You Think the Audio Biz has Troubles...

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Last week I went to the Four Amigo's Guitar Show in Arlington, TX, which is the oldest and largest guitar show in the US. It was the weekend after Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Both industries face some of the same problems, but the guitar biz has suffered even more since 2007 than the audio biz...

What's the guitar biz's biggest problem? It's demographics, just as in the audio biz. Comparing the average show-goers between the two shows, Arlington's median age is even higher, and the owners of many retail guitar establishments are also older, and IMHO less physically fit than audio folks. That's bad. I know for those who attended RMAF, it may be hard to imagine an older and less robust bunch, but believe me, the level of obesity and poor health among guitar dealers and collectors is FAR greater than among audiophiles.

Because of a scheduling conflict, I hadn't been able to attend the Arlington show since 2009. The difference between then and now was less show attendees, fewer amazing instruments (although still lots of good ones), and less energy. Again compared to RMAF Arlington was past mellow in snooze mode. That's not good for the largest and oldest guitar show in America.

Unlike audio, which at least has some glimmers of hope due to the infusion of younger audiophiles through Head-Fi and portable audio, guitars have no "feeder system" to garner numbers of new, younger players with the funds to move up to higher-end instruments. The average guitar collector, like many older audiophiles, has an expiration date of less than 20 years...and no replacement consumers are on the horizon...

And then there's the bubble...just like housing, vintage instruments saw an unprecedented run-up in value during the 90's. $10k Gibson Les Paul Bursts (short for sunburst) turned into $175K Les Paul Bursts in less than ten years. And then the bubble burst...and back down the prices came, to at least 20% below the top. Dealers and collectors were left upside down, with inventory that was worth less than their original cost. One dealer told me, "I can sell guitars all day long, as long as they sell for less than I paid for 'em." That's not exactly a recipe for a healthy business.

So, next time you get depressed about the audio biz, think about the vintage guitar biz. It might cheer you up...

 

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