signature Barbie collection of dolls, songs and lessons.
“Fender’s presence on stage has been explosive, which is the culmination of years of supporting the next generation of artists and listening to the needs of fans and the players who support them,” said Matt Watts, SVP of marketing at Fender, which notes that at least 26 acts who performed at Coachella – including Yola, Holly Humberstone and Girl in Red – have used their guitars. “Whether it’s a first-time learner or a festival headliner, Fender is built on the principle of putting artists and players first. … We’re constantly inspired by the direction the music and the guitar and we are particularly delighted to support so many diverse artists.
Inspiration has a lot to do with some musicians choosing to play on a Fender. Maneskin’s Thomas Raggi, for example, heeded the appeal of a Fender Strat, a new Relic Custom Shop model that debuted at a recent NAMM conference and replicates classic 1970s specs, as it awakened a memory.
“I saw this Strat guitar outside a music store with my dad when I was eight,” he says. Variety. “I don’t know, it felt like love because the shape of the guitar is so iconic. I grew up with Jimi Hendrix, and after I started playing with Fender, it was really comfortable on your body Now it’s basically my main guitar.
Turnstile’s Pat McCrory, who plays “a modified 75th Anniversary Telecaster”, also recalls an attraction to the model in his youth. “I loved Telecasters when I was young because Keith Richards, Muddy Waters, Jeff Buckley and Brad Paisley [played them]. … A Tele can do it all.
Similarly, Susana Vasquez, guitarist for Karol G., notes the malleable sound of the instrument. She calls her modified Fender Telecaster “my partner in crime”, adding that “its versatility and tone help me focus my performance to be fully in the moment”.
Eyedress (Idris Vicuña) also used a Fender for his first Coachella. “They’re always reliable and stay in tune,” he says of his “go-to” Tom Morello Strat, adding that playing an outdoor desert festival can wreak havoc on your instruments.
“I’m a guy who feels first,” McCrory offers. “You can find workarounds to get the tone you need, but feel is feel.”
What does this mean for other guitar manufacturers, like Gibson, Ibanez and Epiphone? Mostly good news. In 2020, instrument makers have seen a pandemic-driven surge in product sales that shows few signs of declining. According to a December 2021 study by Grand View Research, the global electric guitar market was valued at $3.62 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 7.3% from 2021 to 2028, America of the North being second behind Asia. Pacific in areas with the most guitarists. Among the factors contributing to this expansion, “growing enthusiasm for music among millennials” and “increasing number of live gigs” are key drivers, the report says.
All that’s not to say that next weekend’s Stagecoach Festival, at the same Indio, Calif., polo field where Coachella is being held, will be replicated. Crowds can almost surely expect to see more from Gibsons and other makers at the country music extravaganza featuring Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett.
“The Gibsons are amazing too,” Raggi de Maneskin diplomatically declares. “For ballads and slow songs.”