Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Musical Merchandise Review. CLICK HERE to signup now!
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages

It Might Get Loud (or at Least a Little Bit Louder…): Trends in Guitar Amplifier Sales Reflect an Altered Reality

Christian Wissmuller • July 2020Roundtable • June 30, 2020

Guitar amplifiers represent a market segment uniquely impacted by COVID-19: Sure, many individuals are finding solace in playing, writing, and recording music, but who needs a half-stack if you’re quarantining in a 700 square-foot apartment? However, as much enjoyment as acoustic instruments provide, there’s something about plugging in and turning up – even if it’s not quite stage volume – that can’t be duplicated by anything else.

MMR recently connected with reps from six major guitar amp suppliers to get their take on the current state of the market, as well as thoughts on what the future may hold.

What are currently your top-selling guitar amplifier models?

Chris DeMaria

Chris DeMaria: Loudbox Mini, Loudbox Artist, and Loudbox Mini Charge.

Brian Piccolo: Some of our best-selling models have been smaller-format, low-wattage products such as our all-tube, 5-watt, 1×12” combo, HT-5R MKII. One of its unique features is a USB out, which works as an interface for any DAW and allows for easy direct recording. The combination of the HT-5R MKII being a tube amplifier and the USB feature makes it an excellent choice for home use. It also has a very accessible MAP of $499. Our 3-watt, battery-powered FLY 3 models continue to be very strong for us as well. It is compact, battery-powered, and it sounds great. They’re perfect when you want to sit outside and jam. And they’re also available in a bass version. (We didn’t forget about you bass players!) We can’t keep them in stock!

Shane Nicholas: In this time of quarantine and social distancing, all of our smaller amps are selling well. Mustangs, Champions, and a few of the Rumble amps are actually outperforming last year. I am assuming this is partially due to a big wave of people learning to play while they are stuck at home. We’re also doing great with smaller tube amps like our various Princeton models, Super-Champ, ’57 Champ, and others.

Yoh Watanabe

Yoh Watanabe: The top-selling guitar amplifier models for Yamaha are the THR10II and THR30II WL, both of which are a part of our THR-II series of desktop amplifiers that launched in September 2019. They produce a realistic tubeamp tone and feel, come with a multitude of guitar, bass and mic model sounds, and support guitar tone editing through the easy-to-use app, THR Remote. These little amps are loud and a lot of fun to play through.

Jeff Slingluff: We are blessed that the Katana amp line is being so well received by the marketplace – all the way from beginners to professionals. The Katana 50 MKII is doing exceptionally well.

In the past year or so, what trends with respect to features, sizes, et cetera have you been noticing when it comes to guitar amps?

Craig Glover: We have seen sales of smaller 10W, 15W, and 25W combos, as well as acoustic combos rise – mainly products in lower price ranges for home use. Surprisingly, large backline sales have been unaffected. The demand for UK product is incredible. We would also expect to see an increase in this product category as venues all over the world start to reopen.

YW: There is an uptick in smaller combo amp sales that coincided with the fact that many people are homebound.

Jeff Slingluff

JS: The trend seems to be volume-conscious players. They want the feel and tone of a cranked amplifier. In rehearsal they need it to be loud. On stage and at home they need to control the volume, but don’t want to give up the feel, tone, and character of playing a cranked-up amplifier. All of the recent Roland/BOSS guitar amplifiers use Tube-Logic and are exceptional at providing loud feel and tone at any volume. And for those who love the traditional tube amps they already own, we now have a Reactive Load attenuator called WAZA-TAE that will allow them to control their live speaker volume while maintaining the natural feel of their amplifier through the live cab and/or direct out. It even provides effects and presets through the live cab as well as the direct output.

BP: Those smaller, lower-wattage amplifiers continue to trend upward. And we’ve seen a lot of success with our Silverline series of digital modeling amplifiers. The 20- and 50-watt models are the most successful. But they come in a variety of sizes up to a 100-watt head and 2×12” combo version. We also see increasing demand for products with expanded I/O options, such as USB audio out, speaker-emulated out, impulse response capabilities, and power reduction.

Shane Nicholas

SN: There has been a general trend towards smaller, lighter amplifiers over the last several years. There’s also an increasing number of options for a guitar or bass player to create their sound on a quiet stage or in the home studio. Some companies offer software apps or digital hardware solutions for this. At Fender we recently addressed this need with our new Tone Master amps, which have been extremely well-received.

CD: Bluetooth, rechargeable battery operated, portability.

There are plenty of signature amps out there or high-profile partnerships with well-known musicians. How impactful do you feel artist endorsements are to guitar amp sales?

JS: For our Blues Cube and WAZA Amplifier line, we offer Tone-Capsules from artists like Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Robin Ford, Keith Fletcher, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, and several others. There is great value in artist relationships, from product sales to the wealth of experience shared with the engineering team.

SN: We’ve been very pleased with the success of every artist model amp we’ve released. There haven’t been that many of them, but when we do them, it creates a big buzz and incremental sales. Some have a fairly short life-cycle, and others like the George Benson Hot Rod Deluxe stay in the line for many years. It’s great when people buy the amp or guitar not just because they admire the artist, but because the product stands up on its own. Besides the obvious artist models, I’m sure we sell as many “regular” amps as we do because you see them played by artists every night.

YW: While it’s not always easy to tie sales of our core products directly to specific artist associations or endorsements, we feel confident that artists do play a significant role in creating awareness of our gear. When you combine our brand and product marketing that also includes collaboration with channel partners, an artist’s use of gear can often give consumers extra confidence in their buying decisions. Most signature products are specific to the artist’s needs, and THR has something for everyone.

