Equipment

Aww…Noice!

DC Music School‘s latest offering features the incomparable Rocky Gresset and boy he sure makes it look easy, eh shredders? This is another “In the Style of…” edumacational device that the school is famous for and seeing as how I bought a few over the years I can say with certainty that it will be well worth the money. All of the players who have been featured are top-tier talent and the lessons are produced with the student in mind. One of the most impressive features I’ve learned about the Gypsy Jazz community is the quality of education! The best players will be the best teachers…duh!

While maybe not as well-known as some other Gypsy Jazzers, Rocky can more than hold his own with anyone, as the above awesome L-5 workout with the amazing Adrien Moignard proves. This is next-generation jazz and it’s pretty inspiring because it incorporates all the best of so many years of influences and innovations. While some of their playing is completely original, some also definitely owes a whole lot to the legacy of “The Boss”: Bireli Lagrene. He has been a consistent bar-raiser throughout his career and many younger players hold him as a mentor. But the freedom, musicality, and attitude originates a long time ago with people like Django Reinhardt, Johnny Smith and Barney Kessel. My go-to playlist lately has a whole lot of the electric bebop of these three guys from the 50s-60s period and it is a constant musical companion and wonder to behold!

Sweetwater Sound

a few weeks ago I purchased a Ditto Looper from Sweetwater Sound, and because of that decision I became a member of an elite sect…a secret society…a special organization even. I’m now a valued customer who deserves…a Catalog! or Catalogue! Yes! I didn’t think anyone did the direct mail thing anymore. This is the musical instrument equivalent of the Sears Wish Book from days of old; jam-packed and chock-full of goodies!

My first reaction was to be completely and totally shocked that I would receive a 600+ page catalog from anyone, much less a music equipment company! I was in the graphic design business for many years and over the course of my career I was involved in producing at least 125 major catalogs, so I know a little bit about what goes into their creation, production, and distribution, including the cost. Publishing, printing, and shipping a catalog this size is not cheap and pretty much everyone says, “why bother?” in the current marketplace when everything lives online. Just the other day there was this latest figure that showed online Black Friday sales surged…they SURGED by over 20% from last year, including more than $2 billion dollars just from smartphones!

Also, I think I’ve done a very thorough job covering the new realities of the musical instrument landscape over the past 7 years The Guitar Cave has been in existence. As you may recall I wrote a few posts on the media bullshit associated with transformation of the instrument market or “malaise” the major media was referring to as the Death of the Electric Guitar without exploring all of the bad business decisions, corruption, overconfident future forecasts, incompetence, and a very tapped out American consumer, while focusing strictly on a changing musical landscape. While I acknowledged that, sure, the business and musical landscapes had changed (as they are wont to do), there was very little press on how corporate America seemed to be giving itself a pass on the problems associated with the collapse of the industry by blaming people for not buying guitars like they used to. As it turns out, I was right to have this attitude because as I wrote in my last post, Update: The Guitar is Totally Not Dying! the numbers show that consumers have been stepping up and buying musical equipment and a lot of this talk about “no new Eric Claptons” was Boomer Babbling misdirection away from the real problems. I also reported that after years of running his company into the drink, Gibson former honcho, Henry Juszkiewicz was kicked to the curb to save Gibson guitar from bankruptcy only to be replaced by former Levi Strauss CEO James Curleigh. Only time will tell if a guy who ran a pants company can get Gibson back on track! And now, right on cue we can add another layer of evidence onto my investigative theorizing. We have a company that, in this terrible, terrible market, where no one is buying instruments, can “afford” to send a huge catalog to someone who bought a pedal and an adapter. LOL. So who are these guys?

They are the largest online retailer of music gear in the United States. You can tell from their website or the catalog pages I’m attaching here that they carry a little bit of everything! (As an aside…the sheer size of the stompbox market, the number of companies, the number of pedals, the number of functions or combination of functions the pedals do today is flat-out outstanding! Wow! Does this look like a dying market? I think not.) The company was founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is where they are still headquartered. They have 1 brick and mortar store on their “campus” there in Indiana, so the ever-expanding real location stuff is an overhead the company doesn’t have to worry about. The prices are competitive, they offer FREE, reliable shipping, generous financing options, and what’s fast becoming the standard “No Hassle” type return policy that I’ve mentioned here, with regards to other online companies. Oh NO! I sound like an advertisement!

