If you’ve been trying to buy a new electric guitar in the past six months or so, you may have noticed something quite strange: Guitar stores don’t have a lot of stock.
While retailers are far from short of new electrical devices, popular lines seem to sell out in weeks, if not days, leaving those who want a particular model from a big brand – like Fender and Gibson – with few options but to register on a waiting list.
I know this from experience, having been fortunate enough to purchase two new wings since Covid-19 put life on hold. The first was an American Ultra HSS RW Stratocaster, which I originally wanted in Cobra Blue, but had to ‘settle for’ Ultraburst after being told by my local store – GAK, UK – that I would wait at least two months for another shipment. The second was an American Professional II Jazzmaster RW Mercury, the only remaining color and fingerboard option in the recently launched Pro II Jazzmaster line.
However, it is not only personal experience that reveals stock issues, but multiple conversations with guitar manufacturers and retailers. Overall, manufacturers and stores are reporting that a combination of record demand and the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a shortage of electric guitars in many parts of the world.
Manufacturing contraction hits peak of interest
While some manufacturers would be reluctant to use the word “shortage” specifically, all recognize that demand currently exceeds supply. As Justin Norvell, Executive Vice President of Fender Product, explains, there are two main reasons for this.
“The challenge we’re working on right now is that there was an initial contraction when the global lockdowns hit, and companies had to respond by ceasing or reducing production. This was then immediately followed by a sustained spike in interest, and the two extremes were very close to each other. Guitar world.
Fender actually had its best sales year in 2020, with CEO Andy Mooney telling the New York Times in September that 2020 would be “the biggest sales volume year in Fender history”. He also reported that the company had seen “record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and beginner’s hardware sales” as people – including a growing proportion of women – sought to fill their pockets. days at home with creative activities.
Gibson CEO James Curleigh related a story similar to the Times. “We literally couldn’t deliver enough [guitars], “he said.” Anything we made we could sell. “
But when you spark renewed interest and add disruption to production, you end up with a situation that has been prevalent since at least the second half of last year: a relative lack of electric guitars in stores.
“This is a safeguard throughout the components and raw materials supply chain, but it is important to note that we realize that we are in a better position than other industries like the automotive sector. , which has been hit hard by the current chip shortage, “says Justin Norvell.
Demand “50% higher” than supply
Fender itself does not provide a breakdown of the extent to which supply is currently falling short of demand. However, retailers are a bit more open with the numbers.
“We are over 50% compared to last year and the demand slope remains constant. In many cases, as soon as we receive guitars, allow them to acclimatize for 24 hours, and complete our best-in-class 55-point inspection, they are shipped straight back to customers, ”Shep Shepherd explains. , vice-president of merchandising at Freshwater.
The problem appears to be even more acute in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Andertons, one of the UK’s biggest guitar shops, says Guitar world that the supply of many guitar-related products has been a problem for the retailer over the past 12 months.
“An increase in demand associated with plant closures and supply chain disruptions means that in some months the demand has been up to 50% more than we are able to supply,” explains General Manager Lee Anderton.
Anderton also notes that this problem affects North American electrical products more than alternatives made in Asia. “It appears that South Asian manufacturers have been quicker to overcome supply issues than Western brands. Even now, we still have significant shortages of products made in the United States, ”he says.
Even in the United States, imports of non-American electrical products declined in 2020, leading to a shortage of supply for anyone who wanted a more affordable model. According to Music Trades’ latest Import Tracker report, imports to the United States were down 15.8% in 2020 from 2019, with guitars from China making up the bulk of the inbound inventory.
A new normal
As difficult as it may be right now to buy your first choice electric guitar in your first choice color, manufacturers report that their situation is constantly improving.
“We are making progress every day and the good news is that demand remains high, so this is not a sign of a temporary peak. It seems like a movement and a new standard, which we are adapting the company to meet, ”explains Justin Norvell.
Stores also confirm a steady increase in inventory, with Sweetwater expecting a return to normal in the second half of the year.
“We are confident that our stock position will gradually improve each week over the next few months and stabilize at the end of this year as our supplier partners do their best to provide instruments to help us develop more players. and help people pursue their musical dreams. Shep Shepherd says.
Across the Atlantic, the situation seems a little less optimistic, even if traders hardly complain about the explosion in demand.
“Some big brands suggest that by March / April 2021, they will have taken orders for anything they can produce in 2021! Lee Anderton reports. “This means we have to schedule orders up to 12 months in advance in order to secure the stock we want. “
This obviously makes things difficult for stores, but in the longer term, the surge in interest is extremely encouraging for the guitar industry and the music industry in general.
As Justin Norvell concludes: “This renaissance is positive for the music community. It may lead to a musical boom in the near future and a new genre, style or movement, which is exciting. “