Photos by Lindsey Byrnes


Five Musicians On How Their Guitars Have Shaped Their Music

All artists have stories like these

by Bailey Calfee and Lindsey Byrnes

For many musicians, a guitar is a vital instrument in their creative process, often forming the groundwork of a song. And while every musician has relied on guitars at some point or another, some are using the instrument in new ways, creating totally new musical paths.

And Fender is making sure these artists have the platform they need to get noticed for their amazing work. The brand is giving emerging guitarists access to the Fender audience with its Fender Next program. Along with setting them up with Fender products, the artists—who include the likes of King Princess, CHAI, Phoebe Bridgers, and Cuco—will be able to grow their audience by being spotlighted across Fender's website and social media platforms, giving them the ability to tell their musical story.

"I think artists, players, producers, and creators almost look at the guitar as a sonic paintbrush. It's a part of their palette, and it's a matter of how the artist wants to showcase their art," says Fender Vice President of Artist and Integrated Marketing Matt Watts. "Sometimes, the guitar is way out there in front, and sometimes it brings texture and color. It's a key component of the artists' story."

Fender launched this new program with an activation at SXSW called the Fender Next House, where musicians fostered a dialogue with their fans and other aspiring artists. We spoke to four of the musicians who took over the Fender Next House at SXSW and asked them how they used guitars to make their music.


Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Kana, the guitarist and one of the vocalists of J-Pop group CHAI, knows the power that her instrument has. "The guitar is something that can at times get in the way," she tells us, quickly clarifying that she means that "in a good way!" She continues, "I take how and where the guitar parts are inserted so seriously. I think about how the guitar will affect each song and the overall sound of the band as a whole."

Though she now feels that "my guitar is like my hip; it's an extension of me," Kana admits that she got a pretty late start to playing guitar. "The first time I ever even touched a guitar was in high school," she says, noting that she started playing the instrument in her high school music club, which was run by a funk-loving teacher. "He would always play funk-like tunes with the guitar, and I thought, That really sounds cool, and started practicing the guitar from there," she recalls. "Because of this, even to this day, I still create music starting from the roots of funk rhythms." Which is even cooler considering CHAI is already breaking the mold for J-Pop groups by bringing punk sounds in.


Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

For Cuco, his guitar is the starting and ending point for his songwriting."I use the guitar, generally, to draft a lot," he says, "and also to finalize and fill up the sound that I might use for some of my songs." This could be because guitars feel comfortable to him. "[The guitar] is one of the most crucial instruments for me personally because it was also my first, so I find it very easy to navigate through chords, melodies, and harmonies on the guitar," he says.

Though the guitar is not the focal point of his music, it breathes life into his tracks. "I think guitars help shape my musicality, but not so much the music I make," he says, "because I don't think my music is entirely centered around guitar playing. But it is my main instrument, and the instrument that I am most comfortable with, so it mostly shapes me as a musician."

Japanese Breakfast

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast wouldn't be making music if it weren't for guitars. "I started playing piano when I was five, and I think I always had this desire to make music, but it was almost like I knew too much theory behind piano," she tells us. "It wasn't until I started learning how to play the guitar that it came really naturally to me." After begging for years, her parents finally gifted her with a cheap guitar from Costco, which set her musical journey in motion.

Now, she's seamlessly interweaving the instrument into her songwriting for Japanese Breakfast. "First and foremost, I'm a songwriter, and my role as a guitarist has always been to serve the song," she says. Most of her songs are written on the guitar, too. However, though the inclusion is seamless, that doesn't mean her sound is boring.

"I've always been drawn to really dynamic and guitar-driven music with insightful lyrics," she says, though she admits that it was hard for her, at first, to have the confidence. "It took a really long time, especially as a woman in music, to feel comfortable not having to show off." She's definitely creating her own dynamic sound now.

Melanie Faye

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When Melanie Faye was 11 years old, she bought her first guitar: "It was a three-fourth scale guitar, [so] it wasn't a full-scale guitar—it was miniature guitar, downsized." Though she eventually sold it "because I was trying to get a skateboard," it was a catalyst of her music career.

"That guitar really meant a lot to me, and I learned my very first chords on that guitar," she says. "I learned how to hold a guitar, how to tune a guitar. That guitar helped me get familiar with the instrument, so it definitely was a moment in my music journey."

Now, guitar is a huge part of her music, though she's traded in her three-fourth scale guitar for a six-string. Who knows what her music style would sound like without that first purchase, because, as she says, "the guitar is definitely the forefront of my performance."

Cautious Clay

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Cautious Clay isn't here to do things by the books, especially not when it comes to his guitar-playing. He plays upside down, which sets him apart from other musicians, and, as he says, "has kind of given me a different sound." Expanding on that claim, he says, his way of playing guitar "allows me to create different chord patterns that a lot of other guitarists or artists might not use."

And though he isn't quite a beginner when it comes to the instrument, he reveals that he didn't get his own guitar until one was given to him by Fender about a year back. "I started on guitar just borrowing from friends. And I got this far borrowing guitars from friends for six or seven years, because all of my friends played." Clearly, he's chosen his friends wisely.

His unique approach to playing music on the guitar, he admits, has stifled his ability to play the instrument the way it should be played, but he takes that as a good thing. "I have a very limited chord knowledge on the guitar because I am playing it upside down, so a lot of things are not totally obvious to me," he says. "But I think there are restrictions that actually make it super-creative for me, because I have a very limited scope around what I can do with it." You'd definitely assume he was an expert, though, especially listening to his new EP.