Guitar Center Faces Bankruptcy After 59 Years In Business

Guitar Center on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles (photo: Cbl62 CC 3.0)
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Guitar Center on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles (photo: Cbl62 CC 3.0)
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Guitar Center on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles (photo: Cbl62 CC 3.0)

As guitar sales plummet, some of the biggest guitar brands and retailers are facing bankruptcy.  The latest is Guitar Center, which narrowly averted default and just got downgraded by S&P.

Rock n’ roll may never die.  But that’s little consolation to businesses based on the once-unstoppable genre and its storied instrument, the guitar.

Earlier this year, creditors and analysts pointed to a deteriorating financial crisis at Gibson Guitar, with a bankruptcy anticipated as early as this summer.  Now, you can add Guitar Center to the watch list.  Just this week, leading rating agency S&P downgraded Guitar Center to a ‘CCC—’, indicating serious risk of bankruptcy.

Guitar Center, Inc. is the largest instrument retailer in the United States with nearly 280 locations.  The retailer actually got started as ‘Organ Center’ back in 1959, but eventually shifted to ‘Guitar Center’ in the 70s.  That was an obviously smarter choice, with the guitar dominating the instrument landscape for nearly 40 years afterward.

Earlier this month, Moody’s warned investors of an expected default with bondholders.

But Guitar Center narrowly averted that classification with an emergency loan renegotiation involving debt surpassing $615 million.  Accordingly, early this morning (April 17th), Moody’s noted that it did not consider Guitar Center to be in default.  Instead, the rating agency upgraded the retailer slightly to indicate solvency.

“All of today’s rating actions are in response to the closing of an exchange offer that was announced by Guitar Center this past March,” wrote Keith Foley, a Senior Vice President at Moody’s.

But Moody’s reiterated that this was still a troubling situation.  “The rating outlook remains negative,” the agency stated.

In total, Guitar Center is juggling more than $1 billion in outstanding loans.

In its rating downgrade, S&P indicated that Guitar Center was ‘vulnerable’ to a bankruptcy filing or credit default.

Any shock to the system, including an economic downturn, could plunge the retailer into a crisis.  That ‘shock’ could also include a sharper nosedive in guitar sales, already an instrument under duress.  According to the Washington Post, annual guitar sales slipped from 1.5 million to 1 million leading up to 2017, suggesting that annual sales are currently below the million-mark.

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That is punishing the largest manufacturer of guitars in America, Gibson Guitar.  In February, bankruptcy fears surrounded Gibson, which faces more than $500 million in debt obligations this summer.  “This year is critical and they are running out of time — rapidly,” Kevin Cassidy, a senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service told the Nashville Post.  “And if this ends in bankruptcy, [Gibson CEO/owner Henry Juszkiewicz] will give up the entire company.”

Of course, the fates of both Guitar Center — the largest guitar retailer in America — and Gibson — one of the largest guitar manufacturers — are intricately linked.  In both cases, these businesses have been unable to adapt to a precipitous slide in guitar sales.  Younger buyers, who once drove the guitar surge, have now shifted towards EDM, rap, and less guitar-driven indie music — even though interest in music itself has never been higher.

But replacing the guitar with something else isn’t so simple.  Instead of guitars, young producers and artists are often making beats on laptops, with piano keyboards sometimes an accessory.  But even selling ‘everything’ — drums, keyboards, trumpets, mics, etc. — only solves part of the problem.

Especially for a company saddled with so much debt.




94 Responses

  1. Todd Mizera

    Correction: Organ Center became Guitar Center in 1964.

    • Freddie

      The guitars are just too expensive for average enthusiast, even the used ones, the cheap ones are just
      total trash.

      • Anonymouse

        That’s not entirely factual, most cheaper guitars are more well built than they ever have been in history.

        • Anonymous

          Very true. CAD-CAM has increased consistency 500% and brought production costs down (less people unfortunately) which means decent options from companies like Fender start around $100. Now, if you’re talking Gibson or Fender Custom Shop, those prices are extremely high mainly due to the human factor. But, most players don’t need a $4,000 guitar. There are many great options – PRS SE – for one.

          • Nick

            You nailed it. I collect vintage basses and they are special. Many Squires and other inexpensive basses look and play great. Pro level at a fraction of costs.

          • Ray

            I paid $350 back in “71” for an American Fender Tele then.Now for that price you end up with junk.But if you buy a “71” now,you pay an enormous price.Go figure.

          • Sam

            PRS SE is garbage. Read any of the hundreds of negative reviews by people that purchased that model.

        • Anonymous

          Correct. My Squire Matt Freeman P-Bass is great for 380 bucks new.

        • GC sux

          thats bs. they are made cheaper and cheaper

        • Mark Steven/Dan Armstrong Inc.

