A Journal of Musical ThingsIs the Electric Guitar Dying?

Every twenty years or so, someone predicts that music’s love affair with the electric guitar is over.

Let’s go back to the very late 70s and early 80s. The world was awash in synth bands and electronic keyboards appeared to be the way forward. “It’s just a matter of time before the electric guitar gives away completely to the synthesizer and other electronic gizmos!” Never happened, of course. The six string survived.

Then came the late 90s when DJing, hip hop and turntablism was hot. “Sales of turntables are outpacing sales of guitars!” the pundits cried. Kids don’t care about guitars anymore!” They were wrong again. The six string survived.

But the doomsayers are back again, right on schedule. However, this time the argument is a little different. This is from the Washington Post:

In the past decade, electric guitar sales have plummeted, from about 1.5 million sold annually to just over 1 million. The two biggest companies, Gibson and Fender, are in debt, and a third, PRS Guitars, had to cut staff and expand production of cheaper guitars. In April, Moody’s downgraded Guitar Center, the largest chain retailer, as it faces $1.6 billion in debt. And at Sweetwater.com, the online retailer, a brand-new, interest-free Fender can be had for as little as $8 a month.

What worries [Nashville guitar dealer George] Gruhn is not simply that profits are down. That happens in business. He’s concerned by the “why” behind the sales decline. When he opened his store 46 years ago, everyone wanted to be a guitar god, inspired by the men who roamed the concert stage, including Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page. Now those boomers are retiring, downsizing and adjusting to fixed incomes. They’re looking to shed, not add to, their collections, and the younger generation isn’t stepping in to replace them.

Gruhn knows why.

“What we need is guitar heroes,” he says.

Ah. So we’re light on the kind of players who make kids want to pick up guitars. Instead, the heroes are rappers, DJs, performers who program beats on an Ableton. Damn Millennials, huh? And it’s one of demographics. The traditional guitar buyer is getting older and dying off.

But just as the electric guitar overcame its problems in the past, there’s hope for the future. Keep reading.


Tags: Electric Guitar

About the Author

Alan Cross is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker.

In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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