Okay, so a woman walks into a Guitar Center...

Sound like the perfect setup for a sexist punchline? It's not, but it very well could be. As long as there's been a music industry, women have been treated as lesser-thans often viewed as supporters and sideline cheerleaders, not key players.

The attitude was pervasive on stages, behind stages and in stores, such as Guitar Center, a national retailer with more than 200 outlets across the country, including six in Colorado. "I've heard pretty much verbatim from customers that the experience is just awful," says Laura Taylor, the Los Angeles-based vice president of operations. But now, based on such feedback, Guitar Center is actively looking to improve that experience. And the 42-year-old Taylor, a musician herself, has a vested interested in seeing things change.

Mike Gorman
Laura Taylor, the Los Angeles-based vice president of operations for Guitar Center.
Courtesy of Laura Taylor
Laura Taylor, the Los Angeles-based vice president of operations for Guitar Center.

Location Info


Guitar Center

9647 E. County Line Road
Englewood, CO 80112

Category: Retail

Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs

"I purchased my first guitar from Guitar Center in Chicago, and was treated so poorly," she recalls. "I mean, it was awful. If you can imagine, it was the late '80s, and there were very few female players." The salesman she dealt with made sure to point out the return policy: There wasn't one. "It was a different industry," she adds, "and a different time."

Taylor had moved to Hollywood from Chicago to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology (known now as Musicians Institute). She was living across the street from the Hollywood Guitar Center — a store she made a concerted effort to avoid for as long as she could, until one day when she needed to purchase some equipment and finally walked through the doors. The visit ended with Taylor applying for a job and later working for the company part-time. Eventually she worked her way up, and she's been with Guitar Center ever since.

Taylor's personal experiences let her look at the situation from various perspectives, and she's seen that sexism can cut both ways.

"We have a phenomenal drum-department manager in one of our stores," Taylor notes. "A male customer came in and wanted to talk to the drum-department manager. When she said, 'Well, I am the drum-department manager,' the customer said, 'No, I want to talk to a guy.' So when you look at it, it's also coming from the other side. We know it's an area where we need to help drive a change through the whole industry. That's what we're focusing on."

What triggered this seemingly sudden change in a company that appears to be doing just fine without having to upset the sexist-culture apple cart? According to Taylor, it was just a matter of taking advantage of the present moment. "The big initiative for Guitar Center came to us, really, through me," she explains. "Being a female, being a player, being in a male-dominated industry for so many years, I was the one who approached my boss." That was Gene Joly, executive vice president of Guitar Center stores. "I said, 'Look, this is something that we really need to focus on,'" Taylor recalls, adding, "It has been off everyone's radar, and it's just how it has always been."

Over the past year, Guitar Center has invested in surveying patrons on several levels. Beyond traditional customer surveys, the company has put together several customer-based panels, polling female shoppers and asking for specific examples of mistreatment. The retailer has also hosted three discussion dinners across the country, inviting female musicians to talk about what they experienced when walking into a Guitar Center.

The results of the surveys were not far from what Taylor expected. Across the board, women talked about being treated as though they were in the store "with" someone — especially if they happened to be shopping with a male — rather than being there of their own accord to buy gear. The panels also not so subtly revealed the obvious: When a woman enters a Guitar Center, she just wants to be treated like anyone else.

"When a male customer comes in, we don't assume that he's a beginner or that he doesn't know what he's talking about," Taylor points out. "So why would we want to do anything differently with a female customer? And that's the message that we're driving: respect. Respect your customers, not just the guy who wants to buy a pick or the guy who spends a lot of money."

After collecting that data, Guitar Center went to work. The company's first step was to reach out to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an umbrella group that serves to connect all 33 individually run Girls Rock Camps around the world. Led by volunteer musicians, these week-long camps invite young women ages eight to seventeen to be a part of a band. Girls are often introduced to an instrument for the first time at the camps, which serve as a place to learn and sharpen playing skills, build self-confidence, and connect with a community of musical peers and mentors.

Guitar Center's specific point of entry was the Girls Rock Camp in Los Angeles. The company approached the camp with a "package" that included the donation of musical equipment, camp scholarships, instrument care and tune-up sessions, and Guitar Center gift cards for campers, staff and volunteers. From there, the company approached individual camps.

"One of the Girls Rock Camps didn't want to join this alliance with Guitar Center," Taylor reveals. "They didn't want to take any of the opportunities we were able to give because they had had such bad experiences in our stores. We are still working with them to change that."