Sweetwater’s founder, Chuck Surack, seems like an interesting guy. He was a sax player in bands and then for a while had a recording studio in a VW bus that he would use to do location recordings…kind of like he was the Rolling Stones Mobile Unit. Neato. Here’s a video interview with Chuck. (Here’s a tour of the RS mobile unit). Sweetwater the gear company evolved from Sweetwater the recording studio; the gear they test and use in the studios became (becomes) the gear that they carry, so the whole process has been incredibly organic. Also, the company is privately owned; no shareholders, no banks and free from a lot of the pressures that drive business decisions and strategies at companies like Gibson and Guitar Center. Chuck’s business priorities of treating customers well first and worrying about the profits second is something out of the old days, but this is company philosophy. You’ll never be a billionaire with that attitude, Chuck!

But maybe he doesn’t care. That would be a refreshing change. Of course, it’s not all good, or is it? Obviously small dealers will have trouble competing with an entity like Sweetwater. There is a whiff of Amazonism at play here because Amazon got to be the world’s biggest bookstore by not having any actual bookstores. Rent actually does eat up a whole lot of money…ask any of the very famous shops that used to line the iconic 48th street in New York City. So anyone coming up who also wants to run and musical instrument company will have to adopt this business model or fail. But does it matter anymore? Probably not. Where I live people always talk about “mom and pops” like it’s still the 1970s and they want to buy a garden hose at Blogsteins after lunch at the Woolworth’s counter. The reality is that shopping experience is a quaint anachronism in 2018…or more Boomer Babbling.

I know, I know…“small businesses are the backbone of a healthy economy”; “competition is crucial for capitalism to function properly”; “too big to fail and anything that smacks of monopolies is bad, bad, bad,” and, in theory, I agree. I’m sure everyone out there has read the economic treatises that predict a very dire future when 20 companies will own everything. As I’ve written in the past, my local musical retail landscape is gone anyway except for boutiques that were stupidly expensive even before Guitar Center existed, so my choice to get this pedal was basically go to Guitar Center or order from Sweetwater. I ordered from Sweetwater and my experience was 100% positive. They really do go the extra mile on customer satisfaction and service and that’s more than I can say for some brick and mortar / mom and pop retailers I’ve dealt with over the years. Long term, big picture, what’s the answer? I don’t know. What is definitely needed though is a honest discussion about what the landscape realities are and as I’ve pointed out above (and on a few occasions now) I don’t think there is a lot of that in the mainstream media. This is a topic that’s interesting to me and I’ll have some more thoughts soon. BTW, if you would like a Sweetwater catalog of your own, you can order it right HERE. No purchase necessary!

Tidbits IV

Roy Clark, one of the best entertainers ever known to man, passed away this week at the age of 85. Not only was Roy a SUPREMELY-Talented guitar player, multi-instrumentalist, and singer, but he was also an extremely funny guy and an absolute natural in front of an audience or the camera. His jokes, quips, comedic timing and facial expressions always made the awesome guitar prowess that would inevitably follow even more impressive. I wrote about Roy a few years ago in a post titled, Guitar Teevee in the 1970s. That post included the following clip that also featured the late, great Flip Wilson.

While Roy was known for the Hee Haw television show, he was all over television during the 60s, 70s, and 80s because he could be counted on to deliver a superb musical performance and very humane and engaging humor if the situation warranted. His likeability factor was completely off the charts. Over the course of a 60 year career he thrilled many a live audience with his renditions of Orange Blossom Special, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Malaguena, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Yesterday When I Was Young and I Never Picked Cotton. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009 and will forever be known as an outstanding musician and true gentleman of the guitar. Safe travels Roy!!

Last week I watched a few videos of The Aristocrats, a super-duper musical unit featuring guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller, and drum/percussionist Marco Minnemann. I guess they could be called a modern super-group of sorts because they have all played with major stars including Asia and Joe Satriani, and did a G3 tour at one point I believe. I don’t know much about them except for the fact that I’ve seen Guthrie online for years and marveled at his outlandish and otherworldly chops. But I like the sound and the chemistry these guys have and hear influences that include the best of 70s rock, Frank Zappa, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and maybe Blow by Blow-era Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin‘s Mahavishnu Orchestra. Everyone seems to be referring to them as “fusion” and I don’t know if that’s fair. FUSION can be one of those dirty labels that is usually uttered in disdain, or at least with a huge buildup of phlegm in the back of the throat. No matter…I’m gonna pick up their latest album for the holidays and give it a go…and then, of course, they’ll be a review…for you!

