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Everyone is playing guitar now

By | Published on Friday 11 September 2020

Billie Eilish ukulele

They said the guitar was dead. They said millennials just weren’t interested. They said that no one would ever use a guitar in recorded music ever again. I’m not sure who ‘they’ are, but boy were they ever wrong. Idiots! Because guess who’s having a record year for sales? Only guitar-maker Fender.

“We’ve broken so many records”, Fender CEO Andy Mooney told the New York Times earlier this week. “It will be the biggest year of sales volume in Fender history, record days of double-digit growth, e-commerce sales and beginner gear sales. I never would have thought we would be where we are today if you asked me back in March”.

It’s generally agreed that the COVID shutdown and everyone being confined to their homes has helped here. But does that mean the boost is all about furloughed workers in their 40s and 50s finally getting around to teaching themselves the guitar?

No, insists Fender. A growing number of young adults and teenagers – a sizeable portion of them women and girls – are picking up the instrument. In part, the firm reckons, this has been aided by Fender’s instructional app, which began offering a three month free trial early in lockdown and saw user numbers jump. Although it’s not clear how many of those people (like me) signed up and then never played a note.

Capitalising on this alleged renewed interest among young people in playing the guitar, Fender has now partnered with Billie Eilish to produce a signature ukulele. I don’t know about you, but we have somewhat mixed feelings about one of our favourite new artists putting her name to the worst instrument ever created.

Alright, maybe it’s not the worst instrument ever created. Maybe it’s just played by some of the worst people ever created. And maybe Billie Eilish can change that. We’ll see. The benefit of the uke, she reckons, is that it’s an easy way to start out, before graduating to a full-sized, less awful guitar.

“The ukulele was the first instrument I learned”, she says in a statement. “It’s where I started writing, and where I found new ways of writing that I had never tried before. It inspires a different kind of writing”.

“The rules of the ukulele are simple”, she goes on, “and basically, if you know three chords you can play almost any song. I hope my Fender Signature ukulele inspires people to start playing, and start writing – anyone can do it”.

Oh god, this is bringing back particularly traumatic memories of a gig where someone brought out a ukulele and wandered among the audience, making painfully sustained eye contact as they played their awful songs.

Anyway, here’s a video where Eilish talks about the ukulele and plays one of hers in a way that almost makes it seem OK. And hey, guitars, people playing them, woo!