In just one pandemic year, Guitar Center went from bankruptcy to IPO

In September 2020, The New York Times published an article titled "Guitars are back, baby!" — just three years after the six-stringed instruments were declared dead in the pages of The Washington Post. Despite a lack of live performances, it seems that a lot of people have taken to strumming to fill their idle hours at home.

Case-in-point: one year after filing bankruptcy, instrument retail giant Guitar Center is now planning an initial public offering, according to NPR.

No turnaround has been more rapid than Guitar Center, which reportedly filed confidential paperwork for an initial public offering, or IPO, less than a year after emerging from bankruptcy


Guitar Center operates almost 300 showrooms plus another 229 sister stores, drawing shoppers for try-before-you-buy jam sessions, classes and rentals. In court records, the company says before pandemic shutdowns shuttered almost all locations, the chain had seen ten consecutive quarters of sales growth — but "COVID-19 wiped out much of (that) progress." The retailer filed for bankruptcy in November.

Meanwhile, something completely unexpected happened. People started buying guitars, like crazy, and now Majeski forecasts 2022 to be the biggest year of guitar sales in history. He estimates Guitar Center's sales this year will reach a record $2.5 billion.

As a musician, I feel like I should be relieved by this. Shortly before the pandemic, Guitar Center even gave me a good deal on a trade-in for a new guitar amp that I got to use precisely one time before everything shutdown (and my family was home with me all the time, leaving me with even fewer opportunities to crank it). However, I also had one of the single worst customer experiences I've ever head this past summer, thanks to Guitar Center subsidiary Musician's Friend. After two months and too many phone calls, I finally got the yellow tweed pedal board that matched my guitar amp like I wanted, and the company finally, finally gave me back the hundreds of dollars that it owed me. But the experience was harrowing enough that I vowed to never shop there again. Unfortunately, I suspect this IPO will be a further death knell for small mom-and-pop music shops … meaning I may be left shopping at Guitar Center after all.

But at least it means that rock n' roll is cool again (for now), and I'll take that.

From bankruptcy to IPO in a year? It's a tune Guitar Center might play [Alina Selyukh / NPR]

Image: Cryptic C62 / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is owned by the New York Times Company, which also publishes the New York Times, which I referenced above.