How many guitars does a company sell?

In Nashville, in the American state of Tennessee, an electric guitar has just been sold that has never belonged to a prominent musician and is still very expensive: a Gibson Les Paul from 1958 in the color "Cherry Sunburst", a paintwork that changes from light yellow to dark red. A guitar shop paid more than $ 600,000 for it. A few days later appeared in the Washington Post An article by the cultural journalist Geoff Edgers, who has since occupied not only the music industry, but also countless amateur musicians: "The slow, secret death of the electric guitar" is the title of the report. Both events belong together.

For more than half a century, the guitar was the dominant instrument in popular music, and it was so above all in its electrical form: easy to carry, usable as a rhythmic and melodic instrument, with a wide range of sounds ranging from delicate plucked tones to enough to infernal roar. And you just have to turn up the volume control to make halls shake. Equipped in this way, the guitar produced the figure of identification in popular music par excellence: the heroic virtuoso in front of a wall of loudspeakers, either God (Eric Clapton) or the devil (Slash), who found millions of imitators. Some of them became air guitarists, many bought guitars.

In the United States, sales of electric guitars have fallen from around 1.5 million pieces a year (2007) to just over a million pieces. The Guitar Center in Los Angeles, the largest American music retailer, owes $ 1.6 billion. The Gibson company is in the red after it bought the entertainment electronics division from the Dutch company Philips in 2014 in order to become a lifestyle company: a company like Nike, as the managing director says. The fiercest competitor Fender is not doing much better. They have lost the guitar hero, the sales-promoting measure par excellence. In 2010, for the first time in decades, more acoustic than electric guitars were sold in the US. Just as there are hardly any new guitar bands, no new guitar gods emerge either.

Younger people listen to different music. Much of it comes from the computer. Meanwhile, the old guitar gods, if they are still alive, continue to do their rounds, for the pleasure of an audience that ages with them. As they ventured into high-paying professions, they bought the guitars they couldn't afford in their youth. Now they are shrinking their collections if they don't even dissolve them. "There is no doubt that the market for guitars can be expected to be saturated," says the managing director of the Thomann music store in Burgebrach in Upper Franconia, the world's largest music retailer. For Germany, however, he could not yet see any decline. Maybe the preferences will change again. "Guitar bands are dead now," the Beatles were told after they had auditioned for Decca in January 1962 to no avail.