Electric guitars and testosterone go together like Jimi Hendrix and lighter fluid, but the latest musical instrument in vogue is a Hello Kitty Stratocaster.
The average price of a vintage pink Strat emblazoned with the cartoon cat-girl face has more than doubled since 2019, and some owners are now asking over $1,000.
Reverb, the online marketplace for musical instruments, has started followed the hyper-cute guitars after his analytics team noticed that people were looking for the guitar in huge numbers.
It had become a “recurring search term, near the top of the list,” said Cyril Nigg, senior director of analytics at Reverb. “The price trend for this guitar has gone from around $200 and it’s now selling for over $700. There are cases where people have paid over $1000 for it.
A video by youtuber TheDooo sparked interest in the instrument, he said, but demand has remained high even since he stopped featuring the guitar in videos.
Guitar makers have often made ties with big brands, Nigg added, examples being Marvel-themed guitars for Iron Man and Captain Americainstruments comprising The simpsons and Pokémon characters, and partnerships with beers such as Budweiser and Heineken. He said, “There are a handful that are desired, but for the most part you tend to see them in a pawn shop or a guitar shop for a few dollars, and they sit there for months.”
Fender began selling limited-edition Hello Kitty Stratocasters as part of its low-budget Squier line. At the time, the instrument maker’s marketing executives said, apparently seriously, that “by partnering with the Hello Kitty brand, we hope to show young women what fun playing guitar can be,” according to Tony Bacon, a guitar historian. “That’s really condescending – how insulting can you be?” he said.
The guitars were initially only available through Sanrio, owners of the Hello Kitty brand. “So Newsweek, at the end of 2005, gave it the number one spot on the Christmas gift list for music obsessives,” Bacon said. “It did them no harm and they started selling them generally in January of the following year.
“What seemed to be happening was that there was a postmodern irony, or what I think I called in the book post-punk duality, where male gamers started to embrace them.”
Fender donated several guitars at a Billboard awards ceremony, and soon Slash of Guns N’Roses and Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers posed with them. But that seems to have had little impact on the value of guitars until more recently.
Paul Atkinson, professor of design at Sheffield Hallam University, said guitars and musical instruments often have value or are appreciated. A 1968 Hendrix Strat sold at auction for $2 million in 1998. The guitar he burned on stage at the Monterey Festival did not survive, but a fire at the Astoria in Finsbury Park years earlier did. grossed £280,000 in 2008.
“Without a doubt, it’s the most copied guitar of all time,” Atkinson said. “If you watch commercials or cartoons with guitars, it’s either a Stratocaster, a Les Paul or a Flying V. If you ask a child to draw a guitar, they’ll draw a Stratocaster.
“For years it was only associated with men. But then obviously that’s changed in the last 30 or 40 years, and now it’s no surprise at all to see women playing the electric guitar.
Hello Kitty was “a strongly gendered object,” he added. “So it’s this very deliberate irony.”