          We are re introducing that “clear plastic” guitar the Dan Armstrong. New in 1968 inflation adjusted sold for about $4000. The guitars we will sell will be far superior to the original every way possible… and will weigh 2 pounds less! Estimated cost about $1700 no store (40% increase+ sales commission) sales, all direct via internet… it is the 21st century.

      • Chris D

        Also, kids these days dont play guitar anymore, they do PS4 and all theat stupid crap…also no more guitar geroes like Van Halen, Jummy Page and Claptons…guitarist now are boring!

        • Greg

          Edward “Eddie” Van Halen is NOT a guitar hero. He may have bore some resemblance to a guitar hero DECADES ago, but he’s just milking his old celebrity status. EVH is a bitter, cantankerous old bitch. He doesn’t get along with ANYONE. The man has never released a solo album and he’s kept alive by 50-something old fans who are still dazzled by something he did 40 years ago that had been done for EONS, just never on an electric guitar and with the popularity he had. Timing is everything. Joe Satriani, Guthrie Govan, Martin Miller, John Petrucci… THOSE men are guitar heroes. Not the brooding little bitch EVH

          • Al Snug

            You’ve missed the point. He said there are no guitar heroes TODAY, to which you reply Eddie isn’t a hero TODAY.

          • DryDog

            Ed did receive a US patent on his D-Tuna invention as well as creating some uniquely recognizable sounds on his work. So I wouldn’t sell him too short.

          • Anonymous

            EVH was a fantastic writer. Any Jamoke can take lessons for years and play a solo like EDV, Satriani, etc. It was his creativity with the tool (guitar) , the narrative in his licks, the tone….that set him apart. BTW…plenty of brooding musicians in your record collection I’m sure

        • Rory

          Music changes all the time so why would you expect listeners to want today’s music to sound like something out of the ’60’s or ’70’s. I hear that argument all the time. I have been a guitar and bass player for 40 years and been playing in bands around Minneapolis and St Paul for almost as long. I have changed my playing styles for both instruments over the years because 1) I got more experienced and better and 2) to keep from becoming bored. The current guitar players aren’t necessarily less talented than the guitar “gods” of past decades but have most likely made a conscious decision to sound different than their predecessors. This is a good thing because it keeps rock fresh and evolving.

        • Ross

          No guitar heroes today? Gary Clark Jr? John Mayer? Jack White?

          • Anonymous

            Jack white youve got to be kidding that man is the definition of boring and simple

      • Greg

        Freddie, you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Even the low end “student” edition guitars are better than ever before with modern building technics. The cost of a Fender Squier is what you might pay for a month’s worth of lessons with a decent teacher. Gibson is the most guilty for “overpriced” guitars. Harley Benton is one of the cheapest guitars around (Thomann) and Ibanez provides quality guitars in all price ranges. Hell, you can get a PRS for $500! I paid my way through my kid’s trombone, cello and violin. I suspect you are one of these “average enthusiasts”. Guitar Center failed for a reason (and so is Gibson). Guitars will always be around. It may not be as lucrative a business for just anyone in this day and age. Guitar Center is a piss poor example of a guitar store. Lazy, unaccommodating, unknowing employees… Inability to keep items in stock that people are looking for. My last 5 visits to GC were all the same. I walked in to a nearly empty store. There were enough employees staffed to handle a crowd and NO ONE asked if I needed any help. They’re either kids who are too busy with their faces buried in their phones or older guys who don’t know anything. There’s nothing wrong with the guitars and there’s a price point for EVERYONE. The quality of guitars has never been better. You can get a guitar that looks and plays like something 4 to 5 times it’s price. In fact? I’ll go as far as to say the most you should ever pay for a QUALITY guitar would be $2K. Anything beyond that is furniture… (fancy woods, hand built, etc.). You sound like someone peeved because they suck on the guitar. Rage on “average enthusiast”

        • Kenny

          Same here…my last few visits to GC have been non-eventful. Employees could care less if you’re there, and seem pissed that they even have to ring you up. Fortunately for me, all the drum accessories I need are no longer behind a counter, since there’s nobody in the department…I can get them myself.

          It’s sad. I used to like going in there…now they’re driving me to shop on Amazon. THEY are doing it.

          • R.I.P G.C.

            You Too?? My G.C. is the same way. No real, good guitars. just the cheap crap that won’t stay in tune. The try selling those frivolous protect plans with “everything”. Only cause they’re broke and need the extra money we’ll never get to collect on anyway. And those bitter out of work, aspiring so-called-musicians they have working there don’t know skeet from scat… And just like you, they can’t wait for the people in the store to get the hell out so they can go back to doing exactly what they were doing while I was in there…. NOTHING!

          • Buck

            I have had the same experiences, I have spent many thousands with GC and now I’m done with them!

          • Zkat

            I went there two days ago and had to find somebody to “take” my money.

