Yes, it’s true that guitar sales have dropped substantially over the last decade or so. Kids aren’t picking up the instrument like they used to while older players are, well, getting older and not buying as many guitars as they used to.
Gibson’s retreat into bankruptcy protection is no doubt related to falling sales, but it’s also connected to a perceived decline in quality. It also doesn’t help that retailers like The Guitar Center are deep in debt and not moving inventory.
Guitar Center has hit a sour note.
The music retailer, the largest in the country, is more than $1 billion in debt and the outlook for its namesake instrument isn’t great.
The problem, say guitar retailers, is the nation’s shift in musical tastes. As rap and hip-hop have become more main stream, guitars have become less crucial to the country’s most popular songs. And that has impacted sales.
Complicating things is the lack of true guitar superstars like Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.
“I would be hard-pressed to name any new ones,” George Gruhn, owner of the Gruhn Guitars shop in Nashville, told the Daily News. “You’ve got Joe Bonamassa who is a great player. But he isn’t selling as many guitars as the other big time heroes. And Eric Clapton is arthritic. He’s having difficulty playing and is retiring from touring.”
Guitar Center, the nation’s leading musical-instrument retailer, is in trouble. Changing musical tastes are partly to blame.
Ratings agency S&P Global downgraded Westlake Village-based Guitar Center Holdings Inc. for the second time last week as the troubled instrument retailer seeks to refinance and restructure more than $1 billion of debt.
“Most of what’s really selling today is rap and hip hop,” said George Gruhn, owner of the Gruhn Guitars shop in Nashville. “That’s outpacing other forms of music and they don’t use a lot of recognizable musical instruments.”
Fortunately, the Guardian weighs in with something a little more positive.
Bruce Springsteen stood in a black T-shirt on a Broadway stage and talked about when he first discovered the power of the instrument in his hands.
“The guitar,” Springsteen said, plucking at a Japanese-made Takamine P6N, his favored acoustic. “It was the key, the sword in the stone, the staff of righteousness.
“As my father christened it, ‘that fucking guitar’.”
Within the walls of Manhattan’s Walter Kerr theater, where the musician is now six months into his memoiristic Springsteen on Broadway residency, that instrument, the guitar, is secure in its sacred object status.
But outside in Times Square, the LED news tickers were telling a different story. On Tuesday, Gibson Brands, Inc – with the biggest product line in the guitar business – filed for bankruptcy, succumbing to an estimated $500m debt load and a failed reinvention in 2014 as a “lifestyle brand”.
Troubles in the land of the six-string are not restricted to Gibson. Ten years post-recession, the guitar industry in the US continues to bob, with the 2,633,000 units sold in the United States in 2017 about 5% short of where things stood in 2008, according to Music Trades magazine. The heavyweight retailer on the American scene, Guitar Center, carries $1.6bn in debt.
Yeah, I know that it starts depressing. But keep reading.