Another phenomenal talent that I’ve recently discovered is Muriel Anderson. She really rocks out on this cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition! What a great player! She demonstrates her abilities on a multitude of pieces, including some that involve harp guitar, which looks really hard. Her disc, Nightlight Daylight is available here and I’ll be picking this up as well. Not only does it look to be chock full of great music and some really special guest appearances (Tommy Emmanuel, Victor Wotten, Phil Keaggy, Stanley Jordan) but it is also, according to Guitar Player magazine, one of the top 10 discs of the decade and it has the first ever fiber optics cover. I’m really looking forward to getting this! So look for a review and more on Muriel (and The Aristocrats) real soon!

To follow-up on the last post, I watched a bunch of stuff on YouTube this week that featured the Ditto Looper, which I just purchased from Sweetwater. Since the launch of this blog in 2011, I haven’t spent much time talking about gear since I haven’t really acquired much in the last few years. Over the course of my guitar career I used a TON OF STUFF…and I still have some so I was thinking I will probably do a retro post on GEAR I USED! Brilliant!

Anyhow, there are some very interesting tutorials that provided some really great tips here, here, here, and here…as well as the video above this paragraph obviously. These links feature various tips and tricks and give a great overview not only on the functionality of the Ditto, but also how to use a looper pedal in general. While the pedal can be a great practice tool and also a great creative aid, it can also just be a lot of fun and there are also many nice demonstrations of people playing various musical pieces here, here, here and even the above-mentioned Guthrie Govan using a Ditto here!

This is a powerful pedal and a way powerful musical concept as well and I’ve already had some fun with it. Hopefully, I will post something of my own in the future, but right now we’re in the process of totally cleaning and clearing out the apartment of all manner of digital and analog stuff from 20+ years of accumulation. This will probably be a couple-month project, but it is very necessary to do it and we’ve already begun, so that will take up what’s left of this year. In the process we’ll be getting complete upgrade on computers and all software and this will hopefully result in some audio/video production that will be on The Guitar Cave next year. We’ll see how it all works out!

Happy Birthday to Me!

YEA! I made it to another birthday and it was a great one! I communicated with people I haven’t heard from in years and that was really special and maybe the best part! There is so much about the old days me from those days that I miss now, but that’s the nostalgic, wistful and longing nature of life isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s far from a forgone conclusion that I will live to see another year when a new year begins, so the fact that I did is totally cool. All blessings to the Most Highest and them that helps me here! Also…there was SCHWAG!

The one gift I requested was for an updated version of an iPhone dock that we used to have that was made by JBL. It was pretty cool because it would charge the phone and simultaneously play music with great hi-fidelity sound, plus it just sat in the corner of the kitchen very unobtrusively. I’m very lucky in that my girlfriend is very tech-savvy and while she was home in Japan for a few weeks in October, she found the Sony xb-41! What a total party machine! This wireless speaker works with whatever device, weighs only three pounds and takes up no space at all. It has great bass response, LED light-show stuff and as all of these demonstration videos I’m linking to show: it can also charge your devices, link in a chain with other speakers to create a HUGE WALL OF SOUND, or even operate as a phone! Just think: You could set it up somewhere and yell into it and somebody, somewhere could yell back! Isn’t THAT GREAT? You can also do stupid shit use as a beat-master at the club! Who wouldn’t want to do that just once?

