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THE GUITAR: ALIVE, WELL AND DIVERSIFYING

THE GUITAR: ALIVE, WELL AND DIVERSIFYING

Story by Greg Phillips. Opal Ocean pic from 2017 Melbourne Guitar Show by Jason Rosewarne.

Ahead of the 4th annual Melbourne Guitar Show, we thought it was timely to address a misconception, fueled last year by some sections of the media who were predicting the end of the global guitar industry. It was based mainly on an article in The Washington Post. The article, titled ‘Why my guitar gently weeps: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care’, based most of its argument on two factors; the downfall of the Gibson guitar brand at the time, plus the lack of guitar music in the mainstream music charts.

Sure, the Gibson brand found themselves in financial trouble, which required a company restructure, that’s no secret. However, the company’s plight had more to do with its diversification into non-guitar related sectors and unsuccessful innovations rather than any decline in interest in the guitar itself. As far as the dearth of guitar music on the radio goes, does anyone remember the synth-laden, prog-rock of the 70s, which eventually gave way to guitar orientated punk rock? Again, in the 80s, synth pop gave way to grunge guitar rock. Music is cyclical. Today electronic music is popular, but music fans move on and historically, in due course they will seek out other forms of music and why shouldn’t that be guitar-related?

Sterling Ball, CEO of Ernie Ball Music Man is one of those to suggest that contemporary music is just going through one of its regular cycles, in which electronic music gear currently has a higher profile than fretted instruments.
“Any time there is three chord music, guitar will be back,” Sterling told us at Winter NAMM in January. “What happens is … it’s a curve and when music gets too complicated, someone comes along with some way of playing three chords that hits you right in the chest or the head.”

In the video below with Sterling Ball, Deep Purple guitarist Steve Morse also tells us that the guitar is not going away anytime soon.

Traditionally there was always a lineage of guitar heroes, where one era would pass the baton onto another. From Clapton, Beck, and Page to Van Halen, Satriani and Vai to Dimebag, Zakk Wylde and Kerry King. There was always a rock god on the horizon but modern-day guitar music is not so much about slick licks and solos but more about textures and layers. You may be hearing guitar generated music without even knowing it’s guitar. Innovative pedals, multi effects units and loop units are turning guitars into orchestras, which musicians are using to conjure symphonies from the comfort of their own homes. It’s not the popularity of the guitar which is changing, it’s the manner in which it is being used which is different.

Anyone can speculate what is going to happen in the world of music but if you look at the facts, you’ll see that guitar sales are actually on the way up in the US. Leading global industry research company IBISWorld has recently released a significant report which showed that the electric and acoustic guitar manufacturing industry has enjoyed sustained growth over the last 5 years. The report showed that the guitar industry had posted a growth rate of 1.4% from 2012 to 2017, with the trend predicted to continue at least until 2022. According to NAMM (the USA’s National Association of Music Merchants), sales of guitars have grown by 28 percent over the last 10 years.

At a Fender guitars dealer event in Sydney this year, the company’s Senior Vice President of Product, Justin Norvell further backed up those claims of guitar industry growth, suggesting that during a 3 month period from November to December 2017, there had been a 14.7% industry growth in North American sell-through of electric guitars and that Japan had just enjoyed an annual growth in guitar sales of 21 percent.

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips chats with Fender’s Justin Norvell in this video at the Australian Fender dealer event.

Also adding to the growth of the guitar market is the increase in female players, with around fifty percent of guitars now being purchased by women. The new guitar heroes are artists and bands such as St Vincent, Haim, Courtney Barnett, Warpaint, Japanese Breakfast, Gabriela Quintero, Orianthi, Samantha Fish, Kaki King, Nita Strauss, Courtney Cox, Gretchen Menn and so many more.

Additionally, acoustic guitar sales have been rising steadily each year for the last five years and are now at record levels, buoyed by the popularity of singer songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.

The Australian Music Association in its annual market reports, reveals that in 2017 a decade-long decline in the electric guitar was arrested. This Spring in Australia features four different guitar focused events with festivals in Sydney and Adelaide in August and now a Melbourne Festival in September. This augers well for the guitar and its popularity in Australia. If you ever had any doubts about the popularity of the guitar in modern music, pop on down to the Melbourne Guitar Show, August 4&5 Caulfield Racecourse and join the other 5,000 plus guitar devotees who will revel in the 4th annual celebration of fretted instruments.

Melbourne Guitar Show ticket information HERE