Within the cancel culture hellscape in which we all currently reside, it is nothing new for friends and even family to be disowned, for companies to sever alliances with other companies, and for entire city blocks to be destroyed in the name of one group’s idea of progress. We live in a time when a social media posting from when you were a child can derail your career, education, or business partnership, and while that notion might have seemed absurd even only a few years ago, it is actually commonplace in 2020, as many of you well know. So when musical instrument retail chain Guitar Center decided to cancel guitar pedal company Fulltone over social media posts made by the company’s owner, it would seem at face value to be a here-today gone-tomorrow tale of cancel woe. But a deeper look at this scandal reveals the grotesque way that Guitar Center used George Floyd’s death to its advantage to cover up its own financial inadequacies.
For the uninitiated, Fulltone Musical Products is a much-celebrated guitar pedal manufacturing company based out of Culver City, California, whose products are widely used by professional and amateur musicians alike. Arguably their most popular pedal is the Obsessive-Compulsive Drive, a pedal that distorts the output of an electric guitar, a popular effect for most guitarists. Fulltone has been a mainstay of the boutique guitar pedal world since 1993.
Guitar Center is arguably the more familiar brand name of this story. Guitar Center is a major retail chain that specializes in guitars (and related accessories), drums, keyboards, and recording gear. The chain was founded in 1959 and has gone through a variety of names and product offerings since its founding. For at least the last ten years, Guitar Center has been a consistent recipient of credit downgrades and public financial troubles. Moody’s Investors Services currently rates Guitar Center’s credit as “Caa2,” which translates to poor quality and very high credit risk. “Caa2” is the fourth-to-last grade on Moody’s scale.
Guitar Center’s decision to pull the Fulltone line from their stores and website seemed fairly in line with other types of “cancelations” that we have seen. On June 2, Fulltone’s official Facebook page, run by company president Michael Fuller, posted text which read: “What is this..like night 4 of looting with 100% impunity. The pussy Mayor and Governor don’t give a shit about small businesses, and it’s never been more clear.” After mixed reactions, a follow-up comment to that post by Fuller read: “Ahh I feel better, and flushed out some prissy boys who were raised to pee sitting down. Now I’ll delete.” And then the original post was indeed deleted.
Fanning the flames was a subsequent email response from Fuller to an emailed complaint which read: “I am begging you to sell your Fulltone products because you don’t deserve them. You actually are so racist that you believe the Good people who are protesting are the same as the Organized gang banger criminals who are looting ‘storefronts.’ Those ‘storefronts’ are good hardworking people’s lives and livelihoods. I’m [sic] fact if I see you with a Fulltone pedal I will tag it and break into your house and loot it from you because it’s my free expression to do so…. Right?”
Despite Fuller apologizing publicly and privately, these posts caught fire on all social media sites, and screenshots started getting passed around, inciting the anger and vitriol of those who disagree with the sentiments expressed by Fuller. Even major musicians started to partake in the public flogging. Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus boldly tweeted: “Never buying another Fulltone pedal and will find a good way to get rid of those I already own.” Alt-country megastar and notorious gear connoisseur Jason Isbell chimed in with a tweet which read: “Check out black-owned pedal company Dogman Devices […] I’ve not used them but they seem to be good and fulltone has always made overpriced junk.” If that’s not a ringing endorsement of Dogman Devices, then I don’t know what is: I’ve never used these pedals, but the owner of the company is black, so they must be good. Frankly, the owner of Dogman should be offended at how patronizing Isbell’s “recommendation” was.
On June 5, Guitar Center’s official Twitter account tweeted: “We are no longer doing business with Fulltone and are moving quickly to remove all Fulltone products from our stores and websites.” Although this tweet does not specifically call out the then-deleted Facebook posts by Fulltone, it is addressed to the user who began sharing the viral screenshots of Fuller’s Facebook posts. It is then clear that Guitar Center is appealing to their supposed heightened sense of moral authority and are deciding to sever ties with a company that would dare take issue with looting and rioting, even though Fuller made a distinction between protestors and rioters. Guitar Center was lavished with praise, and media outlets ran with the story. YouTube demo master and gear influencer R.J. Ronquillo has even made a video showcasing pedals with which you can replace your Fulltone contraband.