I just wanted something that could blast when I’m in the kitchen making dinner…which I DO ALL THE TIME! (see above). This definitely works just as expected as I’ve already tried it out and I’m happy as a musical clam. It’s a good idea to download the Sony Music Center app because the app has EVERYTHING you need to take the speaker to the next level, including a really boss equalizer, which is completely necessary. I wasn’t loving how the extra bass response was reacting with some of those jazz albums from the 50s, but the equalizer, which is not just a bunch of presets but actual levels that can be adjusted, helped make it all sound better. ROCK sounds GREAT! All of it. Led Zeppelin IV sounds friggin’ huge! It’s also possible to download an app that allows you to become a proverbial DJ, which is about as annoying a thing that anyone could ever do. I was going to record a demonstration video of this, but I got bored playing with it and decided not to. It’s pretty silly though and if you aren’t the proverbial Douche at the KLUB you’ll have no use for this app, but that doesn’t diminish all of the other great features this speaker and its attendant software will bring into your musical life. Also, you can do like we’re doing and recycle all of your old computer and sound system gear! Clear up, clean out and get rid of all of that stuff you don’t use anymore anyhow! You’ll feel better once you do…or not. I know we will and I like this high-quality machine so I definitely recommend!


I also ordered myself a present because I had another hard year, so hard that I even stopped playing guitar for six months! Can you believe that? I am callous-less. Definitely not easy playing guitar with smooth fingers, but little by little they are coming back. So I bought something I have been looking at for a couple of years: A DITTO pedal. It works just as it is supposed to and I was already playing against a loop of the Autumn Leaves changes yesterday! Fun! Fun! FUN! Making the perfect loop isn’t quite as easy as it looks especially if it’s been a few months. My timing stuff was all off too, but I finally got it. The loops can be used for overdubbing, practicing, creating…whatever you wanna do. They can be saved and then outputted if they are keepers and I will probably do that…use them as a basis for maybe some ambient stuff I can then import into Garageband or Adobe Audition for sound enhancement. If you’ve ever heard the saying, “You’re never alone with a Smith and Wesson” the same could be said for a Ditto looper; you can create the proverbial GUITAR ORCHESTRA all by yourself. I got mine online through Sweetwater and it was my first time and a great experience!. Ordering, communicating and receiving was easy as pie and THAT’S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE! Plus, unlike some other companies, they aren’t sending me hourly emails asking for a rating or a review…yet. Hopefully they won’t. But this is my review anyhow! This is a great addition to anyone’s pedal arsenal and it’s not going to break your bank either! All of what you need and nothing you don’t. Not something that’s prevalent in modern culture people…think about that!

Aside from these upgrades, I continue to enjoy the music that I reviewed last month; Moonlight in Vermont, Soft Guitars, “Howlin’ Wolf”, Led Zeppelin IV, and the “Heavy Cream” playlist I made have all been in very frequent rotation. I also made a mid 60s Rolling Stones playlist and COWS playlist that also get regular spins just for a little bit of fun and lunacy. The days continue to get shorter and shorter; by early November it’s usually a short sprint to the end of the year. I love the fall, but it always seems to fly by quickly. Enjoy it as much as possible before it’s gone!

Summer’s Almost Gone

a languid and lazy atmosphere pervades my world now…perfectly and sublimely captured and described by the lazy blues, world-weary vocals and Eastern European pop sensibilities The Doors bring to this song off of their Waiting For the Sun LP. Hard to believe that the 50th Anniversary Edition of the album will be available this year. That would make Jim Morrison almost 80 if he were alive today. Shocking Man! At some point in the very near future this album will figure in a series of posts on journalism, rock writing, Rolling Stone Magazine Conspiracies, Alex Jones and that weird celebrity black eye thing…or is it the one eye thing? Pretty scary! Remember the good old, innocent days? When rock stars just put subliminal messages (so you thought) in their music and then people played the discs backwards and heard things like Ringo is face-down in indian food pronto after the Mandrax boy! and Don’t Kill Yourself Buy More of Our Records!. Bill Hicks kind of demolished the logical thinking behind why rockers would put messages that would be harmful to their (record buying) audience. That didn’t and hasn’t dissuaded people from making and remaking the claim! Supposedly, Stairway to Heaven reversed, as proved by a televangelist in 1982 said:

…which really makes no sense. Toolshed? Why would Satan be sad? What does it mean to “get the 666”? I never heard that one and I did a lot of bong hits! Robert Plant was quoted as saying a guy would “have to have a lot of time on his hands” to even consider doing something like this. But maybe not if he’s flat-out just making stuff up that doesn’t have to really make sense. Personally, I couldn’t ever do any of this fun shit even when I was rilly, rilly stoned, ’cause all I ever had was the Kenner Close N’Play…’cause it played when you closed and…

