Monday, June 22, 2015

Gibson Guitars and Wishful Thinking

I get why Gawker is going after Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz--he's an asshole who is completing the mission of ruining a venerated American company. That's their take on it, and they have been beating that drum for a few years.

The story of any American company that is being run into the ground in similar to this in some way--lack of innovation, poor leadership, declining values, outsourced employees, and mismanagement of enormous proportions. Companies are being bled dry. Companies are making shoddy products and trying to appease stockholders. Companies are just plain useless. Many others are just going in the wrong direction and can't get any traction.

Gibson, like Harley Davidson, and like anyone else you want to mention, are companies that are simply  going away because the culture is changing. So, you can rag on Juszkiewicz all you want, but fewer and fewer people are getting invested in what Gibson is selling, and that's music performed by a person after years of study and hard work. As a product, the guitar is losing value because we are caught up in nostalgia.

There is only one kind of person who is interested in paying more than $25,000 for a guitar, and that person is aging rapidly and has a lot of money and isn't interested in anything other than acquiring a status symbol. If you explained to them that a $1,000 Epiphone guitar is just as good, you're never going to hear the end of it. If you pointed out that Paul Reed Smith is making better instruments, all you're doing is confirming the fact that people are not interested in facts. They want something they can put in their house that will make others envious. 

I have four cheap guitars that I love to play. I switch between them, put new strings on when I can, and I play when I can. I'm not interested in playing live in front of people--I just want to have the experience of playing an instrument that will respond to what I put into it, which is not a lot, to be honest with you. I don't care about the Les Paul guitar because I'm never going to own one. I've been priced out of the market.

Now, it used to be that Gibson would make models that appealed to people like me--music used to be affordable. Greed drove up the prices and the notion that there was something in the wood, something in the laquer on the surface of the wood (bullshit), something magical that science couldn't verify took hold. The need for people to create exclusivity with owning a wooden box with strings on it has driven affordability into the ground. 

Gibson has priced people out of their market. They have a failing business model and the culture is abandoning this thing we call music because no one can make a living at it anymore. The number of people who will order a custom Gibson guitar and pay a huge amount of money for it is dwindling every day because we devalued the music business to such an extent that you're going to see the ripple effect. 

It's all disappearing and dying, and when the Baby Boomers are done, a slew of companies that appealed to them and milked them for all of their cash will go with them into oblivion. Everything that you can say about a Gibson guitar you can also say about Corvette cars and Harley motorcycles--they're now overpriced, they're not as good as they once were, and the one I own is better than yours.

American culture now values video games and music created by DJs more than it does the creation of music with hands and amplifiers and recording studios. There's no money it and it's never coming back. It's like the era of wooden ships--sure, there are people who know how to sail but nobody retains the knowledge and skill necessary to do it the way it was done two or three hundred years ago. If you want it all to be like it was, that's just nostalgia and wishful thinking.

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