In a lighthearted exchange, the guitar hero was informed of figures found in a Washington Post article entitled While Why My Guitar Gently Weeps, published 22 June, which reported a fall of approximately 33% in annual guitar sales across the last decade.
“I didn't realise it was that bad,” said Clapton. “My kids listen to classic rock, but that may only be because of me, because that’s what I’ve played to them. I mean, from the time of their conception, they’ve been listening to music through the womb. I played them playlists, just brainwashed my kids, and at the back of it was always the guitar or some kind of solo instrument or a singer.
“My belief in music is it’s all good. It’s all good. Even stuff that doesn’t appear to be so, it’s all good. I don’t know. Maybe the guitar is over.”
While Clapton was almost certainly joking in his final assertion, there are some fairly convincing figures to back up the Washington Post and Billboard's dusting-off of this well-worn theme.
The WP article quotes data gathered by Music Trades magazine that indicates a 19% (approx.) fall in revenue at Fender, from $675 million to $545 million, with Gibson down by a similar percentage, from $2.1 billion to $1.7 billion, across a three year period. It also paints a somewhat grim picture elsewhere in the industry, reporting Guitar Center is in debt to the tune of $1.6 billion.
MusicRadar's opinion? Yes, the big guns are hurting, but the market has been saturated. We're also seeing longer-lasting low-priced instruments, the rise of home studio musicians less concerned with owning indestructible tour 'horses and, at the other end of the scale, a cottage industry of small, independent luthiers attracting more discerning buyers.
In addition, while figures may be down overall over the last decade, it's likely not a coincidence that across that period most of the developed, guitar-buying world has been in recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression.
It may be time to worry, but we've been reading about the death of guitar music since the '90s, so if it's truly kicking the bucket, we've yet to hear the clang...