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  • The Death of the Electric Guitar (Part X)

    You think you've heard the story before ... 

    By Chris Loeffler |


    Stories of the death of the guitar seem to rear their head every few years when a major manufacturer, dealer, or retailer faces financial challenges as an alarmist cry of what is wrong with the music instrument category. Soft sales of a particular region or model tend to turn talk quickly to how the market today compares unfavorably with the mid 00’s, while the flood of hip hop, rap, and pop that dominates commercial radio sends industry reporters reeling as they lament the lack of guitar heroes or rock bands leading the cultural wagon. 


    With stories of Gibson’s bankruptcy, the precarious financial Guitar Center continues to find itself in, and the decline of Guitar-centric video games, a new batch of “the end of guitars as we know them” articles are popping up, mostly written as click-bait by people looking to place the blame for slow sales at the feet of an apathetic generation who was raised on electronica and who have workstations and recording platforms built into every smart device they own. 


    So how true is that? Electric guitar sales are slightly down in the US, true, but semi-hollow electric and Acoustic sales are actually growing and there are dozens of new guitar makers at NAMM every year, never mind the hundreds of smaller boutique makers who hawk their instruments locally and on Reverb. There is no shortage of new guitar related gear released every year in the form of amplifiers, effects pedals, and software emulation packages, implying there is a robust community of guitar players already in the game. 


    Most bands headlining the hottest festivals this year have at least one guitar on stage, and even hip hop and rap groups are more frequently bringing full bands to the stage to support their performance. 


    True, epic extended solos rarely grace a modern popular song and the mastery of modes is seldom highlighted by current radio darlings, but these thing come in waves, and the current explosion of channels to discover and stream music has just pushed guitar music into several niches. I can make it my entire life without discovering the hottest new rap band because my playlists and existing bench of music has effectively filled my music listening day. 


    I don’t see the guitar disappearing from the lexicon of modern American music anytime soon, and I don’t see most rising singer-songwriters abandoning the guitar entirely in favor of piano and digital production. 


    What I do see are millions of new guitars being sold in the US every year, hundreds of thousands of used guitars being resold online and in music shops, and even non-musical households sitting on a sleeper guitar or two in case one of the kids takes an interest. 


    Music evolves through cultural tastes and technological advancements, but the roots of guitar run deep in American music and aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Don’t lament the (inaccurate) death of the guitar and guitar music... seek it out and support it.   -HC-








    Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 


    Sub Title: You think you've heard the story before ... 

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    Your simple observations of sales and visual information do not address the underlying cause/effect aspect of the fate of the guitar, nor has any to-date discussion I've read. This would be the demographics of the instrument, who they are, their ages, their music eras, their maturing as a group or groups, their collective buying power, when it will recede, etc, etc.


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    The Electric Guitar is being purchased mostly by 60's, 70's 80's Musicians who already have a number of guitars, and are simply adding to their collection. Many of these musicians still are in local bands and Play local GIGs, or Open Mic. Sure there are always newbees that receive a new Guitar or Package with amp, but for the most part, the upper $$ Guitars are being purchased by an much older crowd. This crowd grew up in an era of Bands that pioneered rock and as with any idol, they wanted to emulate and attempt to cover so to speak the music of their era, and thus needed the chosen guitar of their era. The problem I see is that these musicians are getting older and myself included, will soon be gone. With the new wave of music creation, the awesome guitarists are not rare as they were in the early 70's. i.e, not as valuable.  I made way more $ as a teen age Musician in the 60's than I can make as a solo artist now. It is a shame,,as I have even heard of Pay to play at some venues in LA. Musicians as sometimes willing to Play for free for exposure. Buffalo NY is a wonderful place for anyone attempting to make a go at music, Live Music is at its best here,  however,  I believe that there will continue to be a decline in Electric Guitar Sales, and Acoustics will become the main guitar attraction for new musicians,. Bruce Shaffstall

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    (Emphasis added by me) Chris Loeffler wrote:  

    “I don't see the guitar disappearing from the lexicon of modern AMERICAN music anytime soon, †

    Not everyone lives in the USA. So what is going on in the rest of the world - for example - the high-growth markets in Asia? How much appeal does electric-guitar centered-music have today in India, Japan, S. Korea,  Indonesia?  How about West Africa & Latin America? Do Marshal stacks & Strats still have futures in those places too? 


    I don't have sales figures. Maybe you do. From what I've seen & heard in my travels,  the prominence of the electric guitar has receded internationally. Kids listening to radio are not transfixed by guitar solos so much as by digital prestiditgitatation of vocals on the airwaves.  


    Synths & DJ's are becoming dominant in many parts of the world outside electric guitar-centric North America & some of retro-movements like Rockabilly in UK & EU.


    (2. Steel string acoustic guitars are still popular for singer-songwriters in Asia.  But the electric guitar & its accoutrements - if they are on stage at all - are just one more instrument in the band. 


    (3, The better synths today offer some realistic samples of electric guitars. It is more difficult to find a synth that can fake a strum rhythm on a steel-string acoustic.

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