There have been a couple of times in history that we were warned that the electric guitar was dead–at least in terms of rock music. The most recent was at the end of the 90s when it seemed that everyone wanted to be a DJ. In fact, I seem to recall a short period where turntables outsold electric guitars.
But with the financial issues at Gibson Guitars caused largely by a massive drop in guitar sales over the last decade, some people are concerned.
Take a look at this piece from 1834magazine.com (a division of The Economist)
It’s rare that the internal tribulations of one firm provoke hand-wringing about the health of an industry, but that was the case when Gibson, a guitar-maker, was revealed to be $375m in debt and struggling to meet its financial obligations. Gibson isn’t just any instrument maker, but the company behind some of rock’n’roll’s most famous guitars – the Les Paul, the 335, the SG, the Explorer, the Flying V – played by its most famous musicians, including Chuck Berry and Jimmy Page. With Fender, the other company that dominates the guitar market, also heavily in debt, this seems like a perilous moment for the electric guitar: these firms are so symbolic of the rock guitar and so much bigger than their rivals that it’s hard not to see their troubles as symptoms of a general decline.
Guitar music has been in retreat in recent years. Among the 100 best-selling albums in America in 2017, only 18 were made by artists whose music is guitar-led, and that includes Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran and all the country acts. Only three rock acts made new albums that featured in the top 100: Metallica, Linkin Park and Imagine Dragons. The decline was less drastic in the British charts, with 38 guitar-based albums in the year-end top 100. But many of those were either compilations or old albums that have been re-released. Hip-hop and R&B rule popular music, and the guitar seldom has a place in those genres.
As well as a general decline, other, more nuanced, changes in how guitars are played have also damaged Gibson.