The other day, the Washington Post postulated (pardon the redundancy) a lengthy missive dramatically titled Why My Guitar Gently Weeps: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric. And why you should care. Sales are down! Workers laid off! Stores in trouble! Only baby boomers still buy guitars! Chicken Little running around yelling “the Stratocaster is falling!” Etc etc etc ad tedium.
Despite its obligatory embarrassing factual gaffs (no, Mr. Democracy Dies In Darkness dunderhead, the Gibson automatic tuner isn’t an available add-on; it’s standard on their high end models), the article is occasionally almost correct. It’s hardly a trade secret that right now popular music is in the doldrums. Somehow, it manages to be both omnipresent and irrelevant. Joe Walsh says it best:
At the present time, this generation’s edition of pop is machine music minus humanity. It is programmed, precise, perfect, and utterly void of heart or soul. Hip-hop’s endless drone of endlessly repeated beats and loops is as boring as rappers forever proclaiming their greatness is banal. Music today is Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. There’s no there there.
These things are accepted because, sadly, their target audience doesn’t know any better. The current generation, and to a degree its predecessor, has limited if any exposure to true artistic, songwriting, and instrumental proficiency. Like every generation before, the current crop wants its own entertainment icons. They have no idea they’re being fed Cheez Whiz while being told it’s caviar. The concept of a concert being the forum for actual live music is foreign to them. It is perfectly acceptable to exchange big bucks for two or so hours of dance moves, costume changes, and popping out of trap doors, all set to a prerecorded soundtrack. Every note lip synced? Who cares! She’s my idol! SQUEEE!
Nevertheless, all is not lost. Music trends come and go; it is not beyond reason to expect the next genuine, rather than media made, music hero will be a lot more Beatles and a lot less Beyoncé. Country, even in its current popified form, remains guitar-driven, the hotter the solo the better. Gibson has rectified recent production year gaffes; the 2017 models are truly drool-worthy for guitar aficionados of all ages. (Speaking of Gibson, doubtless there is no connection whatsoever between it and its head Henry Juszkiewicz being the article’s chief target for slagging and how the Justice Department, during the Obama administration, targeted Gibson for illegally importing wood, this harassment including a dramatic raid with guns drawn on Gibson’s Nashville factory … only to have the confiscated alleged wood later sheepishly returned once it was proved the lumber was acquired lawfully, right? Er … right? Wait, what, Juszkiewicz is an outspoken conservative? Sheer coincidence!) And, unlike the article’s assertion, buying and playing guitar remains a pursuit for all ages. Evidence? Ladies and gentlemen, I present for your consideration Guitar Showcase in San José, California.
Guitar Showcase has been privately owned and run since the 1960s, boasting a veteran staff that knows their stuff regarding guitars and related items be they vintage and new. It’s long been my store of choice, the mysterious albeit not mythical Mrs. Dude having endured many a lengthy session of me trying various guitars and talking shop with the staff. (She levels the playing field by dragging me to and through the local scrapbook store, but that’s a story for another time.) Unlike a Guitar Center, home of the kids kranking it and not much else, Guitar Showcase is where the serious players shop.
Guitar Showcase’s clientele comes in an equal mix of two flavors: the, uh, seasoned people like me who always stop and look at something new Steve Miller has recently dropped off for consignment before getting on with things, or 18-25 year olds who are usually ridiculously good players. The store doesn’t have nearly a Guitar Center’s foot traffic, but enjoys a far higher percentage of buyers per customers. Introductory models, high flyers (Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, Gibson Les Pauls and SGs, Martin or Taylor acoustics), and not the occasional high end vintage or new instrument all steadily march out the door. The bottom line is the store’s bottom line is not hurting. At. All. And there are a whole lot more boutique guitar shops across the land doing equally well.
So no, Washington Post, the electric guitar is not dying a slow death. Newspapers, on the other hand …