“Give a man a guitar and you give him an afternoon’s amusement. Teach him to play guitar and you give him a lifetime of amusement.” – Ancient Chinese proverb
Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, U2 and Billy Corgan have all played Fender guitars. The brand, of course, has always figured everybody should play one. Now it is doing something about it.
Using what it calls a micro-learning strategy (“Hear it, Learn It, Play It”), Fender is looking to create a new generation of guitarists (and a little extra money) with a natural brand extension: online guitar lessons.
After a free 30-day trial of Fender Play, wannabe guitarists can shell out $19.99 monthly to learn how to play classics such as The Star Spangled Banner from Fender’s online instructors.
While nobody’s promising they’ll be the next Jimi Hendrix, they’ll get a taste of the experience of being Hendrix-like in their appreciation of guitar-playing (The whole thing likely has more than a few independent instructors strumming the blues.)
“We’re nothing if people don’t play,” Ethan Kaplan, the general manager of Fender Digital, told Forbes. “There are a lot more guitars out there than there are people playing them, so we just want to get new guitarists playing quickly, and people sticking with the instrument.”
Fender’s researchers discovered that 45% of guitar sales are generated by people who have never actually pulled on a six-stringer before so that’s the market that needs attention.
However, 95% of people who try out guitar give the thing up in the first 365 days. As a result (and because pop tunes are so much more computer-driven these days), sales of electric guitars have dropped from 1.5 million to a million annually in the last decade, according to the Washington Post. So Fender decided to try and find a way to help people stop ditching the instrument.
“When we gathered the data and looked at the facts, we said, ‘Oh my God, if we just reduced the abandonment rate by even 10 percent, we could perhaps double the size of the industry.’” Fender CEO Andy Mooney told Fortune.
To keep guitarists engaged from the beginning, the site’s guided curriculum allows students to pick the different styles of music they might want to learn—rock, pop, country, blues or folk—and then immediately gives them instruction on particular songs from that genre.
With each song, different fundamentals are emphasized so the student can keep expanding his or her skill set. The Fender Play app is available on iOS devices as well as on the Internet. It is currently limited, though, to the United States, UK, and Canada.
Testimonials from celebrity guitarists help whet the appetite: Flea, Green Day’s Mike Dirnt, Kesha, The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr., A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Robert Cray and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons.
Fender has previously created such digital tools for guitarists as Riffstation, which shows players the chord tabs for different songs, and a guitar tuner app, but, as the Verge notes, this is its initial effort to rope in first-time players with video-based lessons.
While Fender Play will teach students regardless of the guitar brand they’re learning on, it won’t be a surprise that when they do decide to buy a guitar or upgrade, a certain idiosyncratic script will be top of mind—and they’ll officially be a member of the Fender tribe.