Katie Rothery, co-director of Girls Rock Denver, says she was initially skeptical of a big-box retailer wanting to help out. "Guitar Center is at the top of our list of stores that treat women badly," Rothery points out. But after a conversation with Brian Berman, director of local marketing for Guitar Center, who assured her that things were really changing, she took Guitar Center up on its offer and gave campers gift cards for the store.

The company has reached out in other places, as well. It's partnered with Daisy Rock Girl Guitars — not only to provide instruments to Girls Rock Camps, but also to increase the brand's inventory within Guitar Center stores, giving female customers more options — and is set to roll out a singer-songwriter contest this fall, potentially targeting female talent.

Guitar Center doesn't have high expectations for immediate acceptance of its initiatives, says Taylor. The company is aware how deep the problem goes, and knows that while perceptions can change, it might take years. Which is why it's also moving toward changing the atmosphere at individual locations.

"We're also changing — subtly — things within our stores," Taylor explains. "Marketing and buyer's guides are featuring more female artists. Little things like voiceovers in our commercials — which have traditionally been male, loud-type marketing tactics — have changed. We're using more female voiceovers in our radio and TV ads."

But what about that little problem of the glaringly misogynistic treatment of female customers by Guitar Center employees?

"I've seen a lot of the evolution of the industry already, starting from back in the day when [music retail associates] appeared to be like used-car salesmen," Taylor notes. "But now we have Guitar Center University training, where every quarter we bring the sales training managers together to train them specifically on this. Our initiative with this is to treat everyone with respect. Don't assume anything. Quite honestly, based on the feedback from female employees and customers, we know that they don't want to be treated differently; they just want to be treated well."

These new maneuvers may seem small on paper, but Taylor is convinced that they can inspire a shift in the industry as a whole, with Guitar Center leading the charge.

Recent visits to a few local Guitar Center outlets produced mixed results. At the first location, no one offered any assistance for the better part of fifteen minutes. At the next two stores, however, staff was not only cordial, but they approached without assumption or airs. And an image of Sheryl Crow was prominently displayed in one store's windows, suggesting that the company is making good on its promise of more inclusive marketing — or that the individual store is creating its own culture.

Whatever the case, Guitar Center is clearly striking the right chords.

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ex employee
ex employee

Maybe Guitar Center should hire more girls to work in sales....possibly offer them some sort of a signing bonus to help attact them into the fray. The Fellas may be a little upset at first, but if you get a quality gal who really knows her stuff, they will have to respect her for sales ability, knowledge, and hopefully her ability to smooth out the rough edges that come with the territory of hardend sales floor.BTW... I don't know laura Taylor that well, only on a professional level...she's worked hard to get where she is...and she's earned my respect.

- ex employee

bc_ex employee
bc_ex employee

if they want to change the culture they should start off by paying their employees more. GC employees are a joke because they are exploited for their passions and knowledge and not payed enough for the sometimes 15+ hrs on the clock daily. GC corporate are to focused on the customer experience and not the most important thing; the employee experience. A happy employee is a productive employee. A happy employee is a happier customer.

FU GC corporate


Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching, Laura.FAIL.


Recently in las vegas all females found new jobs and quit after the district operations manager made an innappropriate comment about their "butt cracks" hanging out.This just added to the sexist and hostile-toward-females environment supported by the store manager. A young woman was moved into the store from oit of state and recently railroaded out of her position at this store as well.This article is NOT representative of las vegas operations at all.This is the stuff of lawsuits.


I'm 100% with Amber. The old "performance plan"... no matter how well you perform is a tool to simply set you up for firing, I went through the same exact thing. Top performer, but called out my district/store managers for their inability to behave in a professional manner, and I got the can. Its just how they do business, and the reap the "rewards" in who they are left with.

GC would rather stay in the stone age and attempt to bribe off female musicians than actually help out the ones they have working for them.I had a female employee repeatedly called a "cunt" by a store manager with nothing done. I've been chastised for hiring qualified retired musicians to work the front door instead of women that look like they are in between shifts on the stripper pole. I've had women come to me with complaints of discrimination when trying to move from a non sales to sales position and found myself backed against the wall for starting trouble. Laura has been part of the problem and this is a transparent attempt to pay off some needy organizations to get some sort of street cred. Its a weak attempt at best.

