My name is Dave, and I’m a guitar hoarder.
I quit drinking in 1987 and took up acquiring guitars and complementary rock toys. I budgeted lots of the time and money formerly spent boozing toward guitars, and soon realized I was better at getting deals on instruments than playing them. I did my homework. Buying a used guitar for dimes on the dollar of its retail price brought me pleasure, giddyness even, while selling usually left me cold. The classified ad section replaced the bar as my favorite hangout. I now rate cities less by livability or culture than by the guitar deals available on their Craigslist page.
I don’t know exactly how many guitars I have, but the number’s in the three figures. I’ve also got many dozens of tube amps, and more effects pedals than amps. Then there are the speaker cabinets. (More on those bulky can’t-live-without-’em bastards later.)
When anybody asks what I’ve got in my guitarsenal, I say, “One of each!” and it’s closer to accurate than is healthy. But my level of greed when it comes to guitars is even more alarming than that gag indicates. Take, for example, my most recent acquisition: a made-in-Japan ‘80s Fender Squier Strat, which I got for $90. That made three MIJ ‘80s Fender Squier Strats in my heap, each obtained for a two-figure amount. (That’s a great deal!) My only criteria are “available” and “cheap.” I’m not in the market for museum pieces, just more pieces. I don’t have a collection so much as a pile. I’ve convinced myself that I love all my guitars like they’re my children. Who could get rid of their children?
So some recent events in the guitar realm, crummy happenings which spiritually devalued the objects of my affection/symptoms of my sickness, really shook me up and made me wonder whether the axes’ powers still dominate.
First, a video showing hundreds of Gibson guitars being smashed to smithereens by a slow-moving bulldozer went viral. Never-used Firebird X models, which were introduced in 2010 as the future of the guitar and listed for $5,570 apiece, were turned into worthless guitarbage. Pete Townshend is the only guy sanctioned to demolish as many instruments as this anonymous heavy equipment operator, who needed only a few minutes to rack up a body count similar to that which took Pete more than half a century. (He legendarily banged up a Gibson SG at Woodstock 50 years ago this month). Ax adherents were as nauseated by the sight and sound of hundreds of maple necks breaking as PETA volunteers would be watching the bulldozing of so many kittens.
Officials for Gibson, an iconic American luthier that’s been in financial trouble for a while, were clearly blindsided by the video’s release and the public backlash. The company put out a statement claiming that the instruments had been lying around in its closed Memphis factory since at least 2011, and that the crushed items were “unsalvageable” and couldn’t be “donated for any purpose” because of “unsafe components.” There’s been no explanation of what made the guitars unsafe, unsalvageable, and undonateable. The hoarding hordes remain unmollified.
“It is an awful thing,” says Brian Majeski, editor of The Music Trades magazine, a New York–based publication that’s been tracking instrument sales since 1890. “Who would do that?”
Obsessives went from appalled to just plain sad with the Aug. 7 auction of an estimated $12 million worth of guitars and related implements from Peavey Electronics. Peavey, which with Gibson is one of a very few big corporations still manufacturing rock gear domestically, described the items being sold as “inventory & assets no longer needed.” Musical goodies were unloaded literally by the pallet with opening bids as low as $50.
Peavey spokesman Josh Vittek said the company would not be disclosing how much money the auction brought in, but insisted that Peavey was in fine fiscal shape no matter those revenues and that everything put on the block was “crap,” mostly in the form of customer returns.
I was among those hit hard by the Gibson guitarmageddon and Peavey auction. I’ve got lots of both company’s products in the basement, among them: a ‘69 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe ($350), a ‘68 Gibson J-50 ($125), an ‘80s Gibson ES-335 ($500), and a 2003 Gibson SG ($350); my roster of ‘70s Peavey merch includes a T60 guitar ($150), a T40 bass ($80), and a Peavey Mace amplifier ($100) with JBL speakers, just like Skynyrd’s.
(While the guitar-crushing video and eight-figure gear dump from those companies could surely impact the value of my stuff, I’ve included this disclosure not so much to alert readers to potential conflicts of interest as to brag about some deals I’ve got.)
It’s one thing for, say, a divorcé(e) or widow(er) to offer an ex’s guitars for sale for next to nothing—some of my best Craigslist deals have come from sellers with suddenly single status and looking to move on. But when an original equipment manufacturer disrespects the value of its own wares, that’s a whole different animal. So among guitar obsessives the auction did grievous damage to the image of Peavey, a Mississippi-based company that rode “Freebird”-era Lynyrd Skynyrd’s coattails into the musical mainstream in the early 1970s and stayed there. With its instruments now being unloaded in bulk, Peavey had the aura of a foreclosed family farm.
And, yes, there are upsides to being surrounded by so much guitarness. I actually do love playing, even if I stink, and I’m rarely more than an arm’s reach away from something to pick and grin with. Also, when handlers for mediaphobic Knicks owner James Dolan’s handlers told me that he “was going to pass” on my request to hang out with his band for a story, I played on our shared axaholism. I asked them to tell him, “I have a USA Telecaster beside me plugged through a Crybaby wah into a ‘70s Ampeg G410 that’s on and ready to go and there’s also a mandolin sitting on the couch with me, with a ‘60s Harmony hollowbody electric and a ‘40s Harmony Cremona VI archtop both on stands right next to the couch in front of an Ampeg V2 amplifier and 4x12 speaker cabinet. This is in my living room.” When they still hedged, I hit ‘em with, “I have two Ampeg B15s in my basement. That should mean something to him.” I got the gig.
