Other online retailers were reporting the same thing in the spring and into summer. Despite having to close 293 of its 296 giant retail showrooms in March and April because of the coronavirus, Guitar Center was soon seeing triple-digit sales growth for most top guitar brands on the website, according to Michael Doyle, the company’s senior vice president of guitar merchandising.
Guitars are hardly the only consumer item to experience a quarantine bounce, of course. Sales have spiked for many items since lockdowns began — bicycles, baking yeast, board games, yoga mats, beans and even Everclear, the 190-proof spirit.
But a guitar is not a bag of lentils. A new guitar usually requires an investment of several hundred dollars, if not several thousand, and new players and virtuosos alike often live with their trusty ax for years, bonding with it as a statement of personal taste and style.
It’s what economists would call a “discretionary” purchase, the sort of nonessential consumer item that is usually the last thing one might buy when the economy is plunging and unemployment is skyrocketing. Throw in monthslong factory closures for manufacturers and a virtual disappearance of brick-and-mortar retailers, and the situation seemed nearly apocalyptic.
“I figured that this is one of those business-falls-off a-cliff situations,” said Chris Martin, the chief executive of C.F. Martin & Co., the 187-year-old manufacturer of acoustic guitars that has supplied contemporary stars like John Mayer and Ed Sheeran, as well as legends like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and some guy named Elvis, over decades. “We’ll pick up the pieces and put the company back together whenever.”
But after a “terrible” March, with revenues 40 percent below normal, business roared back.
“It’s crazy,” said Mr. Martin, the sixth-generation Martin to run the company. “It’s unbelievable the demand there is right now for acoustic guitars. I’ve been through guitar booms before, but this one caught me completely by surprise.”