Every artist has an origin story, but Fabi Reyna’s journey from Austin guitar prodigy to internationally recognized publisher feels like a legend in progress.
The magazine she founded, She Shreds, shifted the way the guitar industry markets and interacts with women.
“People talk about [guitar] in such a narrow way,” Reyna said. “But there's so much culture and there's so much community and diversity that comes with the topic of guitars.”
Reyna was just 12 and already getting noticed for her musical skill when her mom happened across a blurb for Portland’s Rock Camp for Girls. Marta Reyna, who deserves some kind of award for super-advocacy, had observed her daughter attending class after camp after clinic, growing more frustrated. Even at that age, almost all her teachers and fellow students were male.
“Boys didn't want me in their band,” Fabi said.
Marta Reyna signed her up for Rock Camp the day she learned about it.
“I rented a car and drove straight from San Francisco through Big Sur, through the redwoods, straight to Portland. And then we went to Seattle and Vancouver,” Fabi Reyna said, before doubling back to Oregon and Rock Camp.
The difference was immediate. Reyna came back to Rock Camp for three more years, and when she finished high school, she made a beeline back to Portland, this time to stay.
The next few years were an exuberant whirl of house concerts and DIY shows. But she’d barely been in town two years when she hatched the concept for She Shreds. Some energetic meet-ups at Northeast Portland’s Waypost led to the formation of the team that would, in 2013, publish the first issue of She Shreds, featuring a cover story on Corin Tucker.
Two years after She Shreds started publishing, Fender guitars commissioned a survey that was proof of concept for Fabi Reyna's vision: Women, the survey found, accounted for 50 percent of purchases of new Fender Guitars. (A follow-up study published this week suggests they now make up about half of all new guitar learners, too.)
The conversation had begun. Reyna recalled the moment when it became clear she had the industry’s attention.
“One of our Instagram followers snapped a photo and sent it to us. It was a photo of Guitar World’s Bikini Gear Guide,” a yearly milestone, analogous to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
But the photo showed it positioned next to the latest issue of She Shreds, bearing a modest cover photo of Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki.
“It sparked this huge conversation about how this is their perception of women. This is who they want to see and [these are] their marketing tactics,” Reyna said. “It went viral.”
Within months, Guitar World announced it was dropping cheesecake photos from the Gear Guide.
Since then, Reyna has steered She Shreds into consulting relationships with guitar makers wishing to get in step with female consumers, and instructional videos (an evolving area in which Reyna is keenly interested).
But she’s also made time for the thing she says remains the most important grounding force in her life: playing. She has a side project called Reyna Tropical with the L.A. artist Sumohair, but her main musical outlet is Sávila, the band she formed with vocalist Brisa Gonzalez; drummer Papí Fimbres rounds out the trio. Earlier this year, Sávila was voted Portland’s Best Band in Willamette Week’s 2018 survey. For a lineup of three Mexican-Americans who perform most of their songs in Spanish, this kind of recognition of fellow artists, talent buyers and critics was unprecedented.
But for Reyna, all the accolades of the last few years come down to one thing: creating more visibility and more access for female musicians — especially women of color, working with guitar companies in the mainstream.
“There's a whole conversation about guitar dying,” Reyna said. “How is it possible that you could talk about guitar dying when there's so much culture attached to it? One type of guitar is dying and I'm going to create the funeral for it. The 50-year-old mentality of like 'sex sells,' the metal white dude — it's in the past, you know? In 10, 15 years we're going to be like, ‘Wow, I can't believe that ever happened.’”