|Headquarters||Westlake Village, California|
|Key people||Darrell Webb, CEO|
|Products||Musical instruments, Recording equipment and accessories|
Guitar Center's sister companies/subsidiaries incorporate Music & Arts, Musician's Friend, GuitarCenter.com, LMI, Giardinelli, Musician.com, Private Reserve Guitars, Woodwind and Brasswind, Music 123, and Harmony Central.
Founded in Hollywood by Wayne Mitchell in 1959 as The Organ Center, a retailer of electronic organs for home and church use, it became a major seller of Vox electric guitars and guitar amplifiers, changing its name to The Vox Center in 1964. Toward the end of the 1960s, Vox—whose sales derived largely from its association with The Beatles, who made extensive use of its amplifiers—fell in popularity as Marshall amplifier users Eric Clapton and others captured musicians' imaginations. Accordingly, Mitchell once again changed the name, this time to Guitar Center.
The popularity of rock and roll in the 1970s allowed Mitchell to open stores in San Francisco and San Diego, as well as several suburbs of Los Angeles. Ray Scherr, previously the general manager of the San Francisco store, purchased the company from Mitchell in the late 1970s. Scherr owned and operated it until 1996 from its Westlake Village headquarters.
Although synthesizer-driven disco and new wave pop sapped rock's audience in the late 1970s, the 1980s "guitar rock" revival led by Van Halen and a concurrent influx of Japanese-produced instruments brought guitar sales to unprecedented levels. Guitar Center took full advantage of this sales bonanza, and by the end of the decade began an ambitious program of expansion across the entire United States. Using its size as leverage over the musical instrument business, it developed into the largest musical instrument retailer in the country, and made an initial public offering of stock in 1997.
On June 27, 2007, Guitar Center agreed to a $1.9 billion buyout from Bain Capital, totaling $2.1 billion including debt. The deal was led by Goldman Sachs and amounted to a per-share price of $63, or a 26% premium on the June 26 closing price. The deal was approved by shareholders on September 18, 2007, and closed October 9, 2007.
In mid-2009 Guitar Center opened the first of its rehearsal and lessons studio facility in Woodland Hills, California. The eight studios with full backline range in size from 350-550 square feet.
Guitar Center also hosts annual events such as the Drum Off, King of the Blues, contests, and artist appearances throughout the nation.
In 2011, Guitar Center added equipment rentals to the store in San Diego, California. Since, Guitar Center has opened Rental Departments in 10 other existing locations and plans to offer Rental services in various other stores across the country.
In May 2013, Standard & Poor's cut its debt rating on Bain Capital-owned Guitar Center Holdings Inc to "junk bond" status, citing struggles with "weak operating trends." The corporate credit rating on the company dropped from 'B-' to 'CCC+'.
In April 2014, Ares Management took a controlling stake in Guitar Center. Bain Capital, Guitar Center's former owner, retained partial ownership of the company, along with representation on the board. According to Mike Pratt, the retailer's previous chief executive, the deal will reduce Guitar Center's total debt and provide it with the resources to expand its footprint and invest in its business.
In August 2014, Guitar Center opened a new 28,000 square foot flagship location in the heart of Times Square in New York City. The grand opening included a celebratory concert featuring the band The Roots. The Guitar Center Times Square location is now the permanent home of Eric Clapton's Blackie Fender Stratocaster which Guitar Center purchased at a Christie's Crossroads Centre auction in 2004 for $959,000.
Guitar Center Sessions
First debuting in 2010, each episode of Guitar Center Sessions showcases exclusive live performances by noteworthy artists captured in hi-definition at Guitar Center's iconic Hollywood, CA location. Some past guests have included The 1975, Sum 41, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Peter Gabriel, Alanis Morissette, 311, Megadeth, Snoop Dogg, Soundgarden, The Cult, CAKE, Jakob Dylan, Blondie, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Bush, Ben Folds Five, Korn, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Skylar Grey, Peter Frampton, Frank Turner, and Jane’s Addiction. Guitar Center Sessions is hosted by Nic Harcourt, and was created, developed and produced by Guitar Center exclusively on DirecTV. Guitar Center Sessions has won several awards, including a Lumiere Award from the International 3D Society for the episodes featuring Jane's Addiction and Peter Gabriel. To celebrate the 50th Year Anniversary, Guitar Center asked Linkin Park to play a show on October 24, the performance will air on DirecTV on December 7.