And it's poor reporting to not delve deeper into why a girls band camp, possibly a non profit, would actually TURN DOWN free money or gear from a music store. For something like that to happen shows the level of disgust out there... for good reason.THATS where the real story is at here.

On the plus side, life once you get out of a Guitar Center job is amazing. In the real world, people actually behave like human beings and you can actually make a decent living in a job that makes you feel good.

Women who want to have a real effect on the musical industry need to focus on being musicians, producers, musical educators, etc... Guitar Center is just plain old retail with a whole lotta overblown macho wannabe musicians. The Bro-speak alone is enough to make you wanna gag. Lots of short chubby dudes that can play one lick on the Custom Nocaster they bought, and have never had another job in their life that has put any real measure of performance on them. Its a bad environment for creativity and a worse environment for any hope of a professional career.Read between the lines of this article and look elsewhere ladies.


Laura Taylor is one of very few to make it to the top of this screwed up boy's club of a corporation. From my expierence you have to step on a lot of backs and faces to get there. Nothing in the article about the sexism the female employees are subject to. I worked for the company for six years. In fact one of the reasons they fired me for something I didn't do was because I made it clear that I was not ok with keeping my female employees who had been with me a year or more pay at minimum wage, but giving the new male employees I hired a dollar more an hour. They got sick of hearing me tell them how uncomfortable I was with that. Also they had cut back hours so much for my staff that as the Operations Manager, a salaried position that is a partnership with the store manager, was receiving 200 peice shipments by myself and boxing up heavy speakers and amps by myself. When I injured my back because of this and was put on doctor's restriction for my injuries my direct supervisor, the district manager sat me down at lunch to put me on a performance plan because during that month that they were making me work with my injury my performance took a dive. Well, what did they expect when I an restricted from bending over or from lifting over 15lbs. Included in the performance plan was a list of other things that were not true at all and no mention of where these out of the blue accusations came from. It was then that I realized that they had marked me for termination. I refused to sign and asked to be put on disability. I was on disability for a month and a half doing physical therapy for muscle spasms in my upper and lower back. Two weeks away from my doctor predicted recovery time my boss calls and begs me to come back early with the promise of extending the hours for my employees and complying with the doctors restriction as far as their expectations of me. I agreed, but when I returned there was no new hours, I was short an employee, and the stores operations had fallen into far worse shape then when I left. I managed to still raise the store back up enough to get honored a month later for best in district, and fired two weeks later for something I didn't even do, that if it was so important why did they wait a whole month to even mention it. This article is shaped and targeted to get women's money nothing more. I'd like to know more about the girls band camp who refused GC's reparations, I mean donation.


LOL. Laura has been singing this same song for years at GC. Lots of talk and smiles, She has done zero to help the female employees there. There are numerous nightmare stories I have either seen happen personally, or heard second hand from ladies who were discriminated against or verbally attacked at GC for being female. To hear the details would curl your hair.Laura got where she is by playing the good ol' boy game just like the rest of upper management at GC. Management at GC is notoriously bad, there is actually a website dedicated to talking about it.She has helped this kind of sexually discriminatory behavior by looking the other way numerous times. There were instances I reported that would have been grounds for immediate termination at any other organization, ones that would have made it to her desk, that nothing was done about.Funny. Its great that she is taking credit for the band camps for girls instead of actually attacking the issue head on within her own company and doing something about it.Its awesome that at least one band camp had the actual "honesty and integrity" GC preaches about to take a stand and see through this form of intellectual bribery of band camp buy outs for credibility amongst women musicians.When I worked for GC, I always saw her as one of the number one problems with the company. Someone the brosephs in charge could say "SEE, we have a girl up here, too"... one they seem to have a leash on and one that acts just as overly temperamental and reactionary behind the scene as the rest of the good ol boys. Meanwhile the ladies in the ranks struggle to try and come back to work on a day to day basis with no back up.Great work Laura... have a good sleep tonight... Go Bears, right?


I used to live in Las Vegas, and the G.C. there treated everybody with respect. The Colorado Springs Guitar Center treats everyone who isn't a headliner like poop!


You don't have to be female...Visiting the Tampa store recently,I finally went behind the counter and got my own strings.I have other things to do,and there were at least 3 guys standing around with zero other customers.


Guitar Crapper treats everyone poorly...and Im a male.


I'm a male and no one will assist me either. While I'm sure sexism exists in their stores, most locations just display poor customer service in general.


I'm glad to hear that they are taking notice. More and more of girls and women want to learn to play guitar. It's only a smart thing to do.

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