“Guitar companies are selling nostalgia”: Joe Bonamassa on the “weird business” of the guitar industry

“Imagine being the CEO of Ford and your core business is making a car that looks the same as the one you made in the 1950s”

Joe Bonamassa

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 04: Joe Bonamassa performs on stage at the Royal Albert Hall on April 04, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by C Brandon/Redferns)

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Joe Bonamassa has discussed “the weird business” that is the guitar industry, pointing to how guitar companies “sell nostalgia”. Given the popularity of factory-aged guitars and the enduring popularity of classic models like your Teles and your Les Pauls, he’s making an astute point.

Then again, Bonamassa emphasises in an interview with The Guardian to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster that the nostalgia of the guitar industry isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, as he explains, ‘nostalgia’ in this case is a statement of timelessness.

“Talk about Leo Fender getting it right the first time!” he says. “Very little has changed between 1954 and now. “It’s essentially been the same guitar for 70 years.”

“Fender are in a weird business,” he continues. “Imagine being the CEO of Ford and your core business is making a car that looks the same as the one you made in the 1950s. And your customers don’t want improvements like satnav or electric engines. Guitar companies are selling nostalgia – but also something that’s timeless so it stays relevant. If you have some creativity, ingenuity and a little chutzpah, you can rule the world with a Strat.”

True to his words, Bonamassa owns one of the world’s largest guitar collections, including various museum-grade vintage Strat as well as the first black Strat, the Howard Reed. His favourite of these is his 1955 sunburst Strat nicknamed Bonnie.

Meanwhile, Fender’s EVP of product, Justin Norvell, also spoke about the legacy of the Strat and how the company has brought it into the 21st century.

“We have to encapsulate the past, present and future,” he says. “It’s who we are, from Hank Marvin to Mark Bowen from Idles. We have to work out how an instrument that’s oddly unchanged since 1954 moves forward.

“My favourite term for this is ‘colouring inside the lines’. The Strat exists – and there are things you can tinker with inside that. It’s what Leo Fender did and it’s what we continue to do. What’s fascinating is that it has never become a relic. That’s down to new bands coming along and blowing up the music scene with a 70-year-old design. The Strat is reinvented with each generation.”

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