Eric Clapton: Maybe the Guitar Is Over

"I didn't realize it was that bad," guitar icon says about the consistent decline in guitar sales.

Ultimate Guitar
Eric Clapton: Maybe the Guitar Is Over

Eric Clapton was asked by Billboard about the 33% decline in annual guitar sales across the last decade - as reported by Washington Post - to which he replied:

"I didn't realize it was that bad. [Laughs]

"I'm out of touch - I don't know what's going on. I don't know where it's gonna go either. I think anything that has a natural process will end up where it's supposed to be.

"My kids listen to classic rock, but that may only be because of me, because that's what I've played to them.

"I mean, from the time of their conception, they've been listening to music through the womb. I played them playlists, just brainwashed my kids, and at the back of it was always the guitar or some kind of solo instrument or a singer.

"My belief in music is - it's all good. It's all good. Even stuff that doesn't appear to be so, it's all good.

"I don't know. Maybe the guitar is over. [Laughs] Good question though."

124 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I didn't read the Washington Post article, but I'm going to blame the economy and the likes of Craig's List, Ebay, and all the "yard sale" apps. Those things are packed with guitars. This thing ain't over yet, folks!
    The guitar business is a lot like the car business. You can but it new, sure, but why not buy it used, in fair condition and for, sometimes, almost half the price? It's still going to get the job done, and it's cheaper.
    Yeah, why buy a new $1200 guitar when you can get a $2000 with a tiny scratch on the back.... for the same money. You're only going to scratch it yourself eventually.
    Agreed to an extent.... Sometimes there is a certain pride attained in working hard and buying a nice new guitar though most times shopping used is the better way to go
    I totally agree with this, and as a nova scotian, about a third of dudes I meet can play the guitar atleast a little bit.
    Maybe I need to move out east! Where I am in Ontario, there's hardly anyone I know who plays guitar. When I was growing up there seemed to be a lot of guitar players around, but now not so much.
    That was my thought. I'd say more people are buying second hand and also sticking to one guitar. Maybe if you start making good money, and are a decent guitarist, you'll splurge on a nice new guitar, but then again I'm guessing more people would rather spend that money on a vintage guitar that may appreciate in value, over a $1500 guitar that in 30 years will be worth $1,000.
    You never know how it's been damaged. That's why I go new. Could have a massive dent filled in with plaster or something.
    I buy used guitars because I take anything that could be wrong with it as a challenge. I've bought a few crap guitars because they were cheap, but by fixing them up, I learned how to install pickups, solder a ground wire, re-fret a neck, repaint a body and so much more.
    Eh, if it's filled in with plaster you're gonna know unless it's super shitty paint to begin with or you are blind. I got a 1200 dollar guitar for 400 with a scratch on the back and nothing wrong with it. If you really wanna spend the money you can, but just looking around a bit can get you a better guitar for less.
    That's a valid opinion for people who are really causal about their equipment. Let's be honest, when musician's sell/buy stuff they're waiting for the ultimate rip-off/deal.  For me, the only advantage buying new has are the warranties. But then again, like many of the users here, I'm very meticulous when buying used. 
    "I'm out of touch - I don't know what's going on. I don't know where it's gonna go either. I think anything that has a natural process will end up where it's supposed to be." Well at least he's honest!
    Prices keep getting higher, and sales keep dropping. Weird.
    I'm the tome frame of my last 5 guitar purchases I have yet to see any big price inflation so I disagree.... Last purchase.... Schecter km7 nazgul, sustainac, swamp ash maple and ebony, carbon fiber trim, and ultra thin neck.... Cost at normal price is 1260 USD.... Go back 15 years and compare price to something similarly specced and I bet its in the same rave
    People also tend to forget just how good even cheap guitars have gotten over the past 15 years. If your first or second guitar is already that good why bother upgrading to a $3000 one?
