Under the direction of Evan Jones, legendary guitar makers Fender have successfully shredded their way into the minds of a generation born a decade after the famed inventor and company founder Leo Fender passed. As Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Jones and his team have ensured that the Stratocaster doesn’t become your dad’s old guitar.
With initiatives like “Stratoverse” -- a virtual reality island shaped like one of the iconic guitars -- collaborations with TikTok creators, and astounding campaigns such as the one behind the American Professional series with the tagline “The One. For All,” Fender has not only captured a new generation of musicians, but has also successfully transitioned from a historically trade-based brand to one that is consumer-centric.
"I’m super proud of how far we’ve come," says Jones. "But we’re also building on a head start that comes from 70 years of making some of the most beautiful instruments in the world."
Jones builds on extensive experience to make this happen. He has been at Fender for the last seven years, but has also led teams at headwear company New Era, video-game producers Activision, and shoemakers DC Shoes. One of his key memories involved working with the late basketball player Kobe Bryant at Nike.
“He used to talk about chasing greatness,” Jones remembers. “He was so driven, and his relentlessness has always stuck with me.”
At Fender, he has focused heavily on moving into the digital space and expanding the guitar maker’s audience beyond its predominantly male demographic.
Under Jones’ direction, the brand launched its first signature guitar under a Black female artist, Gabriella Wilson, professionally known as H.E.R.
“I think that was a really important moment for the brand,” says Jones. “She’s a transcendent artist that is breaking the mold, and her aspiration is to really inspire millions of young women and people of color to pick up the guitar.”
TikTok makes perfect sense for Fender, since it’s inherently audio-based. Their collaborations with leading creators there have connected them with the younger audience, and their own channel has grown to almost two million followers since it launched in September.
Out of their investment in the digital arena has also come the online learning app for guitar, bass, and ukulele, Fender Play. Originally a subscription service, they made the platform free when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, and more people than ever were turning to pick up a new instrument in their spare time.
To Jones, all of these efforts are about creating community. He ensures that Fender walks the walk when it comes to this mission.
Through the Fender Play foundation, 15,000 children in Los Angeles have received instruments, and on top of that, the company backed a ballot initiative in the city that passed this year that would create an annuity to fully fund music education across the state of California.
“At the end of the day, we’re committed to getting more guitars into more peoples’ hands,” he says. “Because if we’re successful, what we’re really doing is putting more music in their hands.”