          • Bob Sullivan

            Sucky service is normal now. This is true at almost all retail stores but particularly the franchise operations.
            Even attendants at gas stations have attitude. It seems to me like NO ONE LIKES THEIR JOBS!

        • Bill C.

          I am a VERY satisfied customer of the Guitar Center in Springfield, Missouri; it is the only one I’ve ever visited, but they, at least, are very knowledgeable and helpful. ‘Sure hope they don’t go out of business.

      • Eli

        Actually today you can buy great guitars for a price of a cell phone

      • Aiden Lautt

        they also sell synths, DJing materials, mics, and monitors, which are things many laptop producers need. You’d think people would be lining up to test em out. Most of us like testing out hardware before buying, that’s one advantage a place like GT has.

      • SeanX


      • Anonymous

        Have you ever been to sam ash music yeah, they are the expensive ones. now im not saying they are not cheap but the cheapest I know. At Sam Ash you can get the same guitar that is $500 that was at guitar center and at sam ash it would be $1000 or 999.99 same thing. same with the acoustic guitars. Taylor acoustic t guitar center for $499, Sam ash for $3,000. That is why guitar center is my prefered music store to go to.

    • Anonymous

      My children have been influenced by music their whole life. We all play multiple instruments and sing. I believe it has molded them into the men they are today. If we would turn our children toward music and away from video games I think it will be better for the next generation. It may not help Guitar Center or Gibson but turning to music instead of a video game that teaches violence would help them cope with issues in life. I know it does for me.

      • Anonymous

        If I had it to do over again, I would have raised my kids without a damned television in the house.
        If I were doing it now, the kids would turn off their cell phones and leave them by the front door.
        Computers and laptops would be in the living room and there WOULD BE NO VIDEO GAMES…….PERIOD!
        If I were raising kids now, I would insist that people in the family talk to each other.
        Face to face conversations…..Radical concept….Probably child abuse….

    • Mark Ballard

      Fake news that their S&P rating plummeted to a CCC- rating? Do you have some alternative facts that we don’t know about? lol

      • Anonymous

        The headline said “Guitar Center Faces Imminent Bankruptcy After 59 Years In Business” – not that their S&P rating plummeted – so the headline is fake news.

        • J. D. Sloan, MBA Finance

          Hahahhaha. They’re done. They’ll be closing stores within 6 months. Layoffs will be first.

          • Anonymous

            They have been opening new stores. Haven’t seen any close yet.

    • Vail, CO

      Look it up: Moody’s stated Guitar Center was about to enter into default. They barely dodged a bullet.

    • Greg

      Ummmm… “Seeking” and “exploring” debt restructuring are a far cry from actually doing it. Are you GC management or a “pee-on”. I will be happy to see the GC in my city close. The local mom and pop shop’s wall of guitars might not be as large? But, their employees jump out of their chairs the moment I walk in the door to greet me and ask if I need help and they are much more knowledgeable than the lazy clowns at GC. Gibson will restructure or someone will buy them. The Gibson brand will continue, GC is the Kmart/Sears of guitar stores. Goodbye GC, good riddance.

  2. Geoff Edwards

    Bain Capital strikes again. Bankrupting more American successful companies than Donald Trump.

    • MR

      Bain Capital sold GC back in 2014. It’s now owned by Ares Management. A company insider who works at the Westlake CA HQ told me GC is solid and sales are good.

      • Brent

        Yeah, dude keep believing that. Oh and it is Amazons fault.

        Debt is taking all of these companies to Davey Jones’ locker. Just ask Toys R Us.

      • Greg

        Pull this leg, it plays jingle bells. Do you know anything about finance? I work for one of the biggest brokerages in the US. Can GC recover? Sure they can! Is it likely? Short selling and put options in GTRC, that’s what I would do…

  3. Geoff Edwards

    Bain Capital strikes again. Bankrupting mosuccessful companies than Donald Trump.

    • Anonymous

      Dude… Bain Capital hasn’t owned GC for around 4-5 years.

      • Dan W

        They only sold off controlling interest. They still own part of the company and sit on the board of directors. Guitar Center’s financial road map is still being influenced by decisions at Bain Capital.

  4. MG

    Good riddance. Overpriced with crap customer service to boot.

    • Johnny

      Expect half the music instrument manufacturers to shrink drastically or go out of business if that happens. Love them or hate them, the MI industry needs them.

  5. Jason

    Have you been to a guitar center in the last 5 years? It’s obvious they’re going out of business any second.

  6. Anon

    Breaks my heart ………….NOT
    They have managed to close almost every independent music store in the country…. (ours included) …. poetic justice folks. Couldn’t care less.

    • Johnny

      Expect half the music instrument manufacturers to shrink drastically or go out of business if that happens. Love them or hate them, the MI industry needs them.