    They have improved greatly but so have the expensive ones..... Example using my own models..... Schecter omen 6- playable and sounds decent Jackson dk- slightly better overall tone than the omen, much better neck action Jackson pro dk2s/schecter blackjack atx c7- both in same price range.... Sound is a huge upgrade from the other 2.... Schecter neck still a little thick but good feel with the ebony fretboard schecter km7 frs- far more than any guitar on the list including a top of the line Floyd, upgraded materials and finish... Absolutely makes the other guitars on the list sound neutered, neck is as slim as a 6 string and shape and design make it contour to your body better.... That's just my list, but my opinion, unless you're buying Gibson, with the normal priced brands, you're going to get alot more bang for the buck by spending more, though you're right.... For those who can't afford it, you can spend 2-300 on a guitar that will be good enough to carry on stage... And its nice that the young guys just learning can get something decent enough without breaking the bank
    Maybe guitar sales are declining, but that doesnt mean that its over, or dying out, or whatever people are whining on about all the time. Its still an insanely popular instrument, just compare how many people you know that play a bit of guitar, to, lets say, how many you know who play the clarinet. There are SO MANY bands that use guitars, popular pop acts use guitars live, pretty much every music genre except edm uses guitars! The popularity may be fading, but that doesnt mean its dying, it just means that its not as new and exciting as it was, but its taking place among the rest of the instruments. The piano didnt die, the violin didnt die, the xylophone didnt die, so why would guitar?
    And that EDM crap is whats causing the decline i believe. Most of my friends circle has switched to EDM music, former guitarists buying DJ boards and writing the same crap, new electronic artists popping up and offering nothing remotely exciting (then again, EDM is hardly a genre you could ever come up with something exciting in the first place, its all based on teh principle of dancing and chilling out, for me such music just cannot be powerful or relatable by definition).
    You need some new friends then But seriously, yes, edm may be huge right now, but thats just how it goes with music. Its also experiencing a big explosion, since anyone with a computer can actually make it nowdays. Sure, you can say that for rock and metal as well, but you still need to know how to play guitar, but for edm there is no such requirement. Its probably gonna fade when people get over the novelty of making it in their rooms, just like the novelty of the guitar faded in the last few decades. Also, edm is a really broad term, some of it can be good, even if most of it is crap. But im gonna go on a limb and say thats true for all genres. 
    EDM uses plenty of guitars. You just don't notice them as often because of the production.
    Maybe guitar sounds, or sounds modeled after a guitar, but I'm like 99% sure Electronic Dance Music is almost exclusively electronic.
    Guitar popularity may wax and wane over the generations, but I think it's here to stay. Nothing else sounds like the guitar, especially the electric guitar. The electric guitar and what it's represented historically as an icon of rebellion and rock and roll, will always have the power to draw 12 or 13 year old kids to its mystical possibilities just like it did me. I can't imagine any instrument or app or whatever... will ever be as cool as holding an electric guitar in your hands for the first time.
    Well said. The guitar, and the electric guiyltar in particular, is one of the most beautiful things I know of.
    Maybe Eric Clapton is over.
    Clapton was over when Cream disbanded.
    I think one of his 90's pop albums is better than Cream. Fight me IRL
    Which one?
    The one with the blue cover, I think it has a song called Pilgrim or something
    I think me and Mr jhonson is good
    Excellent album. He had a dvd which was even better showing him do all Johnsons work. With band, solo, with one other guy where Johnson recorded... His mtv unplugged album is one of his best. Many great albums after Cream 461 ocean matter the album, always great guitar work. His crossroad festival dvds, convert for Harrison...
    I'll tell you what's not gonna help the guitar: the constant nostalgia trip perpetuated by every on involved in the industry and the scene about old guitar heroes, old styles and old gear. How many times for example can we get the same "100 greatest guitarists" every year by publications like Rolling Stone, where they kiss Hendrix's ass some more and feature writer as old as my grandfather droning on about how great guitar was in the 60s and 70s? How many times can manufacturers pump out "60s reissues" and other nostalgic over priced shit? The current industry and "classic rock" media and scene has been pumping the guitar hard as some sort of rose tinted nostalgia trip for years. Whenever a new guitarist comes along now with an innovative style or approach to it, the snobs and purists just shit all over them or compare them to some guitarist who's been dead for almost 60 years or whatever. Wanna know why the guitar is dying? Because it's "old" and all the purists and snobs have made sure it stays that way or that "old" nostalgic shit is the only thing that's important or ironically relevant. Maybe the guitar needs to die to be reinvented and revolutionized again, instead of the industry and it's artists pushing the nostalgia of it on everyone so hard.
