How come after 60 years of electric solid body guitar evolution, we still buy and desire guitars which are essentially the same as the ones made by Gibson, Fender and Gretch in the 1950s? Why are guitarists so conservative? Why are vintage guitars apparently better?
Selling guitars for a living must be incredibly difficult. I imagine that in 2017 the market must be completely saturated. Not only just about everyone has an electric guitar, even if it is a cheap Chinese-made instrument, but most people seem to have several guitars. I know quite a few, amateur musicians who own an expensive big-name guitar, be it Fender, Gibson, Gretch etc., as well as several cheaper Eastern-made instruments to compliment the expensive one! So how do you sell guitars to people who have everything!? I suspect with difficulty…
What about Gibson?
I was watching and listening to reports from NAMM 2017. Gibson is showing the new models of Les Paul’s made out of mahogany and maple, with two humbucking pickups and 4 knobs. Sounds familiar? Yes, this is precisely what they started making in 1952. Some of the current models are ‘traditional’ (read: looking much as vintage guitars as possible), some of them are ‘modern’ and after 60 years of intense innovation, the only difference between them seems to be in their lighter weight (let’s drill some holes in the bodies) and a couple of push-pull switches added (a little bit of extra soldering). I think this is this quite odd, but Fender story is similar.
What about Fender?
In the late 40s Leo Fender came up with pretty revolutionary instruments. Not only were they radically different, but they worked brilliantly – hence the fantastic sales figures. So how is Fender innovating now? The Elite, Professional and Deluxe series have slightly different bridges and machine heads, slightly modified electrics and new noiseless pickups, which everyone hopes will sound as good as the ones in the 1960s! Not exactly revolutionary, is it? Most of the other guitars they sell are ‘reliced’, to look and feel like vintage guitars. The process consists of a) making a nice guitar then, b) damaging it, so it looks older, more authentic, I am not sure… You can see loads of YouTube ‘tutorials’ how to do this. I can’t help imagining the fine luthiers honing their immense skills in damaging pristine instruments.
I suspect that the reason for this extraordinary lack of innovation is that the guitarists are deeply conservative. We seem to want to buy into the myth of the-times-long-gone and we want the glamour of the past more than we want to make music. If I own the same guitar as my hero guitarist from the distant past, the one who gave me so much emotionally-charged inspiration, I become a little like him. I own a little bit of him, some of his magic will rub off onto my fingers. So, are we that completely stupid or is this a function of the 21st Century? I suspect both, look at the current politics…
The only innovation appears to be in metal guitars. 7 and 8 strings, fanned-fret fingerboards are common, otherwise it is the old stuff… So, what is this magic of vintage old guitars, are they really better? Are relic guitars any good? Why don’t we want to buy more modern guitars like the old Parker Fly’s and Steinbergers? Any ideas people?