In the meantime: Thanks G-d for MUSIC! (as they say). I’m not a very religious person and I don’t even consider myself “spiritual”…or astrological. All I know is that there were something like 6 planets in my chart retrograde this month so trying to do anything was not…encouraged. Rather, I was supposed to take a reflective stance and try to review where I’ve been…and where I’m going…and where am I now? I’m not sure I figured anything out. But that attitude really suits the time of year, the weather and the anticipation of soon changing seasons. Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year and so I’m looking forward to it, as usual. One thing I did this month…to quote a very trippy and lo-fi Spine of God Monster Magnet song from 1992…

Bought another copy of ZOSO

I’ve lost count how many copies of Zoso I’ve had over the years, but if there is one album that you should always have on hand, it’s this one. Sorry Cardi B…maybe next time…or not. Is there really anything better than Led Zeppelin IV? I’m sure many people could list several things that are, but me, I’ve been in love with the album since high school. Yea, ok…I don’t need to hear Stairway to Heaven anymore, but I will never tire of listening to The Battle of Evermore, Misty Mountain Hop, Four Sticks, Going to California, and When the Levee Breaks…’cause John Henry Bohnam. That Jimmy Page guy was a pretty good guitarist and a heckuva producer too. Robert Plant and John Paul Jones were jeez…I think they still get work from time to time because they were pretty talented too. All I know is that it was good to hear this disc again…it was like…coming home to my past, while hearing strains of an unknown future as I meditated on the plane of all that will ever be. Wow! Reiki! That was pretty good… Maybe I AM spiritual.

I was also in the mood to swing, so I was looking around and I found this very mysterious album by one of my favorite jazz guitar players, the incomparable Barney Kessel. I wrote about Barney here and here and he is actually one of the more popular search terms to get to this blog. It’s great to know that there are a lot of Barney fans out there because he was one of the greatest guitar pickers that ever was. This album, Blues Guitar, is an odd one, for sure. Not one of the more well-known Barney offerings, it also has an interesting selection of songs: How High the Moon, Willow Weep for Me, Honeysuckle Rose, Out of Nowhere, Blue Moon, Limehouse Blues, and It Don’t Mean a Thing(If it Ain’t Got Swing) are all great swing standards and they feature the great Stephane Grappelli. Who knew these guys recorded together? Not me that’s for sure. Of course if you’re a Django Reinhardt fan like I am, you know Grappelli after about 3 notes and he brings his usual je ne sais quoi to the sessions. Barney is on fire as usual with this fleet-fingered chord melody and snaky, inventive single string lines. When he and Stephane trade-off on many choruses there are some totally frenetic and kinetic fireworks to be heard. Rockin’!! I mean Swingin’!! I also like the texture songs, Aquarius and Burt Bacharach‘s The Look of Love. What is very interesting is that a very small part of Barney’s guitar from this tune was sampled for a hip-hop track, The Look of Love, by Slum Village. Because of the exposure this group gave the song, Barney’s version is a thing with young guitar players who have learned the sample. Pretty cool if you ask me and good lookin’ out on Slum Village for sampling a class act and great guitarist!

Finally, I picked up the alternative guitar classic from 1984, Aerial Boundaries, featuring the absolutely mind-boggling Michael Hedges. How mind-boggling was Michael Hedges? Er…maybe Davey Graham, Pierre Bensusan, Edward Van Halen, and Leo Kottke all rolled into one, with a dash of Allan Holdsworth. I had this on LP back in the day and a club we used to play jazz at featured this between sets regularly…’cause it just has that sound: lovely textures, outside the box guitar tunings, percussive slap and hammer-on fingerpicking and strumming. This album was very influential for its time and what Hedges crafted as a style and way of approaching the guitar that still influences people today. Have a little watch and listen below to the title track. The whole album has a deep guitar ambience that I love and it perfectly completes my amazing guitar music purchase trifecta for the month. Enjoy what’s left of the summer!

