Ryan Heffernan of North Yarmouth with his daughter Ainsley, 6, as she plays her recently purchased guitar in the family’s music room on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Like cross-country skis and snowshoes before them, guitars are in line to become a symbol of how Americans rode out the pandemic.

Late last year, skis and snowshoes were in short supply in Maine as people sought outdoor winter activities to pass the time as the pandemic spread. This spring, people have been grabbing stringed instruments off the shelves, seeing the continued semi-quarantine conditions as the perfect time to finally learn how to play guitar.

“People are staying home and they need something to do,” said Tim Emery, co-owner of Buckdancer’s Choice in Portland, one of a handful of guitar shops in the area.

Emery said guitars in his shop are selling briskly across the price ranges, from less expensive beginner guitars for about $100 to fancier and more expensive models.

He’s also selling keyboards and stringed instruments besides guitars, and Emery said buyers are likewise drawn to microphones and computer interfaces that allow them to record directly to a laptop.

“I can’t keep them in stock,” he said about the computer accessories.

Emery said customers are quick to realize that it only takes a few pieces of equipment to be able to preserve, for future generations, artistic renditions of how they endured the pandemic.

“For under $300, you’ve got a recording studio,” he said.

Buckdancer’s Choice co-owner Tim Emery at his store on Friday in Portland. Emery said guitars have been selling well at all price ranges through the pandemic, as well as other musical instruments and studio recording gear. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

About the only thing not drawing buyers, he said, are speakers, “because, obviously, no one has a gig to play.”

Ryan Heffernan of North Yarmouth wasn’t looking for a guitar of his own when he went shopping this spring, but at Emery’s store, he found what he sought for his 6-year-old daughter, Ainsley.

Heffernan’s shopping taught him that guitars had become hot items.

“It seems to be that everything that’s a hobby has been run at” during the pandemic, Heffernan said, adding that guitars are just the latest trend. “People are looking for things to do.”

Another person looking for something to do was Bruce Dunn of Mount Vernon, who made the trip to Portland to get a new guitar recently. Dunn used to play, but gave away his guitar before deciding to take it up again this spring.

“I’m kind of repicking it up, I guess,” he said, but Dunn has so far decided against lessons to help him as he learns the instrument again. “I’m a little rusty,” he admitted.

Ainsley Heffernan, 6, of North Yarmouth plays her recently purchased guitar on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mike Fink, owner of South Portland’s Guitar Grave, said most of his customers are interested in more expensive guitars.

Guitar Grave is a pawnshop with a particular focus on guitars, as the name would suggest. Fink sells most of his instruments online, and he said that with shipping costs rising, it doesn’t make sense for him or his customers to buy cheaper guitars that get closer in price to expensive ones with the higher shipping costs added in.

Still, Fink said he’s sold as much as $10,000 a month worth of guitars this spring, up to five times his normal volume.

“They go pretty quick,” he said.

Like the local stores, larger guitar retailers are also seeing rising sales to a pandemic-weary population.

Guitar Center, which has nearly 300 stores nationwide including one in South Portland, has seen rising sales of guitars, recording equipment, keyboards and drums, said Jeannine D’Addario, the California-based company’s senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer.

Acoustic guitars for sale at Buckdancer’s Choice on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

D’Addario said instrument sales at the chain have doubled during the pandemic, and the company’s stores are also seeing healthy increases in sales of disc jockey and recording equipment. The only sector that has been slow, she said, has been for bigger speakers of the type bands normally use to play a gig.

“Guitars are booming, and we’ve seen continued growth across the other categories,” she said.

Guitars for beginners are selling well, collectors have been buying higher-end instruments to boost their collections, and sales of strings and repairs for guitars have been strong, D’Addario said.

The inventory of new guitars has remained strong, she said, although backups at ports around the world can affect their supplies. Other factors also can disrupt the supply chain, she said, such as a storm in the Pacific recently that led to the loss of a ship’s containers, including ones holding guitars.

Still, “we feel we’re in pretty good shape,” D’Addario said.

Lessons are a trickier area, she said, and Guitar Center has pivoted from in-person sessions to Zoom and online lessons.

The company provided upgraded cameras for those instructors who moved to distance teaching, she said.

Most of the teachers who work with Buckdancer’s Choice were also able to shift to Zoom lessons, Emery said, but he said in-person classes are still preferred.

“We’re just starting to talk about when will be the time to bring them back,” as vaccinations become more widespread, he said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.