Women and non-binary players make up less than 6% of signature guitar market, study finds

Despite the massively diverse world of guitars, brands still offer signature instruments for an overwhelmingly male selection of guitarists.

A new study has found that women and non-binary artists make up just 5.8 per cent of signature guitars offered by major brands, a woefully small proportion given the much more diverse reality of who actually plays guitar.

The study, conducted by Find My Guitar, looked at 21 electric guitar brands: Fender, Squier, Ibanez, ESP and ESP LTD, Epiphone, Gibson, Music Man, Reverend, Schecter, Charvel, Dean, Gretsch, Jackson, Kramer, PRS, Sire, Solar, Sterling, Washburn and Yamaha. For the signature guitars by the brand to be considered, they had to be production models, rather than limited-edition guitars. The data was collected this month, June 2022.

Out of those surveyed, the majority of brands offered signature guitars for exclusively male artists: only eight brands offer signature instruments for women or non-binary guitarists: Fender, Ibanez, Epiphone, ESP LTD, Gibson, Music Man, Reverend and Shecter, leading to a total of 13 signature guitar lines for women or non-binary players.

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Those players are: Chrissie Hynde, Emily Wolfe, H.E.R., Jenn Wasner, Lari Basilio, Lzzy Hale, Nancy Wilson, Nikki Stringfield, Nita Strauss, Reba Meyers, St Vincent, Tash Sultana and Yvette Young.

The cynical response to this study, the one that’s likely flooding into the Facebook comments of this article right now, is that brands are free to give signature guitars to whomever they want. This is occasionally accompanied by the ruthlessly capitalist argument that male guitar artists will just sell more guitars, a claim that is impossible to test when they make up 94.2 per cent of the market. But this underrepresentation simply does not reflect the wider landscape of guitar players: four years ago, a Fender study revealed that women account for 50 per cent of new guitarists. Those guitarists now have four years of experience on the instrument under their belt, but the guitar market they now find themselves in is still massively skewed towards signature guitars for male artists.

Additionally, the study notes that having female artists co-design guitars can help push the instrument forward and make it more accessible to players of all genders. For instance, St Vincent spoke of how she considered comfort for female players when designing the guitar, telling Vice that she was determined to make it “as comfortable to play sitting as it was standing up.”

In 2019, one year after Fender found that 50 per cent of new players were women, CEO Andy Mooney pledged to introduce signature guitars for more women. However, as of 2022, 90 per cent of its signature guitars are for male artists. Fender is still tied with Ibanez for the top spot in terms of sheer numbers, both offering three guitars for non-male artists – it is also the only brand to offer a signature guitar for a non-binary musician.

Things are undoubtedly better than they were a decade ago, with the biggest players such as Fender, Gibson and Epiphone making good on their promises to diversify their lineups: most of the major guitar lines mentioned by the study were introduced in the last few years.

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But given the size of the industry, 13 guitar lines is still not that many, and with only 5.8 per cent representation, there’s still a long way to go to reflect the much more balanced reality of the guitar-playing community.

Are you a female or non-binary guitarist? Do you have thoughts about the lack of representation in signature guitars? We’d love to hear from you. Write to us at letters@guitar.com.

See the study in full over at Find My Guitar.

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