The Death of the Electric Guitar (Slight Return)

Last summer I wrote this fine article on the DEATH OF THE ELECTRIC GUITAR because it was a terrifying, tumultuously timely story, affecting every guitarist in the land, right? Well, kind of, sort of, I guess. I wasn’t sure then, I’m less sure now. Would you like to know my thought process and the various bits of info I have gathered on the subject? Well, you might want to read the original article first, but if you already have (or in your head said “Go eff yourself, I don’t need to do that!”) away we go:

In the original article I tried to point out that many of these articles want to go all DOOMPORN as if the end of a few companies equals the end of rock and roll, the end of music…or the end of the world! It begs the question: Will Alex Jones be commenting on this issue at some point in the near future? Will the collapse lead to the Zombie hordes taking over or everyone living like the Road Warrior? I don’t think Guitar Center going out of business (if that happens) will lead to the end of the world, but WHAT IF? Can’t we just go back to the days when millions of dudes “rocked out” and everybody listened to the cutting-edge, magically sublime sound that was Warrant? I wish we could, but there is lots to talk about, like…

The other issue(s) that I explored rather humorously in the original post were a) how lack of “live” heroes equaled huge loss in revenues for the guitar industry (so let’s use holograms), and b) how Guitar Center and that model of business never resonated with me and finally c) maybe the finance guys and the people writing these articles are kind of full of poop. Well I’ve got new information man…certain things has come to light… In just the past few months there have been articles further detailing the plight of Gibson and Guitar Center. On May 1st Gibson filed for bankruptcy protection, which includes:

The change in control will give noteholders equity in a new company, replacing stockholders including Chief Executive Officer Henry Juszkiewicz, who owns 36 percent of the company, according to the filing. Those noteholders include Silver Point Capital, Melody Capital Partners LP, and funds affiliated with KKR Credit Advisors. Juszkiewicz and company president David Berryman will continue with the company upon emergence from Chapter 11 “to facilitate a smooth transition during this change of control transaction and to support the Company in realizing future value from its core business,” according to the announcement.

Doesn’t the language in that paragraph make you want to staple your face to your jacket lapel? Me, I’m to-ta-lly convinced turning Gibson Guitar over to companies named stuff like Silver Point Capital is just going to make everything crackerjack okay-fine. I’m not the most brilliant financial mind going, but according to Wikipedia, current CEO of Gibson Brands Henry Juszkiewicz , “acquired Gibson in 1986 for $5m USD with Gary A. Zebrowski and David H. Berryman” and now given that they are looking at about 500 million in debt, I’m going to have to say that financial mismanagement could maybe, probably, be an issue. Either that or somebody sprang for WAAY too many pizza lunches and took WAAY too many cabs to work. Also, as of 6/23/18 this was posted on his Wikipage: Juszkiewicz poor management of Gibson has caused a steady decline in the company, eventually leading to the company filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy in May of 2018. (Holy Glass Ceiling Batman!). Then… there is the Guitar Center saga. A few years ago, Bain Capital (you know that name because Mitt Romney), invested heavily in Guitar Center and they also invested heavily in Toys R Us…that iconic toy brand that just closed all 730 of it’s domestic stores.

WHOOOPS!

In this article, titled Bain Capital Sees Three Investments Stumble, we see what is typically called…I think, bullshit? Right? Right? Because having one company that you are heavily invested in close ALL of its domestic stores sounds more like a full-on face-plant, not a… “stumble”. The other company, Guitar Center, is currently “stumbling” with one billion dollars in debt. *Breathtaking*. Of course Gibson and Guitar Center’s fortunes are intertwined and both companies need people to buy, buy, buy guitars if they are going to reduce their debt loads. So, while a lower number of people buying Gibon guitars at Guitar Center is not a good sign in general, it’s an even worse sign now…because DEBT.

But, of course, the finance guys never admit they messed up. Slow sales is all your going to hear and that isn’t any surprise. Another factor is there are a lot of old people involved in the conversation and you know Old People — They are ANNOYING! Back in the day they were easy to avoid; you didn’t visit except on Thanksgiving. But now old people in the form of so called “music gurus” are weighing in on the fortunes of these companies and it’s a whole lot of LOL. Are these guys genuinely clueless, too old to keep up, or are they full of it because they are heavily invested in the industry mantra that it wasn’t financial mismanagement… it was the lack of new guitar heroes? Let’s go to some quotes and you be the judge:

I would be hard-pressed to name any new ones,” (guitar heroes) George Gruhn, owner of the Gruhn Guitars shop in Nashville, told the Daily News. “You’ve got Joe Bonamassa who is a great player. But he isn’t selling as many guitars as the other big time heroes. And Eric Clapton is arthritic. He’s having difficulty playing and is retiring from touring.”

