Where Have All the Guitar Heroes Gone?

Fender Telecaster guitars hanging on a wall rack.
Many Fender Telecasters via Wikimedia/Dennis Brown (CC0 1.0)

Guitar sales have dropped by a third over the past decade. On the Washington Post, Geoff Edgers tries to find out why.

Maybe it’s because we don’t have guitar gods anymore. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, that sound is — well — it’s old. And the new crop of stars don’t inspire the pursuit of guitar god status the way someone like Carlos Santana did.

Here’s Dave Gruhn, a 71-year old Nashville guitar dealer who helped sell off part of Eric Clapton’s collection:

“What we need is guitar heroes,” he says.

He is asked about Clapton, who himself recently downsized his collection. Gruhn sold 29 of his guitars.

“Eric Clapton is my age,” he says.

How about Creed’s Mark Tremonti, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer? He shakes his head.

“John Mayer?” he asks. “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.”

Sir Paul McCartney has a similar take on the decline in the guitar’s popularity.

“The electric guitar was new and fascinatingly exciting in a period before Jimi and immediately after,” the former Beatle says wistfully in a recent interview. “So you got loads of great players emulating guys like B.B. King and Buddy Guy, and you had a few generations there.”

He pauses.

“Now, it’s more electronic music and kids listen differently,” McCartney says. “They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did.”

Something Edgers doesn’t address in his article?  Uke sales have doubled in the same period in which guitar sales have declined.  In her Ukulele Anthem, Dresden Dolls front-woman Amanda Palmer says you can teach someone to play the ukulele in  “about the same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb — you do the math.” A kid can pick up the uke and find it satisfying in considerably less time than it takes to master the guitar. A few years back, a young Hawaii resident named Jake Shimabukuro made heads spin with his ukulele cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, proving that the uke’s simplicity doesn’t limit its musical possibilities.

The ukulele has replaced the recorder in many public school music education programs, too. And the forgiving little axe serves well as a stepping stone to the guitar. The next generation of wanna-be guitar gods could well be out there; they’re just taking a different route to blazing, finger-blistering stardom.


Not so confidential to Grover Norquist — you can absolutely get your kid a starter uke for 35 bucks, including sales tax.

 


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