The video and auction seemed to feed the same narrative about the dismal state of guitars that began taking hold in June 2017, when the Washington Post published a story titled, “Why my guitar gently weeps: The slow, secret death of the six-string electric.”
The piece, by the Post writer and avowed guitarhead Geoff Edgers, lamented the lack of guitar parts in today’s pop music, and the geezering of the guitar-buying demographic. Edgers looked back longingly at a time decades ago when “everyone wanted to be a guitar god, inspired by the men who roamed the concert stage, including [Eric] Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Jimmy Page.” Edgers went over the lousy fiscal state of Gibson and Fender, said electric guitar sales everywhere were down and indicated that readers shouldn’t expect the kids today to bring the instrument back to its former prominence. “They don’t have guitar heroes like you and I did,” Paul McCartney said in the story.
Asked by Deadspin if he stands by the 2017 premise that the guitar is dead, Edgers says, sure. The poor prognosis he gave the instrument wasn’t based on sales figures, he says, but relied on the lack of “the Jimmy Page-in-a-silly-dragon-suit-with-a-bow” variety of guitar hero. (Edgers’s reference hit me where I live. In May 1977 I saw Led Zeppelin at the Capital Centre; Jimmy Page wore his white silk dragon suit, and played a long intro to “Whole Lotta Love” with a bow as lasers surrounded him with a cone of green light. My underage drunk suburban dirtball ass had never seen anything so heavy. It now occurs to me I need to get a bow for the pile.)
Combined with the rise of hip hop and electronic music, Edgers tells me, the dearth of guitar-slinging rock stars has “led to the electric guitar becoming a less central part of our culture.” As perhaps the starkest statement of all, in his original article Edgers had a Fender boss citing Taylor Swift as “the most influential guitarist of recent years.”
But anybody looking for non-doomsday prophecies for guitars can still find them.
“The guitar’s doing fine,” Majeski of The Music Trades tells me.
Majeski concedes there was some credence to the Post’s buzzkilling piece. He says the guitar-buying market is indeed “maturing,” for starters. And he can’t deny that there are more bent notes in “Freebird” alone than in every 2019 Top 40 song combined, or promise that another bow-wielding, dragon-suited guitar god will ever again capture teen dirtballs’ fancy. But Majeski says any argument that the Gibson Les Paul is as dead as, well, Les Paul himself doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The biggest beef Majeski had with Edgers’s story is that he killed off the electric guitar without considering the boom in recent years in online used guitar sales. Those transactions, Majeski said, could double overall sales figures, estimating that in 2018 on reverb.com, a website popular among second-hand gear consumers and vendors, “$600 million worth of guitars” were sold. (In my decades of hoarding, I’ve never bought a new guitar.)
Majeski feels there are plenty of simple reasons nobody should ever write off guitars.
“Guitars are portable, accessible, affordable, versatile musically, and very aesthetically pleasing,” Majeski says. “To lots of people, they’re beautiful.”
And, for more music to hoarders’ ears: “Plus they keep their value,” Majeski says.
For those reliant on analytics, the music industry is throwing out consumer data backing up Majeski’s bullish pronouncements on the state of the guitar. The very same week that the Gibson and Peavey debacles had guitar obsessives down in the dumps, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), essentially the NRA for guitar slingers, released its annual “global report” showing that new guitar sales were up for 2018 over the previous year. And the numbers indicate not only Taylor Swift emulators are buying up the six-stringers, either: New electric guitar sales increased 0.8 percent last year, NAMM asserts, and were up 38.37 percent over the last decade.
Back to me: My guitar pile takes up so much space in my house and life that I’ve occasionally questioned whether I should’ve just kept drinking. I thought I’d hit bottom as a hoarder a couple years ago, when an alleged Marshall cabinet ($100) with four 15-inch speakers worked its way into my living room. It was lacking a Marshall nameplate but had that brand’s signature old-school piping, and was too beat up to call “vintage” instead of just plain “old.” Beyond the brand and condition, intellectually I knew I have as much use for a 4x15 cab as I do an AR-15 rifle. Nobody who isn’t Lemmy or booked to play Woodstock needs a cab that big, and I’m not playing anywhere but my living room. Then again: $100!
After hitting a few power chords through that monster, I realized I might need actual weaponry to ward off neighbors angered by me shaking their windows and rattling their walls, and in a rare lucid moment I bundled it together with several other large speakers and sold it off at a giveaway price. I felt better as the big cabs left my property in the truck of another gear hoarder.
But my recovery was brief: Within months, I had an almost-as-giant and just as ratty old Fender Bassman cab ($40 empty), another Woodstock-worthy implement that I’d loaded with two Electro Voice EVM 15-inch speakers ($80!) of the sort allegedly used by Stevie Ray Vaughan—sure they were!—in the same spot.
That cab had a good run in the living room. But just one day after the Peavey auction, I got my son to help me move the Fender 2x15 to the garage. (There’s no chance in hell I could lug it that far by myself.) Despite the timing, I didn’t put the big speaker out of my house because of any realization or belief that the guitar was dead. Nah, I moved the 2x15 because my sister was visiting from out of town and we needed the room.
But I still crave guitars and guitar toys more than I ever did cocktails. So while that particular Fender cab likely won’t ever come back inside, another big speaker likely will. Soon as I find a deal.