    "Out of touch mediocre blues guitarist yells at cloud" -I fixed the headline for you
    The guy is absolutely brilliant as far as righting catchy riffs and beautiful melodic solos though I agree he's not the greatest out there like some like to make it.... He's far beyond mediocre though
    ~Maxi King~
    And I thought I'm the only one not worshipping Clapton as a god. 
    Clapton is good. What he did for guitar is greater than his playing. Ive always found him better when hes in a group. His solo stuff is almost always boring.There are a few exceptions. The last great thing I heard him do was the cream reunion. That shit was fucking good.
    No, you're not alone. I personally don't care much for the blues (it just doesn't speak to me with very few exceptions), but I find post-Cram Clapton to be particularly boring even for the style.
    I like the blues a lot but I've always found Clapton pretty boring. Unbelievable that people put him over Hendrix.
    Hell, I don't even like Hendrix that much and I still rank him higher than Clapton. I do respect what Hendrix did for music and I quite like Cream but I think there is something to be said for acknowledging that music doesn't always change for the worse. 
    I've never been a huge Clapton Fan either, but I would give him much more credit than merely being a mediocre blues player. His solo "pop" stuff in the 80s I wouldn't argue being mediocre. That stuff, to me, completely lacked any edge whatsoever. But after listening to his album "Me and Mr. Johnson", which was entirely Robert Johnson covers- I would say he plays the Delta Blues style about as faithfully as it can be played. I'm guessing it was his lifelong obsession with Robert Johnson, and his ability to play that stuff so authentically that garnered him
    ... his reputation as a "god" early on in his career.
    Fair enough. Blues is one of those styles that I am seriously envious of people who can enjoy it. It seems like such a transcendent experience for them but it does nothing for me.
    I'm really not a huge blues listener at all, but my dad grew up during the blues revival in the 60s and he learned to play fingerstyle blues like Robert Johnson, etc. and by the time I was born he was way into playing that stuff daily so I grew up listening to and singing along with old blues songs, so even though I'm a rock guy, Ive always had a nostalgic attraction to the blues because of that. Ive played guitar since I was 10, and as I've gotten older Ive really grown to love playing blues. And I've grown to realize how truly groundbreaking those early blues players were. They brought a whole new form of real musical expression into existence that was like nothing before it and from which almost all popular music today can trace its roots.
    ~Maxi King~
    Your comment rating just certifies, that you're right and Clapton fanboys are absolutely toxic.
    While I like the idea of encouraging people to make new music, that broad statement of "all music is good" is, I think, taking things a little far. How about all music; and music is good.
    I think it's true, but that's just what happens. It's not going away, it's just going to take a backseat unless something really exciting and new happens. Orchestral music is alive and well but it's not at the forefront with the masses flocking to concerts and dreaming of playing a cello someday. But there are still many who do and we have plenty of opportunities to see and hear that music performed today, with new music in film and other avenues. Whether it's today or in 200 years, the guitar will be considered and older instrument with those just as passionate, but with less of an interested audience. That's just the way music goes. And today being so different from 10 or 100 years ago musically, it's not unfathomable to think that the guitar will become out of style and take a backseat to newer ways of making music. We may not like it, but that's just the way these things go.
    The thing about the guitar is that it is such a versatile instrument that it is unlikely to ever go away completely (much like the piano). Actually, I've been hearing guitar solos making something of a comeback in pop music in the last couple of years.  Metal is still pushing the limits of guitar technique in the underground circles
    Things like music, technical ability and the basic motor functions that go along the arts are heavily removed from schools these days. That's what happens when investing in the next generation gets a back row seat. Though you could argue the same for plenty of more important issues
    Only an idiot completely hooked on capitalist propaganda would think people's interest in guitar is directly linked to guitar sales.
    Really, though, it's just the economy has gone shit and nobody can afford gear that can get pretty expensive anyway. Anyone else said it's about sales would be laughed out of the building.
    The economy is fine. It's the wage gap that has gone to shit.
    To say the guitar is "over" is absolutely crazy. What's wrong with this man??!! Wow is all I can say i lose more faith in humanity each day
    It was pretty clear from his statement that he just never thought (neither care, I'd say) about the subject. I'm sure if you heard him saying that, it would've been with a slight tone of irony. I might be missing out something - UG staff gets payment based on how many clicks their stuff gets? I still can't understand the need of Jomatami to oversensationalise his articles.
    I don't think the SOUND of guitars is over.  In fact, compared to 10 years ago, guitars seem to be getting more popular in pop tunes. However, I think PLAYING the guitar is going steadily down and will never recover 100%.   There are now stellar synths, samples, midi controllers etc. that can be purchased for very cheap!  With these, you can play literally any instrument through the same interface.  Why would someone spend a decade to learn a signle instrument when they can spend one year learning every instrument? I like playing guitar but I'm fine with this.  It puts more power in the hands of the songwriter
    That Washington Post article didn't take things like the vintage market or used instrument sales into consideration. That's probably 30-40% of the market right there.
    And also as I follow Kiesel Guitars on social media, they weren't calculated into the article's numbers either. Could imagine a few others too. Local luthiers building odd number of guitars won't be there either, never have been. So the article is just basically BS, maybe even made to make people feel guilty somehow and buy Fender/Gibson brand new. Nothing wrong with buying used.
    Yeah, saying that guitar sales are low, just because NEW guitar sales are low, is like saying that nobody is buying cars anymore, just because Ford and Chevy or whatever aren't selling as many new cars as they used to. 
    Guitar sales are other thing but how many of the new teenagers actually practice and play guitar compared to just editing sample loops on their computer and playing with midi synth here and there? There isn't anything which remotely resembles guitar music when you look at what is popular these days, popular with teenagers.  Maybe Ed Sheeran probably, he writes great melodies and stuff but he's just one guy and hardly a guitar hero in this sense. Music industry has become too fragmented and it puts wrong people on pedestal. I think social media has ruined music with it's self obsessed narcissism. Almost all bands what I used to listen which are still alive are considered underground or niche bands these days. And then you can go to youtube and listen to their records in shitty quality for free. Only place where guitar is still actually popular is Japan and they still have great stuff going on. Probably partly because at least they seem to have more self discipline, confidence and concentration compared to these liberalist cotton pampered babies of the west.
    Maybe they don't sell because some : cough...Gibson...cough, overprice them by a few grand!
    XD That is the thing. A lot of guitars are to expensive for average Joe to justify. Most of the guitars O have owned have been $750 or less new. As much as I want a top of the line Schecter or a custom ESP I can't afford or justify the purchase. Another thing is if it is just a hobby like it is for many having a $5000 guitar vs a $500 one makes no sense. If you are a professional this changes a bit due to how hard it is to reach Superstar status in today's guitar music which makes it that much harder to justify. Sorry for the grammar I am typing on my phone as I do most of the time.
    Because too many dudes that we're brought up listening to rock, flipped to listening to rap in the late 80s and 90s, those dudes weer supposed to get guitars, they bought flat brimmed hats and baggy jeans instead - now their kids could care less about Rock music in general.  33%?  That will go up.....also, just like golf clubs, you out can get a gently used name brand set (just like guitars) at a fraction of retail price.  Basic supply and demand.....and don't forget Guitra Ctr has undercut every small shop their is.  
    who is this guy?
    What is Eric Clapton?
    Innovative music THAT'S ACTUALLY GOOD is over and has been for a long time. Everything has been done at this point. Nothing is new and exiting or shocking. All extremes whether virtuous, vicious or anything in between have been reached. Now is a good time to go back and search for forgotten and/or underrated bands/albums/songs of all different genres. Happy searching for those that plan to do so. 
    Additionally.....the same guitar "gods" like Clapton....have not been replaced.  Sure Kirk Hammett was a cadidate and then after 30 yearS you realized his peak was Lightning and Puppetts....Mustaine?  His behavior has always trumped his playing.  Nugent?  Again, got lazy and let politics define him.  Stevie Ray Vaughn is the last of the white blues guys, anyone after is just a poor copy (Johnny Lang). Slash?  Again GNR drama trumps everything.  Tom Morello?  Too gimmicky and again politics.  (Please add to this list). 
    I don't disagree with your point, but I think your examples aren't very good. Nugent had his peak in the 70's. Why include him at all? Slash might not be the most groundbreaking guitar player, but I don't think there is anyone more iconic from any era. And he has a recognizable sound, which is more than you can say for a lot of other players. Mustaine is a riff master, but I've never really thought of him as a guitar god, despite his attitude which is irrelevant to the issue since a lot of guitar gods are kind of dicks. Your newest examples are Johnny Lang and Tom Morello. I think your info is a little dated. If this was 10-15 years ago, I'd be inclined to agree wholeheartedly, but guitar solos are on the radio again. It's not nearly as bad as it was in the post-grunge/nu-metal era. Synyster Gates should probably be on your new list. Jack White deserves to be there even though he's also not very technical. Plenty of others too, but those are my first thoughts. And what about Zakk Wylde?
    It was a poorly thrown together list, but you got my point.....Zakk Wylde is boring to me - nothing original about him except his dude, but meh.  Jack White is the King of all Hipsters, he has too much Morello effects in his playing for me and part of his success was really due to a other players.  His Raconteurs was meh, he hasn't released anything of substance lately (but Im not a fan) Gene Simmons is right - the industry is dead, no $ anymore, Tom Araya is miserable, its become too much of business and all of this indirectly leads to lower guitar's almost over unfortunately - the scale as most of us oldsters know it anyways.  
    There are unknown guys on Youtube that blow any of these guys on your list away. I'd say the music INDUSTRY is dead - not guitar.
    The music industry want the guitar to be dead because it doesn't sell right now (or, better said, it's easier to make hit pop songs without a guitar). It's a piece of cake to boot up a music composing software, pick up some of the trademark pop song beats and add some synthetiser simple catchy phrases. Now a guitar (acoustic or electric), acoustic piano and acoustic instruments in general are tricky - software-generated tracks don't sound realistic enough, they'll always give the feel of something weird going on. These require hiring a studio performer, recording the tracks and processing them, and these cannot be altered later on as a software-generated recording. Perhaps also require a live musician for shows. It's cheaper, easier and trendy not to use this kind of instruments and hey, people like that stuff in general. That's why self-promoted artists and indie record companies deserve more love.
    Sure Youtube - they will never play Madison Sq Garden - how will the masses be inspired to play by these Youtube Gods....if no one will ever see them?  
    Some of those dudes who "no one will ever see" have literally tens of millions of views, and thousands of subscribers who have their new videos shoved in their faces. And make money doing it. The guitarist who has been the most inspiring to me the last few years got his start as a youtube guy. Keith Merrow. Incredible riffs, with a distinct and recognizable style.
    That's a good point...but -  How many albums/downloads ha he sold?  When is his tour?  Dude, I have videos on Youtube, my buddy and I just jam.....but can Youtube "stars" go on tour?  Can they play live every 3 nights in front of a crowd?  A YouTube video is just that.....Howe many takes are those guy doing?  
    Sorry have to disagree with you on all those except maybe Tom. Plus, most of those guys are older and I would not equate them to be modern guitar goods as I would with Laexi Laiho and Jeff Loomis for example. (First names I could think of.)
    I'm an avid Fender consumer, and the only thing I've ever bought from a retailer was a Hot Rod amp. Music isn't a cheap hobby, and the more you get into it, the more you realize buying used isn't that bad of an idea. 
    Mountain Trash
    Too funny, my wife said if I come home with one more guitar I have to sell an AMP. I hate it when she boxes me in like that.
    Well when bands are being spun off as rock and are galaxies away from being rock you tend to have a conflict of interest.  When you have metal bands playing rock and being terrible song writers, you have a problem.  I just bought a brand new LTD for cheap and it rocks.  There isnt enough bands breaking their equipment anymore, thats a problem.
    It seems to me that every generation has had countless "guitar heroes" to aspire to: '60s Beatles/Rolling Stones/etc. '70s Aerosmith/Led Zep/Floyd/Kiss/AC/DC/Black Sabbath/Van Halen/etc. '80s Countless popular hair bands/thrash bands '90s Countless grunge/alternative bands '00s...??? I think the '00s is where it all came apart.  What were the big popular guitar bands of the '00s?  Kings Of Leon!?  I have no idea.  I don't think there were any bands in this time period that made any kid want to learn to play guitar.  So we are where we are now. That's my theory anyway.
    Avenged Sevenfold is the main reason I picked up the guitar. Plus everything RHCP did in the 00s, Audioslave, nu-metal in general like ulisess said, Dragonforce was never my thing but that's a lot of guitar playing, etc. I graduated high school in 2012 and there were still plenty of us guitar kids playing before and after school.
