20 Things You Didn’t Know About Guitar Center

Guitar Center is a music retailer chain that is based in Westlake Village, California in the United States. The popular retailer specializes in providing a variety of musical instruments including guitars, woodwind, brasswind and equipment, and accessories. Most musicians have heard of them and have at least visited one of their brick and mortar or online stores, but there is a lot about them that the customers don’t know, so here are 20 things you didn’t know about Guitar Center.

1. The company was founded in 1959

The first store opened under the name of The Organ Center. The original store was founded in Hollywood, California by Wayne Mitchell. He sold electronic organs for church and home use out of the establishment. After being in business for approximately five years, Mitchell agreed to serve as an outlet for a new but popular line of amplifiers and guitars called Vox. The brand was made famous by the UK rock and roll group, the Beatles in the 1960s and Vox was looking for more outlets to sell their guitars and equipment. This was a golden opportunity for Mitchell so he accepted the deal and his business began to grow. With the shift in the line of musical instruments, Mitchell felt it was time to change the name of the store to something that was more descriptive of the new lines and he named it The Guitar Center.

2. The Guitar Center is an overseer company for multiple popular subsidiaries

Many people are not aware of this but the Guitar Center oversees popular music stores and online venues including Private Reserve Guitars, LMI, Giardinelli, Music & Arts, Music.com, GuitarCenter.com, Woodwind and Brasswind, and Music 123. They were formerly the owners of Harmony Central until they sold it to Gibson in April of 2015. It’s no wonder that they grew into such a large business.

3. GuitarCenter has gone by three different names

Most customers who are in their teen years through their 40s and even 50s probably don’t remember the different names that the GuitarCenter went by in past years. They started out as the Organ Center from 1959 through 1964. Then they changed their name to The Vox Center briefly and finally, after a few years of growth and success selling Vox musical instruments and equipment, they made the final name change.

4. Guitar Center is owned by a larger parent company

With all of the different subsidiary companies that the Guitar Center oversees, one would think that they are the parent company, but they’re not. As large as they have grown, they are also a subsidiary under the umbrella of a larger corporation. The Guitar Center is actually owned by a company called Ares Management.

5. The company employs over 10,000 people

The Guitar Center is such a large company that they employ more than ten thousand people at their various stores throughout the nation. Of course, this includes salespeople who work on the floor, managers, executives and warehouse staff. They also maintain an e-commerce store, so some of their employees are busy keeping the website up, fulfilling orders placed online and dealing with customer service issues. Guitar Center currently has 269 locations spread throughout the United States and it’s the largest company in its industry niche, with its headquarters located in Westlake, Village, California.

6. Guitar Center launched the Fender Music Foundation

One of the coolest things that Guitar Center has done to help aspiring young musicians is to start the Fender Music Foundation. This is a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support music education. In a time when public schools are cutting their budget for music programs, this is an important program that inspires, encourages and provides support for people who are interested in learning more about music or becoming musicians. The Foundation was established in 2005 and continues to lend assistance where it’s needed today.

7. They partnered with Activision

In 2006, Guitar Center collaborated with Activision. Now all purchases that are made while playing Guitar Hero are made in a virtual Guitar Center Store. This is just one of the ways that Guitar Center is using technology to stay better organized and offer more convenient and enhanced customer service.

8. Guitar Center has a rehearsal and lessons studio

Guitar Center made the decision to build a rehearsal and lessons studio facility in the middle of 2009. They are consistently expanding the services that they have to offer their loyal customers. The studio was opened in Woodland Hills, California. They developed a total of eight studios. Each of them is fully equipped with a full backline and they rang in sizes between 350 to 550 square feet.

9. Guitar Center was owned by Bain Capital

In 2007, Guitar Center was in a tight financial situation with debt that they were not able to manage. With few other options, they agreed to an offer made by Bain Capital for a buyout of $1.9 billion and with the debt that they owed included in the deal, the total was $2.1 billion. Sometimes when you grow too fast, the debts from expansion can overshadow the profits. Goldman Sachs was the leader of the deal and the per share price for the company was set at 26% premium or $63 per share price, which was approved by Guitar Center’s shareholders prior to the deal going through.

10. Guitar Center hosts annual events

The large company has had its share of financial ups and downs, but this hasn’t prevented the company from carrying on with business as usual. They are known for hosting fun and interesting yearly events that inspire musicians and unite the local communities where they are located. Some of the types of events that they sponsor include their King of the Blues, the annual Drum-Off, and a variety of different appearances made by artists from around the nation.

11. They began renting equipment in 2011

Prior to this time, Guitar Center was a retailer that sold musical instruments, but there was a growing need within the local communities for musical equipment rentals. Guitar Center rose to the occasion and opened up rentals to their San Diego store. Since that time, they have added this service to ten more of their existing store locations and they plan to continue adding more rental locations until all of their stores across the country offer the service.

