Keys of change: a brief analysis of the modern musical instrument market

Mankind has a rich history of music. Ever since the dawn of civilization, there have been people who have been documented engaging in song and dance together, often accompanied by different musical instruments (British Museum, 2018). Fast-forwarding to the modern day, it seems there is an abundance of choice, and people are no longer bound by whatever instrument is already around to learn a new instrument. It is easy to go to the store or order an instrument online and subsequently learn how to play the instrument. Several of these musical instrument brands have gone on to become worldwide recognized brands, however, one could ask, what the future potentially holds for these brands?

One such instrument is acoustic drum kits, and there are not a lot of brands more closely connected to that instrument than Pearl Drums. 

Interestingly, this company, despite bearing an English name, has a Japanese origin, founded in 1946. The company initially only focused on music stands, but they quickly started producing drum kits. This turned out to be a great success and the company has since expanded to the United States, The Netherlands, Taiwan, and China (Pearl, n.d.). Besides drums, the company also produces flutes but for the purpose of this paper, only drums will be analysed.

In 2017, the market for drums fell by 1% (NAMM, 2018), although, when looking at Figure 1, one can assume that the sale of drum kits had been somewhat steady. As noted in the NAMM Report, there are three main reasons for the (limited) decline in sales of drum kits, as it seems consumers choose for electronic drum kits more often; Parents do not want to hear their children practice, high-end electronic drums are easier to record, and bands are opting more often to have a drum computer instead of a real life drummer (NAMM, 2018).

Figure 1

Drum kits retail value and units sold in 2008-2017

Note: Global Music Report (NAMM, 2018)

However, when looking at Figure 2, it seems the decline in drum kit popularity continued after 2017, reaching an all-time low at the end of the period 2005-2020.

Figure 2

Number of drumsets sold in the United States from 2005-2020

Note: Statista, 2021

Based on this information, Pearl will have to engage in an active marketing campaign to either win existing market share or engage with new audiences and grow the total market.

One way for the company  to do this is through sponsorship of musicians, by supplying them with instruments, for artists such as Paul Koehler (Silverstein), Todd Sucherman (Styx), Dennis Chambers, and more (Pearl, n.d.). Through these instruments the musicians will showcase and promote Pearl to all their fans and followers, thus possibly increasing brand awareness, which in turn could lead to potential sales. 

Another well known brand amongst musicians and aficionados is the guitar brand Fender. The company was also founded in 1946 and initially built guitar amplifiers and lap steel guitars (Duffy & Siegle, n.d.). Within 5 years, however, the company also started producing electric (bass) guitars and continued to do so until this very day (Duffy & Siegle, n.d.). 

The market for guitars in the past 15 years has been stable, with a lot of signs of growth, see Figure 3. There was a small dip around 2009, which coincided with the worldwide economic crash. Since then, however, there has been a continuous increase. 

Figure 3

Guitar market retail sales in the United States from 2005 to 2020

Note: Statista, 2020

What is interesting to note is that the sales of acoustic guitars had outpaced the sales of electric guitars in 2017, see Figure 4 from the NAMM 2018 Global Report.

Figure 4

Retail Value Market Share – Fretted Instruments

Note: Global Music Report (NAMM, 2018). 

As we can surmise from Figure 3, it seems 2020 was a year of a lot of growth. The cause of this can partly be found in the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing many people to stay inside and pick up a new hobby. In 2020, Fender had a record year (Williams, 2020), and their online education tool increased from 150,000 to 930,000 users, with the percentage of women on the platform growing from 30% to 45% (Bienstock, 2020). This follows Fender’s strategy to market more actively towards women (O’ Grady, 2020) after they discovered over 50% of their customer base were female (Carbonara, 2020). 

Just like Pearl, Fender also actively seeks out musicians to align themselves with. For example, they have endorsements with Julien Baker, Kenny Beats, J. Mascis, and others (Fender, n.d.). Besides endorsements, Fender also has a talent highlight program called ‘Fender Next,’ in which they give a spotlight to 25 artists Fender considers to have potential (Laing, 2020). Alumni of this program are Sam Smith, Idles, and more (Laing, 2020). 

And finally,  Fender will develop signature instruments with artists they have a close relationship with, which Fender will then sell to the general public. Examples of these guitars are the Flea Jazz Bass, Albert Hammond Jr. Stratocaster, Duff McKagan Precision Bass, and many others (Fender, n.d). It is a possibility that the previously mentioned endorsements are a simple transaction, involving money or goods, for exposure or awareness. However, the author thinks that with these signature instruments the artist gains an equity stake, whereby the artist will gain from the profits or revenue from the sales of said instrument.

All in all, the musical instrument market is a market with a lot of potential, but also one of resilience. Looking at Pearl Drum kits and Fender Guitars, one can see two widely different scenarios; Pearl is currently situated in a declining market, possibly due to COVID-19, while by that same merit, Fender has had a record year, after having recovered from the 2008 economic crash. The author is curious to see how Pearl will overcome the times of adversity, and how Fender will expand their market share. Either way, one can be sure that even if these brands disappear, others will follow in their place. It is apparent that people will always find ways to make music, sing, and dance.


Bienstock, R. (September 9th, 2020). Fender has sold more guitars in 2020 than any other year in its history. 

British Museum (5th of April, 2018). A history of world music in 15 instruments. 

Carbonara, P. (March 28th, 2018). For Fender Guitars, The Future Is Digital And Female. 

Duffy, M. & Siegle, R. (n.d). Infographic: Fender Through the Years. 

Fender (n.d). Artists. 

Fender (n.d). Fender Artist Series. 

Laing, R. (February 13th, 2020). The 25 artists Fender is backing to go big in 2020. 

NAMM (2018). Global Music Report

O’ Grady, P. (April 2nd, 2018). Fender targets new market for guitars: Women. 

Pearl (n.d.). Artist Spotlight. 

Pearl (n.d.). About. 

Statista (June 1st, 2021). Unit sales of drumsets in the U.S. 2005-2020.,sold%20in%20the%20United%20States

Statista (May 12th, 2020). Retail sales of the guitar market in the U.S. 2005-2020. 

Williams, A. (September 8th, 2020). Guitars Are Back, Baby!

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