Craig Glover

CG: I feel the artist endorsements are one of, if not, the most important part of our sales. For years, artists and musicians have been inspiring people to pick up and play the guitar. Plus, these inspired musicians are always interested in which gear and brands their favorite artists are using. When an artist chooses to endorse a brand, it not only impacts their sound, but also their image and people like to be a part of that. That said, signature amps are very rare nowadays and not many people ask for them.

CD: Not really sure. It probably has some impact in the electric amplifier category but acoustic amplifiers are all about transparency and pure acoustic tone. We want the instrument’s natural acoustic sound to be heard without coloration. Electric guitar amplifiers, particularly artist models, strive to capture the artist’s unique tone.

BP: Partnerships with well-known artists are always welcomed and beneficial, but we have seen a change in traditional artist endorsement. Now more than ever, we see a trend of “silent” stages where there might not be amplifiers onstage at all. This limits our visibility in both live performances and in capturing video content for later use. But because content platforms continue to evolve, today’s influencers and artists can reach people around the world without playing live, going on tour, or being on the cover of a guitar magazine. If a dealer like Andertons Music or a popular YouTube influencer spotlights our product, momentum and buzz begin to build. And sometimes it’s more than if an artist were using the product.

That being said, having an artist represent and stand by your products is invaluable. Artists who are aggressive and active about their social media presence become influencers in their own way. That’s still a huge benefit to brands. It’d be absurd to not at least briefly mention the current situation with respect to the pandemic and the temporary, near-total shutdown of most “non-essential” commerce.

While it’s a safe bet that the fallout from COVID-19 has been significant to the entire MI market, how have guitar amplifier sales been impacted, specifically? Are certain models or types of amps selling more during this time?

CG: There has been a dramatic increase in product registrations during the pandemic. This goes hand in hand with more people starting to play guitar or getting back into playing after many years. Either way, we seem to have created more music makers during this difficult time. I think the access to online tuition has also encouraged more people to start or resume playing.

Brian Piccolo

BP: We see a slowdown of higher wattage amplifiers, which are primarily for live performance. Now consumers are opting for smaller, low-wattage products to keep occupied while at home. Thankfully, Blackstar has a very diverse offering, so our business has been very strong despite the current obstacles. And we are very thankful for the support that our dealers and consumers have shown during this challenging time.

JS: The pandemic has been difficult for many retailers. During the pandemic, customers have still been purchasing, but shifting their buying habits both from how they buy to what they buy. For guitar amplifiers, the need for cranked feel and tone, but at a low volume at home is especially important right now. As mentioned before, this is an area where the BOSS amplifiers really shine. Guitar amplifiers is one area where the trend before the pandemic happens to be the overarching need during the pandemic. Katana Amplifiers with their cranked-up feel at any volume and products like WAZA-TAE have been great solutions for guitar players during this time.

CD: Loudbox amplifiers are selling well, relatively speaking. Obviously we’ve been impacted by the temporary closing of brick & mortar dealers, but our e-commerce business remains strong. The Mini has been in the top sales spot for many years, so we’re fortunate to have an established product line with a history of strong sales and market demand. If we had just introduced the line this year, then I’m quite sure it would have been more of an uphill battle.

SN: Small Fender amps of all feature-sets and prices are doing well, as you can imagine many people are playing from home or starting their learning journey from home. That being said, there has been less interest in bigger, heavier amps, and PAs because people are not playing live with bands right now. The good news is that our brand is as strong as it’s ever been, and we’ve inspired nearly a million players to learn how to play during the pandemic by giving away three months of free lessons on Fender Play, our digital learning app for guitar, bass, and ukulele.

YW: Given that people are staying home more, consumer behavior has shown that there is a trend towards smaller combo amps, which are great while being at home – all the reason why people would buy a THR-II amp, for example.

Thoughts or expectations for this market segment in the coming months?

CD: I honestly can’t say. Our hope is that people will continue to use music to express themselves and their creativity at a time when social distancing is the norm. With summer here, people are itching to get out and play on an outdoor patio or a backyard cookout, even if they can’t gig at their usual local venue. Everyone I’ve spoken to – in and out of the industry – says the same thing: “I miss live music.” If the acoustic-electric guitar category stays strong, then we have a chance of maintaining good sales numbers.

JS: I would expect a lot of the same. Amplifiers that have great feel and tone, but controllable volume are becoming more of the norm. And when artists do return to the stage, that’s also majorly the case with the in-ear live experience. From amplifiers like the Katana and Nextone, to solutions for your tube amplifier like WAZA-TAE, or an all-in-one amplifier and multi-effect solution like the GT-1000, we’ve got options for where the market seems to be heading more and more. And all of these offerings provide an exceptional feel and tone while providing a controlled volume experience. I can’t wait to hear what artists do with them.

SN: In the history of our company, we have experienced various periods of major market correction followed by a significant rebirth. I assume and hope that we will eventually look back on this era the same way. Music is too important to ever think we’ll stop needing the tools to make it.

BP: We are expecting the segment to continue leaning toward smaller, low-wattage products, as well as utility products designed for home recording.

CG: For the MI industry, along with loads of other market segments, these are uncertain times. However, looking at the current market trends and our plans for the future, we are optimistic for all elements of our business. We will continue to support our distributors, retailers, and end-users.

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!