Coachella Artists Went on a Fender Bender Thanks to Guitar Company’s Rebrand Push

Published At: 26 April 2022 , 03:33 PM

The annual Coachella music festival has become one of the largest music gatherings in the world, bringing together some 120,000 fans to watch more than 150 acts spanning every genre imaginable. But one constant throughout this year’s three-day event, which runs on two consecutive weekends — and featured Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Swedish House Mafia with the Weeknd as headliners — was the seeming popularity of Fender guitars.

Gearheads were first to take notice of the market penetration that Fender had at the festival, with some reasoning that the brand is a favorite of indie-rock bands, which have typically been a big draw for Coachella crowds. But as many media outlets have observed, on this year’s lineup — following multiple postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic — guitar-based bands factored less on the bill. In fact, where the main stage has in the past been home to the likes of Radiohead, Paul McCartney, AC/DC and the Red Hot Chili Peppers — the 2022 edition saw a bevy of Latin and R&B acts pick up the mantle, including Anitta, Karol G and Daniel Caesar.

On the outdoor theater stage were artists 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, who rocked a custom BC Rich Warlock, Fender devotees.

That’s not by accident. While Fender has long been favored by older musicians — Bruce Springsteen and Eric Clapton come to mind — the company has made great efforts, and gains, into attracting not just a younger audience, but a female one. Among the company’s programs are Fender Play, an all-in-one learning platform for guitar, bass and ukulele with a vast library of songs to play along to, from the Rolling Stones to Green Day to Billie Eilish. Fender also recently launched an online Beginner’s Hub, which helps aspiring 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 quite literally rock also carry the Fender banner as the guitar maker has released models with the likes of H.E.R., Japanese Breakfast and Chrissie Hynde. And in September, the company teamed with Mattel for a signature Barbie Collection of dolls, songs and lessons.

“Fender’s presence on stages has been explosive, which is the culmination of years of supporting the next generation of artists and listening to the needs of the fans and players who support them,” says Matt Watts, SVP of marketing at Fender, which notes that at least 26 acts that performed at Coachella — including Yola, Holly Humberstone and Girl in Red — used their guitars. “Whether they are a first-time learner or festival headliner, Fender is built on the foundation of putting artists and players first. … We’re constantly inspired by where music and guitar are headed and are especially excited to champion so many diverse artists.”

Inspiration has a lot to do with some musicians choosing to play a Fender. Thomas Raggi of Maneskin, for instance, heeded the pull of a Fender Strat, a newer Relic Custom Shop model that debuted at a recent NAMM conference and replicates the classic 1970s specs —- because it awakened a memory.

“I saw this Strat guitar outside a music shop with my father when I was eight years-old,” he tells Variety. “I don’t know, it was, like, love because the shape of the guitar is so fucking iconic. I grew up with Jimi Hendrix, and after I started to play with Fender, it felt really comfortable on your body. Now it’s my main guitar basically.”

Pat McCrory of Turnstile, who plays “a modded 75th anniversary Telecaster,” also recalls an attraction to the model in his youth. ” I loved Telecasters as a young kid because Keith Richards, Muddy Waters, Jeff Buckley and Brad Paisley [played them]. … A Tele can do anything.”

Likewise, Susana Vasquez, guitarist for Karol G., notes the instrument’s malleable sound. She calls her modified Fender Telecaster “my partner in crime,” adding, “its versatility and tone helps me focus my performance to be fully in the moment.”

Eyedress (Idris Vicuña) also used a Fender for his first Coachella. “They are always reliable and stay in tune,” he says of his “go-to” Tom Morello Strat, adding that playing an outdoor festival in the desert can wreak havoc on your instruments.

“I’m a feel guy first,” offers McCrory. “You can find some workarounds to get the tone you need, but feel is feel.”

What does this mean for other guitar companies, like Gibson, Ibanez and Epiphone? Mostly good news. In 2020, instrument makers saw a pandemic-spurred increase in product sales that shows little sign of waning. According to a Dec. 2021 study by Grand View Research, the global market for electric guitars was valued at $3.62 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of of 7.3% from 2021 to 2028, with North America second to Asia Pacific in regions with the highest number of guitar players. Among the factors contributing to this expansion, “increasing music enthusiasm among the millennials” and “the rising number of live concerts” are key drivers, says the report.

All of this is not to say that this coming weekend’s Stagecoach festival, on the same Indio, Calif. polo grounds where Coachella is held, will be replicated. Crowds can almost surely expect to see more Gibsons and other makers at the country music extravaganza headlined by Carrie Underwood, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett.

Read more: