Is the Era of the Screaming Electric Guitar over?

If the popular press is any indicator then maybe so. Mind you the press is not usually in the fore front of news, views and cultural phenomenon. Usually they are behind in their reporting of movements etc.

The first article of note by Jenny Lee in the Vancouver Sun March 8, 2014 – “A real acoustic revival is going on now ………. guitars, mandolins banjos and ukeleles are making a comeback. The sales of high-end and custom acoustic guitars have risen by 39 percent since 2009 while electric guitar sales have plummeted, according to the National Association of Music Merchants. More than half of the guitar sales are now acoustic  as trends in popular music shift from rock to more acoustic-focused country, according to the Music Business Journal”. 

The second article, by Francois Marchand in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend in the Arts and Life Section (Saturday May 10, 2014) had a two page spread “PLANET BANJO – From Bela Fleck to Mumford and Sons and Steve Martin , five strings rule the world.”  That certainly seemed to re-enforce the notion that electric guitars no longer rule the music scene.  Maybe it is about time. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the whole British Invasion thing virtually invented the rock and roll quartet (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass and drums). Admittedly they took elements of popular American roots music and invented or re-invented a whole genre of music that has now held sway for around fifty years. In the process the normally quiet guitar was electrified and “amped” up to volumes that surpassed even the largest of conventional orchestras. In normal circumstances you would be hard pressed to hear an acoustic guitar across a normal sized room. The electric guitar changed all that. In the evolving popular music scene the electric guitar stepped out of the sonic shadows to dominate the landscape. The standard rock quartet or “power trio” (guitar, bass and drums) ended up featuring the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. In the 60s, 70’s and beyond a whole slew of virtuosic guitar Gods became the idols of just about every teenage boy on the planet. The electric guitar became an instant “chick magnet” and what teenage boy would not want to be part of that? Time marches on and things do change. Classic Rock still rules the air waves and yet, if you look around, maybe the younger generation of musicians are looking in a different direction.  And, if you take another look you will notice that the average age of most local rock musicians is now probably over forty and even, possibly, over fifty. The rock touring circuit seems to be dominated by musicians well past their best out date. There is a reliance on nostalgia rather than musicality and innovation.That should tell us something. In most of the social musical gatherings I have participated in over recent years the scene has been dominated by acoustic instruments. The music has returned to human scale and stepped away from the magnitudes of a rock-arena. At a recent square dance (yes, they are still happening) the dominant instruments in the hands of the under twenty five crowd was actually mandolins and banjos. In the young bands around town an electric guitar is a pretty rare sight. A young fiddle player of my acquaintance, in commenting on rock music, succinctly put it that “there are too many guitar players”. Maybe he is right and the music scene is returning to one of sonic diversity. I welcome that.


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