12. Guitar Center had another downturn in 2013

The company had yet another financial blow. In May of 2013, Standard & Poor made a move that was devastating for Guitar Center. The cut its debt rating which at the time was listed as Bain Capital-owned Guitar Center Holdings Inc. It was reduced to the status of “junk bond.” This was due to what was described as some weak operating trends during an extended period. Guitar Center dropped in its corporate credit rating from an already low B minus score to a CCC+. This wasn’t good news for the company and once again, they found themselves on the brink of disaster, but they didn’t close their doors.

13. Ares Management bought in as partial owners in 2014

The company that is the current owner of Guitar Center bought in with just enough to take a controlling interest in Guitar Center. Bain Capital still retained a partial ownership and they also retained representatives on the new board, but they no longer had a controlling interest in the company. With this new deal, the total debt that Guitar Center had amassed was reduced significantly and the company was once again able to expand and make investments in its business. It was a fortunate deal for the company that was once again in financial straights.

14. Guitar Center opened a new flagship store in 2014

In August of 2014, after the acquisition of Guitar Center by Ares Management, the company was able to once again make significant progress in expanding the business. They opened a new flagship store with a total square footage of 28,000 right in the center of Times Square in the Big Apple. It was a major event for Guitar Center and they held a grand opening featuring a concert by the band The Roots. It’s a very special store and they were able to acquire the Fender Stratocaster that was Eric Clapton’s personal guitar named Blackie for display to the public. Guitar Center was privileged to place the winning bid for the guitar at a Christie’s Crossroads Centre auction for a whopping $959,000.

15. 2017 was another bad year for Guitar Center

Despite all the bailouts and the efforts to revitalize the financial health of the company, Guitar Center consistently finds itself in financial turmoil. It’s not the fault of the management, but rather the trends in shoppers and it has a lot to do with the current state of the economy. There are several factors affecting the poor performance of the company. In April of 2017, more bad news came as Moody’s Investors Services made a revision of the financial outlook for Guitar Center. It had since climbed to a B2 rating, but the new rating placed them at a negative on the outlook and what this meat was that the rating could be downgraded further into the junk bond classification. The $1 billion debt along with flat sales that were a trend within the musical instrument industry in its entirety was the predominant influencers in the rendering of this outlook. It was a national trend that affected not only Guitar Center but many other companies in the same industry niche.

16. Guitar Center offers a web series

Despite its financial troubles, Guitar Center maintains an active array of services for its customers and people who may have an interest in their interesting podcasts. They call the series the At: Guitar Center web series, which was once a podcast. In the series, there are interviews along with some intimate performances held with a variety of music artists. Some of the interviewees and performers have been Daughtry, Jimmy Cliff, Buddy Guy, The Crystal Method, Sevendust, T-Pain, Meiko, Rza, Brandi Carlile, Minus the Bear and several others. Nic Harcourt hosts the series.

17. Guitar Center collaborates on a weekly radio program

The name of the hour-long weekly radio program that Guitar Center sponsors with 88.5 KCSN of Los Angeles is called Connections Made by Guitar Center. This is one of the cool ways that they’re reaching out into the community and attempting to simulate some interest in the store and increase their business, which has been fairly flat, as many of the other similar businesses of its type. The program features new music from all around the world and throughout the entire musical spectrum. There is a fresh and interesting mix of some of the most innovative and progressive new artists. Nic Harcourt also hosts this radio show.

18. They have a Guitar Center Legends Collection of cool guitars

If you haven’t been to their store in New York City, if you get the chance you’ll enjoy their Legends Collection. In addition to purchasing Blackie, Eric Clapton’s former Fender Stratocaster, they’ve also managed to acquire the classic guitars that were formerly owned by Stevie Ray Vaughan and U2’s The Edge. There are a total of four iconic guitars in the collection. You can find the collection at the Times Square Location in the heart of New York City.

19. Their RockWalk in Los Angeles is worth checking out

RockWalk is located at the Sunset Boulevard Guitar Center location in Los Angeles. It’s a hall of fame for rock artists and Guitar Center invites famous artists to imprint their handprints into cement blocks that are prominently displayed at the Guitar Center. Some of the artists who have left their handprints include BB King, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani, Ernie Ball, AC/Dc, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, B’z, Cheap Trick, Carlos Santana, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Richard, Les Paul, Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, Herbie Hancock, Van Halen, The Wrecking Crew, Slash, The Doobie Brothers, Melissa Etheridge, Nancy Wilson, Dick Clark and the list goes on with many others.

20. Workers recently complain they’re not paid enough to live on

There was recently a public outcry from a group of Guitar Center’s employees who revealed that the workers at Guitar Center are paid low wages and that it’s difficult for them to make ends meet on what they make. They did acknowledge that Guitar Center offers some of the lowest prices around for their customers, which was good press for the company, but the negative is that they’re cutting corners when it comes to the amount of money that they’re paying their workers, according to the few who stepped forward to complain.


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