If you build it.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I need to start by saying that Jason (who runs The Guitar Show) and I have previous. We have known each other since the days of the Music Live Show at the NEC, I have exhibited with him when I worked for Shure, and we currently record a podcast together.

It would therefore be fair to say that I am a little bit biased, and I accept that – but I would add that I am equally invested because I rate what he does and because we both like a bit of Americana.

The Guitar Show 2022

Anyway, now that is out of the way we can get down to the nitty-gritty of The Guitar Show, which returned this weekend to Bingley Hall in Birmingham for the first time since March 2020. And of course the million-dollar question, how would a consumer-facing event like this fare in the wake of covid, lockdown & social distancing.

Over the previous couple of weeks, I had been speaking to Jason fairly regularly, not for anything in particular but rather just checking in to see how everything was going. And whilst he never said as much, it was fairly obvious that for a very experienced Event Organiser, this show was proving to be very challenging. Not only were there cost pressures but he was being hit by challenges to both Artists & Exhibitors brought about a mixture of covid, supply chain & Brexit. All of which before knowing if the public would even still be interested…

First Impressions

So as I drove to Birmingham on Saturday morning I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But as I turned into the car park at Bingley Hall the portents were good – not a parking space in sight, with all the marked spaces occupied and an overflow of cars strategically abandoned on every available verge. Off to a good start then.

As I wandered up to the front door the cacophony of noise greeted me like an old friend, it’s hard to explain how this felt but it reminded me of the first time I went back to Bramall Lane to watch the football. A little unsure at first, but within a few minutes I was back in the rhythm of the event and feeding off the hustle & bustle.

As the car park had indicated, the hall was well stocked with punters. Joe Public had voted with their feet (and their wallets) and there was a good deal of animated debate and discussion as I wandered amongst the exhibitor stands. 

And for those that visited there was a good deal to get your teeth into, plenty of the old guard, the seasoned pros, the six-string royalty. Orange, Blackstar, Marshall, Laney, Rotosound, Ovation, Faith, Patrick Eggle, Eventide, D’Addario, Ibanez, Martin, Ortega, Ashdown, Lag, Tanglewood, Zoom, Godin, Danelectro, etc, etc, etc. I could go on.

A Golden Age

Over the past couple of years, mainly because of the 9-42 podcast, I have been introduced to a new and impressive generation of British Manufacturers & Luthiers. The more you learn about this group, the more you realise it really is a golden age for UK production in the guitar market. 

Let’s take pickups as an example. Bare Knuckle, Montys & Cream T were all within a stone’s throw of each other, all knocking out products beloved by players, and all globally recognised.

Wander upstairs to the acoustic hall and be you were bowled over by the steel-strung beauty of Mclaren, Turnstone & Avalon, or then back downstairs to drool over the unique designs of electric builders such as Fidelity, Rob Williams, LT & Ivison. 

And that’s before we start talking pedals from the likes of Thorpy FX, Ritual, Bleak District & Redbeard or amplifiers from Magma, Dover, Emprize & Modulus.

And there are of course many more, and in all cases, the quality of design and build was really impressive. What was also great to see (and hear) was the genuine interaction between brand & consumer. Not only are these companies building great products, but they are telling great stories and in return getting a great response.

The proof of the pudding.

One of the great things about consumer-facing shows is that you can get a feel for the current level of consumer demand, as there are plenty of opportunities for a visitor to drop some cash. Some of the brands were retailing direct, and others were partnering with resellers such as Fair Deal Music, Absolute Music, Leo & Teds, The Little Guitar Shop, ATB Guitars & Guitars 4 You.

Over the course of the first day, I spoke to many of them and the general consensus was that it had been a very satisfactory experience. Both Garry Chapman of Fair Deal, and Jamie Clayton of Absolute Music were particularly enthused telling me in both cases that sales were beyond what they had budgeted for, and ahead of previous years.

If you build it.

A few things struck me over the two days of The Guitar Show.

Firstly if you are passionate and build an event that resonates with both the trade and the public then they will support it. Jason deserves credit for what he has developed over the years, and for ensuring that it survived the pandemic intact. The blend of live performance, expert tutorial, and direct manufacturer engagement not only works, but it results in a lot of positive buying decisions. Everybody I spoke to had good things to say and were getting out of the show what they had hoped for.

Secondly, if you are passionate about the products you build it will resonate with your target audience. There was some really innovative stuff on display, and it had really landed well. It’s the kind of micro-industry that deserves to do well and should have a bright future and one that the MIA references a lot when talking to government departments like the DIT and BEIS.

And finally, our industry (and me in particular) has missed this kind of thing. We are an industry that thrives on interacting with our customers, and also with our peers, and I am looking forward to getting back to doing more of it.

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