Is Guitar Dead?

Georges Leopold ‘23 prepares to play a fancy electric guitar.

By Jonathan Pappas ‘23

 Popular music is constantly evolving.  The music taste of a particular generation is typically different from the previous one.  Platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok have recently affected the world of popular music, playing a significant role in what people are listening to, the format in which they are doing so, and the how long a given song remains popular.  Technology has drastically changed the music industry landscape, and many will argue for the worst. Chief among this group of people are guitar players.  Many guitar players will state that guitar has been phased out of modern music, but I would argue that they simply aren’t looking in the right places.

    Since the dawn of rock and roll, the guitar has been integrated into music culture. Guitar-based music has been some of the most popular and iconic music ever written. Listeners recognize songs like “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Hotel California” by The Eagles as some of the best musical compositions of all time, and the main reason for this is the masterful guitar work on these tracks. Any guitar player or avid rock or blues fan would attest to the two distinct eras of music regarding the great Jimi Hendrix. What are these two eras?  Before and after.  If all of this is true, how could the death of the guitar even be a thought?

    While there will never be another album like Axis – Bold as Love or another band like Van Halen, the notion that the guitar is dead is inaccurate.  According to Statista, guitar sales in 2020 generated 1.67 billion dollars, an increase from the year before when they generated 1.57 billion dollars. This statistic demonstrates that not only is the guitar not losing popularity, but it is gaining it.  The guitar is finding its way into different corners of the musical realm.  John Mayer, an internationally known pop star, is considered by many to be the greatest guitarist alive and one of the best of all time.  He has gained recognition from guitar legends like Eric Clapton, BB King, Billy Gibbons, Keith Richards, and others.  He has inspired countless guitar players with his searing blues playing, his seemingly effortless mastery of the acoustic guitar, and his guitar tone itself.  Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Christone “Kingfish,” some other prominent modern blues guitar players, have also inspired many guitar players with their interpretations of some of Hendrix and SRV’s most significant works.  One thing that both Mayer, Shepherd, and Kingfish have in common is a massive following, which is rare nowadays for modern, live-performing guitar artists.  All three sell out stadiums of 20,000 or more people.  And while players like these influence millions of people, most guitar playing nowadays has taken on a new, digital life.

     While Instagram and Tik Tok have seemingly led to the demise of traditional guitar playing in mainstream music, sites like these have spawned a new platform for guitar players.  Many exceptionally talented young players have enormous followings on social media.  There are a wide variety of guitar communities online. These communities include channels dedicated to breaking down the playing and sound of individual, well-known guitarists, content creators who make tutorials on how to play famous songs, people who attempt to learn the most challenging guitar solos of all time, among many others,

While the guitar’s roots will always trace back to Jimmy Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen, there is no telling where it can go in the future.