At: Guitar Center Podcasts
The "At: Guitar Center" podcasts feature interviews and intimate performances with some of the biggest names in music. Some past guests have included Travis Barker, Sevendust, T-Pain, Joe Bonamassa, The Crystal Method, Buddy Guy, Daughtry, Jimmy Cliff, Meiko, Rza, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Brandi Carlile, and Minus the Bear, The podcasts are available on the iTunes, Zune and BlackBerry networks and on the Guitar Center website. The show is hosted by Nic Harcourt.
Connections Made by Guitar Center
Connections made by Guitar Center, a collaboration between 88.5 KCSN Los Angeles and Guitar Center, is a weekly one-hour radio program featuring fresh, new music from across the globe and musical spectrum. Signed or unsigned, the show offers an electric mix of progressive and innovative artists. The show is hosted by radio host and taste maker, Nic Harcourt.
Guitar Center Legends Collection
The “Guitar Center Legends Collection” consists of four classic guitars made famous by music legends Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and U2’s The Edge. Guitar Center purchased Clapton’s “Blackie” Fender Stratocaster, his vintage Gibson “ES-335,” and Vaughan’s “Lenny” Stratocaster for over $2.4 million from the Clapton Crossroads Centre charity auction at Christie's New York in 2004. They added The Edge’s Gibson Les Paul after purchasing it for $240,000 at the Music Rising Charity Auction in 2007. Over the years, the collection has been exhibited in one-of-a-kind, “Legends’ Collection” display cases, which provide high level protection and climate control as the instruments tour prestigious musical events and key Guitar Center locations, such as “Guitar Center Road to Crossroads” held at Madison Square Garden in conjunction with Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in April 2013. In August 2014, Clapton’s Blackie and ES-335 were moved to their new permanent location at Guitar Center’s Times Square flagship location.
Clapton's “Blackie” was purchased by Guitar Center for $959,500. Clapton’s Cherry Red Gibson “335,” purchased for $847,500, was used to record Cream’s versions of “Badge” and “Crossroads,” as well as many other historical performances, during his 40 years of ownership. Steve Ray Vaughan’s “Lenny,” which was purchased for $623,500, was used to record his classic love songs including “Lenny” and “Riviera Paradise.” All of the proceeds from these three guitars purchased by Guitar Center were for the benefit of Clapton’s Crossroads Centre charity. The cream colored 1975 Les Paul Custom (faded from its original white) found fame with The Edge as a go-to guitar for stage and studio on many of U2’s most famous recordings and performances. In 2005, The Edge partnered with producer Bob Ezrin, Gibson and the Guitar Center Music Foundation (now known as the Fender Music Foundation) to establish Music Rising, a charity founded to benefit musicians whose lives were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. In 2007, he donated this prized guitar to be auctioned for the cause. The winning bid was $240,000 from Guitar Center ($288,000 including Buyers Premium).
Guitar Center's Drum-Off
Since 1988, Guitar Center has held an annual search for the next great undiscovered drummer. Developed to spotlight the drumming community, Guitar Center’s Drum-Off is the music retailer’s longest running artist-discovery program, providing an outlet for drummers to be recognized for their skill and attain success in their field. For over a quarter of a century, the program has unearthed some of the day’s top undiscovered drummers and provided a platform for established drummers to be acknowledged.
Guitar Center’s Drum-Off breaks down into three rounds of store preliminary competitions at 260+ Guitar Center locations nationwide. Every contestant is allowed five minutes of set up time and three minutes to perform. One winner from each store finals competition is chosen to move up to the quarter finals, (hosted at 30 Guitar Center locations nationwide), followed by semi-finals at five store locations at which point performance time is increased to allow five minutes to each contestant. The winners from these five semi-final locations convene in Los Angeles, CA to compete in Guitar Center’s Drum Off finals in front of a live audience and a panel of celebrity judges.