Gruhn was quoted in my original article and he seems to be the go-to guy for all of these articles. Question: Why mention Clapton? He is 73 years old. People who are 73 shouldn’t be expected to drive youth trends and young people are not going to emulate 73 year olds in 2018. This is not rocket surgery. Personally, I don’t believe Eric Clapton “sold” a lot of guitars to players from the late-80s until now just like I don’t believe Lou Reed sold very many Shure microphones, even though here is an ad that features him trying to do just that. Speaking of Lou, did you know he had a mullet at one point? I had kind of forgotten that. That is a mighty fine mullet. Can’t we just return to the good old days of Lou Reed: The Mullet Years? Actually, no we can’t because George has more to say: Here is another quote from George that makes you wonder if he ever heard the term “cognitive-dissonance”:

Baby boomers are the best customers I’ve ever had. They’ve driven a lot of the guitar trends, but they are aging and many of them are downsizing their guitar collections,” Gruhn added. “This doesn’t mean that guitar sales are dying, but instrument sales in general are under stress.”

He continues:

Gruhn acknowledged that the demand for both acoustic and electric instruments has fallen. “I think the guitar market was built up into a bubble at a pace that was unsustainable,” he said. “It’s leveled off to something that reflects more normalcy. Factories that were designed to produce 100,000 instruments a year may now find that their demand has dropped to 75,000, and that’s a problem because now you have higher overhead.”

Not so fast says Andy Mooney, CEO of Fender Instruments:

Sales of fretted instruments are in great shape and Fender’s electric guitar and amp revenues have been steadily rising for several years,” he said…“electric sales are holding steady, acoustic sales are on the rise, and ukelele sales are exploding.”

MY GOD!! EXPLODING UKELELE SALES! Take that George Gruhn, guy who probably slaps a Trucoat® finish on the instruments you sell. Maybe it’s my mistake for taking these guys seriously. They are being ironic? sarcastic? with all of these articles saying “WE NEED A NEW GUITAR HERO”. What they really mean is “HOLY SHIT WE ARE SO FUCKED!” Because if manufacturers have been cranking guitars out at that volume for years, and you factor in all of the used electric instruments from the 50s through today currently available, PLUS all of the instruments Baby Boomers are dumping (and want to dump) on the market, at what point does every American family need to have 12 kids just to give every electric guitar a home? I don’t think Eric Clapton can fix this! Through the years I think I had 22 string instruments and I only ever bought 4 brand new ones and I started buying in the 70s. Since I have known a lot of guitar players over the years I can say with confidence that my experience isn’t unique. So, in addition to financial mismanagement, a completely over-saturated market (which I alluded to in the original piece) is also a component to this tragedy.

Another interesting aspect to this Los Angeles Times article that wants to address “changing tastes” is the very predictable notion that the solution to too big to fail is…more too big to fail. There’s a three-step progression at work here that’s pretty insidious, unless you find it hilarious; the two emotions are not necessary mutually exclusive. The first step are the sellers with the Muh Generation bullshit. The second step is that this generation can’t do it on it’s own and this is articulated by one Louie Concotilli, owner of Mugzey Music:

The bigger problem, according to Concotelli, is that most aspiring players don’t want to put in the time to become proficient on the instrument…“If they do want to learn they’ll just go to YouTube, but they’re not getting the proper instruction,” he said. “…kids these days, it’s all about instant gratification. No one wants to take six months or a year to learn. They don’t want to do the work.”

Who else is sick of these friggin’ kids at this point? Bunch of lame-bodies for sure. Not only does this generation (unlike prior generations) need guidance and help learning, but they also need A BIG FRIGGIN KICK UP THE ASS SO THEY DO THE WORK! So here we reach the third step. A solution in the form of a chain, courtesy of Corporate America:

One of the brighter spots in the industry these days can be found in School of Rock, a Canton, Massachusetts-based chain of 207 music schools which span 10 countries worldwide. Elliot Baldini, the company’s senior vice president of marketing, said the schools are designed to draw students in by giving them more of what they actually want to learn.

