Who Shreds? Comparison of Guitar Manufacturers in the US and Maryland

A few of us at Black Label have played guitar in one fashion or another in the past, so we decided to take a field trip to the Paul Reed Smith hq in Stevensville, MD to see how guitars are made. This trip led to some curiosities about guitar manufacturers in the US and ultimately a quick analysis of guitar of how they compare.

The Hypothesis

Here are a couple of questions to ask when looking at the data:

  1. According to google searches and trends, who is the most popular guitar manufacturer in the US?
  2. How does being a local manufacturer, like PRS, reflect in regional guitar searches? Is PRS a more popular search in Maryland versus the US as a whole?

Knowing a little about guitars and having an amateur idea of what guitar players tend to use more often, my hypotheses is that Fender is the most popular search term followed by Gibson. PRS is going have a much smaller influence because they haven’t offered a cheaper model like their competitors until recently so they may not appeal to as wide of an audience because of income level. They are generally considered a more high-end, expensive, guitar company until their SE model was released. Therefore, their demographic may be a little older and smaller in size. I believe they are more in line with Ibanez and Epiphone when it comes to search popularity.

The Analysis

What we are analyzing is Search Volume Index which is the amount of searches indexed for the terms entered, relative to the total number of searches on Google over time.

The top 5 guitar brands are Fender, Gibson, Paul Reed Smith, Ibanez and Epiphone. Google Trends was used to analyze these search terms and we can attempt to draw some meaning in the search data. However, it should be noted that this is a quick analysis and anything we would do for our clients is put through more rigorous testing in order to get the most accurate data. For example, there can be inconsistencies in the search terms. A word we are assuming is for a guitar may be for something else, like the last name of a person.

The Data

Here is a graph that compares these guitar manufacturers in searches since 2004.

A few things of interest to note about this data.

  1. The guitar, in general, has been in a steady decline since 2004. This is pure speculation but perhaps this is due to technology taking over the music industry where more people use computers than they use guitars than they did 10 years ago.
  2. There is a huge spike for Ibanez in October 2012. This has nothing to do with guitars, it has to do with Yankees Raul Ibanez hitting a walk-off homerun in the ALDS. This may also skew Ibanez’s data over time as well.
  3. There is a short spike for Gibson in September of 2011. This is related to Gibson Guitar Company being raided by the government for a possible illegal trade issue in the wood they were using for their guitars. You can read more about that here.

This data is also supported by data from the National Association of Music Merchants global report from 2014. Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 4.57.19 PM Moving on, we can begin to look at geographic influence. Starting with Gibson, out of Nashville, TN, we can see that there is definitely a correlation between where the manufacturer is based and the popularity of the brand’s search term.

You can see the same correlation with PRS guitars out of Stevensville, MD.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.04.32 PM
This may be an obvious correlation but it’s important to look at when taking into consideration a digital strategy and observing brand awareness. It may be even m ore important to look at unique regions outside of the manufacturers own. For example, there is a noticeable drought of interest for PRS guitars in Wyoming. It would be interesting to look into why this is considering the same drop-off does not happen for the other four guitar companies.

If we dig down a little further into the Maryland region you will see similar trends. Below is the search volume index for Gibson Guitars in the Maryland region. This is almost identical to every other guitar company, except PRS.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.05.09 PM

Interestingly, PRS guitars fades out in the DC region, even though that is still a local brand. I would think that they would remain consistent where they drop off significantly (>50%).
Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 2.05.06 PM
Also, if we look at the regional interest over time, PRS guitars jumps up above Epiphone in Maryland, which is consistent with what one may expect when comparing local brands to remote brands.


As obvious as it may be, locality has a positive impact on search popularity. However, in looking at this data there is more important, and unique, data that we can derive meaning from that may not have been immediately apparent. Using the data that stands out, like the PRS dropoff in Wyoming, we can find unpaved avenues that companies can use to get their product or service to new audiences.

Author: Brent Hoffmann

Brent has a diverse background in graphic design, software development, and business strategy. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, he helps clients find solutions to technology problems, develop their content strategy and find ways to help them grow.

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