Does Guitar Center Value Marketers Over Musicians? The Potential Pitfalls of Partnering With a Social Media Maven

As TheToneKing.com readers have likely seen, Rob Chapman has had a tough go of things since the beginning of 2020. We won’t rehash the superfine details here about who’s saying what, nor do we think we need to grab the mic from the original creators and tell their stories for them. Just load the term “Rob Chapman” into your handy-dandy YouTube search machine and set aside a few hours. Videos created by KDHDøvydas, Become the Knight, and Levi Clay are sort of the Dead Sea Scrolls of the whole saga.

 

There’s probably little dispute that Chapman is one of the greatest influencers of the state of guitar in online and social media today. He has world-class chops, a knack for creative content, a wide range of experience (touring musician, demonstrator, clinician), and presents very well on camera though his personality can be a bit a polarizing. He’s successfully leveraged all of these traits into building and promoting his own company, Chapman Guitars, which just passed it’s tenth anniversary. It launched a refreshed line in 2017 and was picked up by Guitar Center in 2018.

 

Which brings us back to the present and the current patch of rough road Chapman is figuratively navigating. There’s not just one pothole on this otherwise tree-lined boulevard. Past deals gone bad with other retailers, communication between Chapman’s fan base and other YouTube creators deemed as threatening, suggestions of lawsuits, questions about multiple fundraising campaigns, and general charges of dishonesty and bullying “ruffled a lot of feathers on a lot of chickens,” as one of the aforementioned creators, Døvydas, put it.

 

Chapman posted a couple of initial responses to controversy, which seemed to fan the flames further. On February 27, Rob Chapman posted a contrite assessment of the situation. As with the other videos we mentioned, we’ll let that video speak for itself. It’s easily located on Chapman’s YouTube channel.

 

This situation highlights something unique about the whole situation, especially as it relates to a large retailer like Guitar Center. We here at TheToneKing.com have no special insight into the process by which Chapman and Guitar Center united or what deal they have in place. But it’s reasonable to guess that part of the motivation for the deal with Chapman is his social media reach and the success he’s had as a demonstrator and marketer for Anderton’s and his own projects. Not because of his body of work as a musician or his talent for building instruments. We wonder: is this a good thing for music?

 

Chapman’s musical projects, Dorje and Clockwork Wolf & Co., are brimming with high-caliber musicianship but probably have little-to-no name recognition or airplay in the States outside of YouTube. Chapman’s got way more chops than this writer has, but the field of face-melting musicians is more crowded than ever. Plenty of great guitarists with similar talent and notoriety profiles have scored massive endorsements, of course. But that’s typically been with the backing of well-known companies like Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, PRS, and others.

 

Nor is Chapman a renowned instrument designer or luthier. To be fair, he’s never attempted to sell himself as one. Indeed, part of the appeal of the Chapman Guitars brand is that instruments designs are heavily crowd-sourced and intended to be modified to the will of their owners. But Chapman Guitars are built by a contract builder that also builds for many other companies. So there’s no great draw or advantage there like there is for, say, PRS.

 

So the main attraction for Guitar Center, we speculate, must be Chapman as a businessman instead of a musician. He’s not a great luthier/designer in the mold of Paul Reed Smith or Leo Fender. He doesn’t have the muscle of massive album sales putting him the spotlight. He’s a great marketer for his business and large UK retailer, Anderton’s.

 

Guitar Center is a business as well, and businesses take calculated risks. Obviously, there’s something they like about Chapman Guitars and it could be that Chapman Guitars does quite well for them. But in today’s online, social media age appearances and reputations can change in a heartbeat.

 

A player with a colorful past like Slash endures because Slash has a strong foundation set in music that remains incisive and relevant. Leo Fender was a bit of a nerdy guy and couldn’t even play guitar, but his legacy endures because he was an innovator and one of the guys that birthed the electric guitar (and bass!) as we know it today. Chapman, for all intents and purposes, is a creature of social media.

 

If he has another social media dust-up, does the glimmer of the Chapman name fade? Do any of Chapman’s social media troubles become foisted upon Guitar Center? It’ll be interesting to see how things proceed for him long-term.

 

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