Gibson Guitars and other manufacturers are facing a dramatic slowdown and are at risk of disappearing.
“My guitar gently weeps” …and it´s not because I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping, but because electric guitars face its harshest financial problem yet, leading Fender and Gibson, top-guitar companies, into debt.
Gibson´s annual revenue fell from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion during the past three years.
The company, known as one of the most recognizable brands in the music world, a favorite for musicians like Jimmy Page, B.B. King and Santana, faces a $375 million-dollar deadline for a debt repayment in less than six months’ time, according to Nashville Post. A further $145 million worth of bank loans will come due immediately if those notes, issued in 2013, are not refinanced by July 23.
Fender, on the other hand, abandoned a public offering in 2012, as its revenue fell from $675 million to $545 million, and although the debt has been partially cut, it remains at $100 million.
Gibson and Fender, among other six-string companies, face a dramatic slowdown that is forcing them to re-write their operating performance while on the verge of bankruptcy, but what pushed this situation to happen?
Whatever happened to guitars and rock ‘n‘ roll?
Streaming services and a clear preference toward electronic genres are to blame for some, but others prefer to look inside the industry. Are there no more six-string icons to emulate?
“What we need is guitar heroes”, said George Gruhn, a 71-year-old Nashville guitar dealer to The Washington Post, who sold instruments to Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, among others.
“Guitar heroes arrived with the first wave of rock-and-roll. Chuck Berry duckwalking across the big screen. Scotty Moore´s reverb-soaked Gibson on Elvis´s Sun records” (…) “John Mayer?” he continues, “You don´t see a bunch of kids emulating John Mayer and listening to him and wanting to pick up a guitar because of him.”
“There was a culture of guitar playing, and music was central. A record would come out and you would hear about that record, and you would make the journey. There was a certain investment in time and resources.”
As for Lita Ford, lead guitarist for The Runaways, she remembers watching Dick Clark, Ed Sullivan and Don Kirshner on their shows waiting desperately to see what band was featured on that week. “It was just a different world”, she recalls, “everybody would be around the TV like you´re watching a football game.”
When the 80´s started to loom in, technological changes became imminent for rock ‘n’ roll, as albums began to use Portastudios, digital audio, hard-drive and disk-based recording, however, no matter how music became light on guitar, the six-string continues to be irreplaceable in music composition, so, why is the guitar dying so hard?
A Ciarian Busby article in University Observer suggests a heart-breaking -but true- scenario: there just aren’t any bands big enough or impressive enough to grasp the attention of potential younger players, and that´s killing the industry.
Buddy Guy, one of the last R&B guitarists, spoke to Rolling Stone in a 2015 interview about his career and passion of performing live, closing with what his ambitions are for the future and the idea of continuing to play live:
“I get off work, they rush me to the house, I take a shower, take a bowl of soup, come downstairs with my bag and head to the next gig” (…) “B.B. King dedicated his life to the blues until he couldn’t go no more,” says Guy. “Muddy, Wolf, all of them did it. Because they loved it as much as I do. And now I’m gonna do it myself. I think I owe that to them.”
So, what do we need to make guitars shine again? Maybe we need more eager-to-play kids, maybe Led Zeppelin needs to reunite and release an album, or maybe, just maybe, we need another B.B. King, who knows.