    Good call on RHCP! I guess my point is that rock music DOMINATED for many decades, and then in the '00s and '10s it did not, and I believe there are a lot less kids into it these days than when I was in high school (in the '80s).
    Early 00's had nu metal, like it or not those bands inspired to play guitar
    That is a good point, but nu-metal seemed to run it's course, in terms of popularity, fairly quickly.  But I do agree with you, maybe nu-metal was the last gasp in terms of guitar bands.  The popularity of video games and iphones certainly hasn't helped.  Kids can't put their stupid iphones down for more than a minute to focus on a meal, much less a guitar!
    Isn't that the djent generation? I mean, there're countless of youtube videos of kids shredding their 8 string guitars. If not, well, it's not like any past guitar heroes vanished; I went to HS in 2004 and there were enough people wanting to sound like Gilmour or Page, and this was in Mexico, I assume americans or europeans still dig those musicians.  I'm pretty sure there are enough guitar heroes, considering there has been an uproar of independent pedal/effects companies recently. 
    Sure, there are plenty of kids today that excel at playing guitar, better than I ever could, but I think there are a lot less of them than 25-30 years ago when I graduated high school. Plus, most of my friends knew how to play either drums, guitar, bass, or piano.  My kids and their friends (ages 12-21) not so much.  At all. When I was in high school, you always knew what band played a concert the night before, because half the students would be wearing that bands' t shirts.  It doesn't seem like that these days.
    The White Stripes, thats the band that inspired me to start in early 2000s. Alexisonfire, Dallas Green, Billy Talent, DFA, Cancer Bats, MCR...All these bands kept me inspired to play during that era... I could go on...
    I'm not knocking those artists at all, they just aren't/weren't "mainstream".  Where is the Led Zeppelin of the '00s?  The Who?  Van Halen?
    Stripes and Dallas Green are closest but not as big, not at all really. No one is really outside of pop... Country is fucking HUGE though, you would think that would help :s  I was commenting on what got me going, none of those bands are near as big as Zep or Stones and others Oh and PS I lol'd at your username because my buddies daughter couldnt say Foster at 2 so she calls me FaFa y
    The only sales that I would think are down, are those of high priced guitars that are mostly MIA such as Fender and especially Gibson which has had for the last few years, shitty QC on a lot of their models. The economy isn't the best right now and kids along with us older folk, are looking for bargains , which we can find on E-Bay and Craig's List, although a lot of the newer product coming out of Mexico and China today, is IMO, just as good as anything made in America but at a fraction of the cost .
    The last 2 guitars I bought (My flying V's) I got used. The two cost me just a bit more than what one would have ran brand new. The used market is filled with too many good deals. That, and price increases have hurt sales of new guitars - popular music trends be damned!
    Most of my guitars are used. Many of them had been out of production by the time I decided to pick them up. I got them on eBay or Craigslist, but wasn't against getting them in store. I got such good deals on them that collectively I picked up around a dozen solid instruments for the cost of 1 or 2 brand new ones.
    I would be curious to see the sales numbers from just before the Guitar Hero franchise compared to guess is they are similar.  Guitar Hero pumped up sales, somewhat artificially, and now that fad is fading and the last decade of sales numbers that could look like a steep decline.
    Used guitar sales on line I believe account for a large portion of guitar sales. Many people purchase a new guitar with the best intentions of learning to play. But soon discover it requires allot of time and study to learn to play even the simplest tunes. They give up and sell it.
    I buy used guitars. I've been playing long enough to be able to root thru the junk.Besides I go thru and change out the pick ups, usually to EMG and replace all the pots. Reset the action.and intonation and I have a great guitar. Anyone can do it. Great savings over new.
    You wold think that the Crazy prices would be the main problem with sales? Come on. The only way to track guitar sales is with PUBLIC Traded companies.  No, Gibson isnt going to tell you how many they sold this year. Private companies do tell others their SALES NUMBERS. So, just how can anyone with any authority say sales are down or up? 
    I don't think the guitar is over. I think the quality of great music has declined in terms of new bands that are coming  out that are legendary. Every band has a unique memorable sound let's take say Led Zeppelin seeing as they set the bar. There are no bands currently that are coming close to that fresh innovative sound. In history there are such things as revitalization movements like the Great Awakenings. Music needs a Great Awakening to revitalize the sound and the spirit.