Jimi Hendrix had to learn his chops without the benefit of an app. Picture: DAVID REDFERN/REDFERNS
Jimi Hendrix had to learn his chops without the benefit of an app. Picture: DAVID REDFERN/REDFERNS

Fender Musical Instruments , whose electric guitars have powered music from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana, is getting into the software business with an app for guitar lessons.

The Scottsdale, Arizona, company is launching "Fender Play", an online system for learning guitar that CEO Andy Mooney, a veteran of Nike and Disney, hopes will cut down on the number of would-be guitarists who give up. He said 45% of the company's guitars sell to first-time players, but 90% abandon the instrument within a year and never become repeat customers.

"The 10% who make it through the first year own an average of seven guitars," Mooney said in an interview. "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%, we could perhaps double the size of the industry.'" The musical instrument industry grew 9% to $7.1-billion (about R95.3-billion) in retail sales over the past five years but remains well below its 2005 peak of $7.7-billion, according to data from The Music Trades magazine.

Moreover, the electric guitar was virtually absent from the Top 20 music charts in the past five years. The guitar industry hoped video games like Guitar Hero would ignite interest among teenagers. Instead, electric guitar sales fell from 1.2 million units in 2011 to just over one million in 2016, according to The Music Trades. The overall guitar market held steady at around 2.5 million units per year during that period, thanks to growth from acoustic instruments.

Fender Play aims to address some key trends, Mooney said.

About half of first-time buyers are women, according to Fender's research, and they are buying acoustic guitars online and going to sites like YouTube for lessons. For those new players, he said, traditional music stores can be intimidating.

After a free introduction, Fender Play costs $19.99 a month and consists of a series of video lessons that assume no prior knowledge. Mooney said his model was Lynda.com, the online learning platform acquired by LinkedIn for $1.5-billion that defied expectations it could not compete with free videos on the internet.


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