US guitar maker Fender opens its flagship store in Tokyo

US guitar maker Fender opens its flagship store in Tokyo

US guitar maker Fender opens its flagship store in Tokyo

Fender, the guitar of choice for some of the world’s biggest stars from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton, is opening what it calls its “first flagship store” in its 77-year history.

The American guitar manufacturer has chosen for its location Tokyo’s Harajuku, a hot spot for Japanese youngsters who love animation, outlandish fashion and, of course, American music. The store was unveiled to reporters on June 29 ahead of its official opening on June 30.

Asia-Pacific is on track to become the biggest music market in the world by 2030, and more stores are planned for the region, Fender says. The company's revenue in Japan has recorded double-digit percentage growth each year since 2015.

“I’ve played various brands, but what I like about the Fender is its power to help you play at more than 100 percent of your ability, letting you become aware of your potential and take up new challenges,” said Erino Yumiki, a guitarist, songwriter and one of the world’s many Fender artists.

“Sometimes music gets me down, but music has also saved me. The music I have encountered through my life is who I am,” said Yumiki, who owns about a dozen Fender guitars.

Although Tokyo already has many new and used guitar shops, the flagship store is designed to serve as a kind of museum-cum-amusement park for Fender lovers.

Fender says the social restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic set off a guitar boom. Its revenue in the COVID-19 years ballooned from $500 million to nearly $1 billion.

Some 30 million people picked up an electric or acoustic guitar for the first time during those years, and even if one in 10 keeps playing — as surveys show the statistics to be — it’s still solid revenue, says Fender Musical Instruments Corp. Chief Executive Andy Mooney.

Mooney, who plays guitar in a band, knows a thing or two about marketing, having worked at Nike for 20 years and shaping the Michael Jordan campaign. That was followed by 11 years at Disney, where he oversaw consumer products.

Mooney said the redefinition of sneaker retailing that happened at Nike is exactly what Fender is going through now.

The three-story store in Harajuku is filled with Fender guitars, basses and amplifiers, including some exclusive products. The basement has a concert space and coffee shop.

Musical newcomers find some stores intimidating but the Tokyo store will be friendly, Fender says, with most salesclerks being women.

There’s a clothing area called “F Is For Fender.” And the top floor is devoted to a shop for custom-made guitars, where so-called “master builders” in the U.S. will make guitars to order.

“The aging population has the time and the money to really get these custom-made instruments they’ve always wanted to buy for most of their lives but couldn’t afford when they were younger,” said Mooney, noting the potential appeal to the whole spectrum of the Japanese population, not just the youngsters usually associated with guitar-playing.

Yumiki, Miyavi — who acted in Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” — and about a dozen other Japanese star guitarists took the stage on Thursday, strumming together in the guitars’ equivalent of a drumroll, to celebrate the store’s opening.

Fender makes guitars in Japan, including Stratocasters, which have earned a reputation for quality. The made-in-Japan guitars will be on sale alongside those made in the U.S. and Mexico. The more affordable guitars sell for about 110,000 yen ($760).

The popularity of guitars is also being fueled by greater consumption of guitar-related content online, such as on TikTok, drawing in amateurs who play guitar as a hobby.

Fender President for Asia-Pacific Edward Cole says the tens of millions of tourists expected to flock to Japan every year are also being targeted, as are the brand-savvy consumers of Japan.

Fender wants to position itself with its new store as Chanel, Apple and other major international brands did in Tokyo, he added.

“We want people to come in here, and we want them to fall in love with the idea of playing music,” he said.