Gibson is going bankrupt, the whole world is talking about it but no one seems to be as happy as they should be. Or at least none of the majors. When it comes down to it, Gibson has been screwing around for years, and the people who think that they have been releasing good guitars recently are deluded. In fact they stand as a microcosm for what has been wrong with the industry as a whole. Gibson hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of ‘listening to their customers’ or ‘creating products that people care about’ and they haven’t for a long time now. Most people point the decline of Gibson as having started around 2006 and this seems roughly correct to me. What this means is that there are known, endorsed guitarists touring the world right now who have never played guitar in an era where Gibson was good and that just kind of sucks for Gibson. Their bankruptcy is emblematic of another titan who refused to get with the times.
Their downward skid has been a big thing in the guitar community over the last decade for good reason, they are iconic. It’s hard to believe that a company who have had such incredible success and so many iconic designs could fuck up so royally. Those who follow these things say that it almost looks like Gibson was TRYING to go bankrupt, and I kind of have to agree with them. Just looking at their decisions over the past few months, from the weird ‘futuristic’ looking Flying V that was reminiscent of a Star Trek communicator to the decision to not be at NAMM, the biggest guitar conference in the world all served to tear apart what Gibson had created over the years. Tied into this has been a stunning sense of tone deafness towards their fans. Building tuners into every guitar only served to hurt the tone of their instruments, similarly, the low quality of wood they have been using, which was reflected only in rising prices and not lowering them served to make Gibson even more of a laughable husk of their past selves.
Tied into this is the fact that Gibson pretty fimrly tied themselves to an aging demographic. They knew that there would be a certain chunk of the population who would constantly follow them because they have been following Gibson for thirty years and now are old and have money. But guess what? Those people only need so many guitars. They aren’t going to go out and keep supporting the brand year after year, when, even if they don’t know anything about guitars, they can feel that the ones they already own sound better and play smoother than whatever schlock is trying to be unloaded on them. Rather than looking at the younger guitar makers out there or the ones with hipper audiences Gibson attempted to bring in all sorts of gadgets to stir up press that, at the end of the day, serious players didn’t care about at best and at worst made the instruments actively worse. When your brand is on such a downward spiral that people use it as a litmus test to pick out shitty guitarists you need to reevaluate some things.
Of course the Gibson brand isn’t going to die. People are aware that Gibson has the baby boomer demographic firmly in their pockets, and now that they are bankrupt one of the most longstanding brands in the music industry is going to be available for some investor to buy for pennies on the dollar. At this point though it seems unlikely that they will end up making it better. Rather what is going to happen with Gibson is the cash injection is going to lead to higher ups locking in deeper with an aging demographic. The problem at this point is that even if Gibson wanted to go for something better and create quality product, they have spent so much time alienating their potential young base that I don’t see any way for it to keep growing. It’s going to be a long ass process if they want to be able to rejuvenate who they are. Thing is – that’s going to cost a lot of money which most investors who bring it back to life aren’t going to want to bring in.
Then there is the Eric Clapton factor. As Clapton put it in a recent interview “Maybe the guitar is over.” While I personally think he is overreacting and a new rash of bands seems to suggest that there is still a lot of hope for the instrument it simultaneously feels a little bit weird that guitar sales for Gibson are declining whilst more and more young people move away from rock music and start digging into the electronic stuff. While admittedly this trend has been going on for at least twenty years maybe Gibsons failure is just as much a symptom of that cruel reality as it is their own bad business practices. What if the guitar is coming to the end of its life as a major instrument in popular music? I mean sure it has a good long while left to it, but perhaps this is going to be looked back on in fifty years as the beginning of a collapse that lasted half a century.
Whatever the reason for Gibsons failure this is the end of an era and as countless guitarists out there whose first instrument was an Epiphone can tell you they will be missed if only for their nostalgia value. While I prefer the fractalized world of small guitar makers I also think that there was something a little bit magical about those old guitars that I am curious to get to dig in too whenever I get the chance. Still – all good things must come to an end, especially when they turn into overbearing corporate bloat that no reasonable person would care about. So fuck ‘em and move on, such is the nature of life.