Each contestant is required to perform on a 5-piece acoustic drum kit complete with hardware, cymbals, cowbell, throne and the option to incorporate the Roland SPD-30 Octapad into the competition kit. All contestants are evaluated by a panel of independent and credible judges on the following criteria: skills & technique, groove, originality, stage presence, and overall performance.
In years past, some of the world’s most renowned drummers have participated in and supported Guitar Center’s Drum-Off, including: Terry Bozzio, Aaron Spears (Usher), Dennis Chambers (Parliament/Funkadelic), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Steve Gadd, Questlove (The Roots), Travis Barker (Blink-182), Tommy Lee (Motley Crüe), Dave Lombardo (Slayer), Carmine Appice, John Tempesta (The Cult), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Steve Smith, Gavin Harrison, Jojo Mayer, Thomas Lang, Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle), José Pasillas (Incubus), Billy Cobham, Niko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), Danny Carey (Tool), Brann Dailor (Mastodon), John Blackwell, and more.
The Sunset Boulevard location in Los Angeles hosts Hollywood's RockWalk, a hall of fame honoring musical artists. Artists are invited to place their handprints into cement blocks that are put on display at the Guitar Center.
In 2000, Guitar Center purchased mail order and Internet retail house Musician's Friend  for $50 million, asserting that the merged company was the world's largest seller of musical instruments. Musician's Friend became a wholly owned subsidiary that was headquartered in Medford, Oregon until 2011, when Musician's Friend's headquarters operations were gradually consolidated into Guitar Center's facilities in Westlake Village, California.
In 2005, Guitar Center Inc. acquired Music & Arts, the largest school music dealer in the United States, and merged their subsidiary band and orchestral chain American Music Group into Music & Arts (as the company was renamed). Music & Arts was founded in 1952 in Bethesda, Maryland and sells band and orchestra instruments, guitars, keyboards, drum sets, printed sheet music, and related supplies.
In the summer of 2006, Guitar Center purchased four stores in Texas from the popular South Texas and Central/South American company, Hermes.
In February 2007, the direct response division of Guitar Center, Musician's Friend, purchased assets of the Indiana-based company Dennis Bamber, Inc., which included leading band and orchestra retailer, Woodwind and Brasswind, plus Music 123 and Lyons Music.
Harmony Central is an online source of reviews (both by users and website staff), news and discussion forums for the musical and pro audio fields. The forums have over 300,000 registered users as of the 1st January 2012, with subforums covering all aspects of musical equipment, playing, production and performance for a wide variety of instruments.
- Nathans, Aaron (14 May 2011), Delaware music stores bracing for national giant's arrival, The News Journal, archived from the original on June 2011, retrieved May 15, 2011, "Guitar Center, which focuses on the rock-band end of the music business, opened its first store in Hollywood in 1964, just as guitar bands were taking off."[dead link]
- Guitar Center Store Locator
- Guitar Center 1960s History
- Guitar Center 1970s History
- Guitar Center 1980s History
- Guitar Center 1990s History
- Guitar Center Music Foundation
- Guitar Center Accepts Bain Bid, The Wall Street Journal (fragment), June 28, 2007
- Guitar Center Events | Guitar Center
- Bain Capital's Guitar Center hits rough patch, Reuters, June 12, 2013
- Ares Management Gains Control of Guitar Center, WSJ, April 3, 2014
- Guitar Center Sessions
- At: Guitar Center podcast
- Connections Made by Guitar Center
- "List of all the rockwalk/inductees". Guitar Center's Hollywood Rockwalk.
- "Guitar firm, e-commerce to merge". Deseret News. May 14, 1999. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
- "Losing a Friend". Mail Tribune. April 28, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
- Guitar Center buys Music & Arts for $90m
- Guitar Center buys Hermes Trading Co.