Right…because a chain of 207 music schools is how all of those Baby Boomers, including Eric Clapton, learned how to play. Because no one learns on YouTube, where a search for “Guitar Lessons” pulls up 14 million results and where some instructors (including some I list on this blog) have upwards of a half-million subscribers. Because on YouTube you can’t ever find that song that you actually want to learn, even though it’s designed to be user-driven. Because you need a chain of two-hundred+ schools to teach people music and that’s a bright spot in the industry. I believe that the guy mostly responsible for guitar sales in the Golden Age (the 80s) was Van Halen, not Eric Clapton, although curiously Edward is never mentioned as a driver of guitar sales in these articles. When he and his band came on the scene in 1978 he was playing a piece of crap guitar with one pickup and one knob that he built himself. The industry responded by building and selling a whole bunch of guitars patterned on his design. “The industry,” even when it tries to sell the idea that it “leads,” usually “responds”. Maybe they could respond by doing something else Edward Van Halen did. He donated a whole bunch of his guitars to low-income schools so young people who might not have the finances or exposure in their home have a chance at learning how to play the instrument. If every school in America had some guitars in it that would certainly get rid of a whole lot of inventory, wouldn’t it? That would also get rid of the problem of “nobody” playing guitar. Don’t I have great ideas? They should give me a cabinet position in Washington!

All kidding aside — and that was a lot of kidding you just read through (whew!) — I’m not disputing the charge that fewer guitars have been sold in the past ten years (to 2008), but I don’t think you can directly relate that to whether less people play guitar, especially world-wide. It would be really interesting to see industry sales stats going back to the 1950s when rock n’ roll exploded! I’m not the only person who is cognizant of the fact that instrument sales probably were not a straight-line increase from the time the Les Paul came on the market until 2008 when sales (at least as far as the data we can see) started slipping. If you’ve been around long enough you certainly remember companies and guitar models from back in the day that have no sales stats today because they haven’t existed for a long time. Who buys a Mouse Amp these days? Do you remember the Aria Pro II? That company still exists! See, how bad can things really be then? I believe there have been these peaks and valleys throughout the past half-century, and would be very surprised if there were not some very slow sales in the late 70s and late 90s too. It’s the nature of the world we live in that there are cycles and changes. There have always been people who have tried to make people aware of these facts and what the future might portend and a few of these people were quite famous, including The Geico Caveman…no seriously…David Bowie.

Around the 1:45 mark he talks about brands and subgroups and genres and how the music business has fractured from where it was in the 60s and 70s when definite BIG artists and one or two different ways of doing things were the rule. In the 70s if someone wanted to play music there were limited options compared to now. Of course the business behind those limited options was HUGE because everyone had just those choices, but a whole lot of people wanted to be in the business. Obviously a whole lot of people still want to be in the music and entertainment business, but today there are many more ways to go about that. Saying Eric Clapton over and over again is not going to solve any of the current problems and may in fact be part of the reason these problems arose in the first place. Remember…there were plenty of people who worked at record companies in the 1990s saying “Ho ho ho FILE SHARING is nothing to worry about!” But those people don’t exist anymore. Gene Simmons killed them. So you see…adapting is very important.

The fact is, there are guitar heroes out there who aren’t household names like Clapton or Van Halen, yet they influence people through the magic of their talent, presence and music. Gypsy Jazz players I have written about on this blog, Stochelo Rosenberg and Stephane Wrembel, to name just two, are the reason I bought a new guitar a few years ago. Just have a look at all of these other people and their guitars that they had to buy from somebody because it’s pretty hard to make a Selmer-Maccaferri type guitar on your own. (Although some can people do it). Gypsy Jazz wasn’t even really a genre of music until the 1990s and now people spend some serious coin on guitars and all manner of peripheral equipment so they can go out and get their swing on. I mention this genre because I know something about it. There are many other genres and sub-genres out there (just like Bowie said there would be) that I know nothing about because I’m old or haven’t been exposed to them. The Gypsy Jazzers are not going to get Guitar Center out of trouble, and neither will the players in these other smaller genres, but they certainly make it possible for other people to have a business and make a living. That’s the way it is, that’s the way it has always been! God Bless America! It’s not all about the numbers! It should be about the quality and creative solutions, because they are out there. If I can think of a few, you know there are plenty more. If not, there is always 2112!