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About nine out of 10 first-time guitar buyers will give up on the instrument, according to Fender. To convert new players into lifelong customers, the 71-year-old company is heading online and taking advantage of the 1.5 billion smartphones that were sold last year.

“It’s inescapable,” said Ethan Kaplan, general manager of Fender Digital in Los Angeles. “What is commanding attention is a tap and a click away. People don’t sit through long stuff anymore.”

The guitar maker debuted Fender Play, a new guitar lessons web platform and iOS app aimed at getting beginners hooked with visual, bite-sized tutorials. Fender Play is a video-centric learning platform that eschews traditional theory-based lessons in favour of instructor-guided videos. When a user signs up, they will answer a variety of questions about the musical styles and instruments they prefer, which will then generate a customised curriculum.

Fender Play’s song-based method of learning will teach core technique, but alongside visual lessons with instructors showing you how to play your favourite songs. The goal is not to trudge through theory and basics, but pick it up while an instructor teaches you a Foo Fighters or Stone Temple Pilots tune. Fender says this micro-learning method will keep beginners engaged, and allow them to master chords and riffs in minutes all from your smartphone.

Fender’s wave of digital apps and other compliments to its instrument lineup began in 2015 when the company hired well-known music tech leader Ethan Kaplan as chief digital products officer. At the time, CEO Andy Mooney told TechCrunch there would be a conscious shift to use technology in order to mitigate “the journey from being a beginner to intermediate to being an advanced player.”

Despite a Washington Post report stating that electric guitar sales have dwindled over the past decade from 1.5 million a year to a little over 1 million, Fender CEO Andy Mooney said his company’s electric guitar sales are flat to slightly up.

“The first time I read electric guitar is dead, John Travolta was dancing in `Saturday Night Fever’ and disco was projected to wipe out the electric guitar,” Mooney commented. More recently, he said, electronic dance music “was projected to do the same. Both projections were wrong.”

Meanwhile, acoustic guitars have increased in sales over the last five years, and the ukulele is booming. Mooney said: “Sales of fretted instruments are in great shape,” adding, “it’s a great time to be in the guitar business.”

Fender Play is available in the US, UK, and Canada.

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