You may not have known that the two central figures of American guitar manufacturer Fender are ingrained in the sneaker world. CMO Evan Jones and CEO Andy Mooney spent the former years of their careers at Nike; Mooney of whom rose through the ranks from a financial exec in the UK aged 25 to the Swoosh's Central Marketing Officer, based out of its Oregon HQ, in a matter of years. It goes some way to explaining the product innovation that can be witnessed in Fender's hero offering this year: the American Acoustasonic series.
The American Acoustasonic marks something of a new era for a brand many might consider "heritage" in a time when traditional rock & roll is no longer considered the popular genre. Giving the look and feel of an electric guitar, the hybrid model comes with a diverse set of sounds and gives users the chance to play both acoustic and electric when needed.
CEO Andy Mooney justifies the versatility of his new prized product with the Steve Jobs ethos of never asking the consumer what they want, because they don’t know. "We’ve shared this guitar with artists and asked if they think they need this, and they’ve all answered something along the lines of 'Well, I didn’t think I did until you just put it in my hands,'" he says at a pop-up showcase in New York.
"It’s a bit like the SUV of guitars. When the SUV was introduced, the truck guys said ‘That’ll never work because it’s not a truck,’ and the car guys said ‘That’ll never work because it’s not a car.’ It worked."
He references a similar situation himself and Jones found themselves in when they were at Nike regarding cross-training shoes — an alien concept to tennis players and runners respectively — that ended up generating $600 million worth of sales in their first year.
Though the sneaker market has changed considerably since Mooney and Jones' time at the global sportswear brand, Fender's approach to sales is, too, adapting with the changing e-commerce landscape. While it can't take direct cues from mega-hyped OFF-WHITE and YEEZY releases, a certain 2017 collaboration went some way to showing how Fender's keeping up.
Working with Supreme appeared to be both an attempt at ensuring that guitar is embraced by all ends of the cultural spectrum, and a marker of how a brand like Fender can take the more limited, bespoke approach to its product offering that has propelled sneaker culture to the front of fashion.
"Supreme is a cultural powerhouse and they ultimately make the decisions on who they work with," informs Jones of the collaboration. In the end, it was a Fender employee harboring contacts from their previous job at Vans who was able to open the discussion. "Plus, I think from a product standpoint, we do premium, we do democratic, we do all ends of the spectrum. It turned out to be a spirited, very positive mutual design process."
Contributing to Fender's input, guitar artists in its workforce are well versed in creating customs which sell for as much as $500,000 on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, aside from the product innovation that comes with the brand's new American Acoustasonic series, premium renditions of the same line will (think antique woods, special cases, and additional extras) drop later this year in sparser quantities, somewhat replicating the marketing success of brands like Supreme.
Recently, Fender's run of 1,500 George Harrison Telecasters sold out in an unprecedented (for this industry, at least) sub-six hours. "We've adjusted to this ever-growing e-commerce landscape, and we're also now pushing product through artists and their social networks," says Mooney — a platform Nike was also far more reliant on in their times there. "Ultimately, artists are our biggest influencers."
Rest assured, that doesn't simply mean the faces gracing your dad's dusty record collection. "We opened our LA headquarters two years ago to be closer to the emerging face of music and honor our shifting mindset of what guitar excellence looks like," says Jones. "We now work with hip-hop artists, EDM artists, rap, R&B, latin, you name it."
With its first models retailing for $1,999, the biggest strength of the American Acoustasonic Telecaster is its versatility. Not only does it eliminate the need for performers to travel with multiple instruments to create different sounds in a cost-effective way; it responds to a popular music landscape that defines itself less by genre, while catering to a younger, broader demographic than institutionalized preconceptions of what a guitarist looks like.
So, whether you're a seasoned strummer or you're picking up the instrument for the first time (there's an app for that), the American Acoustasonic is setting a pretty nifty precedent for what your next purchase should look like. Check out the first five designs below, available now.
Now, check out Louis Vuitton's first foray into the audio market with its Master & Dynamic developed wireless earphones.