A search on guitarcenter.com and musiciansfriend.com (the two retailers are the same company) shows indeed that Fulltone products are not being sold – not even used ones.
The plot thickened on June 8 when Fuller wrote the following on Fulltone’s Facebook page: “I am seeing some inaccurate news headlines by various online magazines that require clarification: I terminated Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend’s Dealership on March 23, 2020 at 12:39pm and they acknowledged this back then. This predates their recent tweet by a few months.”
When pressed for additional comment via email, an unnamed representative from Guitar Center’s Media and PR team advised: “While the decision for Guitar Center to discontinue business with Fulltone was made prior to any social media post, the posts contributed to the complete accelerated termination of the business relationship and removal of all remaining product in our stores and online.” Notice that the comment is deliberately vague with no outright falsehoods, however, the company is guilty by omission.
In statements provided through email by Michael Fuller, he states clearly that he terminated his relationship with Guitar Center in March, because Guitar Center was delinquent to Fulltone to the tune of $60,000. When Fuller pressed Guitar Center for payment, he was reportedly told “it’s going to be late.” When he asked how late, he was told, “we don’t know.”
In an attempt to resolve Guitar Center’s delinquency, Fuller reportedly offered Guitar Center two options: (a) pay the $60,000 owed to Fulltone or return the orders, or (b) return the orders and end their business arrangement. When it became clear to Fuller that Guitar Center was unable or unwilling to pay him, he sent them an email terminating them as a dealer. Guitar Center then collected and returned the pedals to Fulltone.
Guitar Center would not offer any statement beyond the above quote and the original tweet, and advised that they “will not be participating in any interviews regarding this matter at this time.
It would appear without any need to stretch or skew reality that Guitar Center’s relationship with Fulltone was terminated by Fulltone due to non-payment, and Guitar Center decided to use George Floyd’s death to concoct a phony narrative that they terminated their relationship with Fulltone over Michael Fuller’s comments. If true, the audacity of this decision is utterly grotesque. There simply cannot be any mistaking Guitar Center’s motive here. If they were not appropriating George Floyd’s death to suit their own interests, then they were, what? Making a big announcement highlighting a business transaction that they did not have the capital to cover? It’s clear what Guitar Center was doing here: making lemonade out of the bitterest lemon they could find. Frankly, it is appalling. Guitar Center’s public proclamation that they are no longer carrying Fulltone has been up now for a full week, and they have yet to correct or clarify their statement, allowing numerous media outlets to run with the narrative they crafted, and allow other businesses to start questioning their relationship with Fulltone.
On June 11, Reverb.com announced that beginning July 1, their website would no longer facilitate the sale of new, b-stock, or mint condition Fulltone pedals. Reverb stated “Mike Fuller’s recent comments and behavior violate our established brand values and the principles in our Community Rules for Sellers and Buyers. We have prohibitions against any kind of racial discrimination, hate speech and any threat or encouragement of violence.” We reached out to Reverb’s press team to ask if they plan on suspending the sale of Magnatone amplifiers, as Magnatone’s CEO, Ted Kornblum, wrote a Facebook post in January of 2017 that reads: “Rest easy people, it’ll take only 100 days till Trump gets a bullet in the head!” Kornblum followed up that post with a photoshopped image of Robert De Niro’s mohawk-sporting character from Taxi Driver eying Trump maniacally. Kornblum, like Fuller, deleted the posts and apologized, but Kornblum’s comments are surely in violation of Reverb’s established brand values and principles in their Community Rules for Sellers and Buyers. Reverb has yet to respond to our inquiry.