    • Greg

      I agree with Mark Ballard. Your statement carries about as much weight as the idiot that popularized that statement “fake news”. Just because you call it that? Doesn’t make it so… Please, thrill me with your acumen! How is this fake news? Are they lying about S&P lowering their rating AGAIN!?!!?!? How about you check your facts idiot. Would you like to invest in some GTRC options? Which way should you go? Funny you should ask… Put your wallet where your mouth is troll.

      • Anonymous

        The headline is “fake news” nothing about lowering the credit rating, that would have been more accurate.

  7. Mark Ballard

    Fake news that their S&P rating plummeted to a CCC- rating? Do you have some ‘alternative facts’ that we don’t know about? Please share em’ if so! lol

  8. Stephen Parker

    Why are they a billion dollars in debt ? Because directors and shareholders have taken the money out in the past , banking on future profits……that will never be banked.

    • clark

      They’re 1.1 billion in debt because they have violated all the basic business rules.
      Selling your products for less than a fiscally viable profit WILL bankrupt you no matter how much volume you sell. and anyone who thinks that those HIGH RENT stores will generate enough sales to offset they’re costs.. are just smoking crack.
      Musical instruments should NEVER be sold on a volume basis. the world just doesn’t need that many instruments. and its never gonna be a sustainable business model, it simply has to burn itself out at some point.. Thankfully, we have reached that point.

  9. Kenny Lee

    I worked as an assistant store manager, a sales manager, and an artist relations sales manager at the flagship Hollywood store from 2003-2006. It was a great company with excellent customer service. Then Mitt Romney and Bain Investments bought the company, sold off the stocks and privatized it. It was then run like a Best Buy and all the seasoned veteran sales staff was cast aside for minimum wage college grads and starving musicians. They screwed the pooch and are now paying the price. I guess Gordon Gecko was wrong afterall. Greed isn’t always so good. See ya

  10. Steve G.

    So what comes first the Guitar Center bankruptcy or Gibson Guitar BK ? Is this like what came first, the chicken or the egg scenario? Both are in a symbiotic relationship that is heading down the crapper fast, very Staind around the bowl…So…WHO’s Next, (pardon the R&R puns) Fender? Remember, Papa was a Rolling Stone…so maybe there is hope again for the Ma and Pa shop after this shakeout? It’s a Heartache and a Bitch, at least they won’t have to drive a Crazy Train with their monthly quotas in the 1,000’s per store with crazy overhead,while managers going Crazy on You to Sell Sell Sell…It just seems we are On A Road To Nowhere when it comes to future Guitar players that want to be a Jukebox Hero…The Waiting Is THe Hardest Part

  11. Disgruntled

    My boyfriend works at one of their flagship stores. This is one of the reasons why they have so many lawsuits filed against them by former and current employees. Just google “guitar center lawsuits.” Their managers regularly use ILLEGAL labor practices. When confronted, they lie, saying their misdoings are corporate policy, when it goes directly against state and federal law. They deserve this. If you want a good guitar, go to Sam Ash or Sweetwater. These guys don’t deserve your money.

  12. JD

    The only thing I learned in reading these comments is that financial geniuses are pompous assholes.

  13. Stephen

    Gibson’s financial issues have nothing to do with any dip in guitar sales. They purchased other companies that are not pulling their weight…

  14. Bob

    Not once did I ever feel I got a deal at Guitar Center. I’ve spent thousands there over the years. I remember in the 1980’s racing to get there before they closed after hearing a radio ad about Marshall Stacks on sale. When I arrived, they were these mini practice amps. They deserved to go out of business that day.

  15. Billy machin

    Good day Friend, anyone looking forward to a financial help/assistance should please contact this Email:( are 100% reliable.

  16. Bill Rosenblatt

    I recently bought our 14-year-old son his first guitar. We shopped at Guitar Center and Sam Ash. Lots of overlap in brands carried; BIG difference in stock and service. Sam Ash is just a better experience. Guitar Center is a place to go and try a bunch of guitars (amid the cacophony of two dozen other people doing the same thing) with no supervision or help, and then leaving without buying anything.

    Agree that many of today’s budget-priced guitars have surprisingly good quality. We bought a Korean-made PRS that was almost (*almost*) as good as the US-made version for well below $1000 – an excellent instrument that will last a long time and not go out of style.

  17. Ed

    The reason for all this is the younger generation like video games and i Phones not learning to play musical instruments.

  18. Jay

    Blaming a failing guitar sale is ridiculous: guitar as an instrument is doing just fine and Gibson is failing because they started relying on their name too much while they let their quality go to shit and their prices stay high. Guitar Center is just a shitty place to buy a guitar- they have unreasonable markups, shit customer service, and just feel gross to walk in to.

  19. Thomas

    GC will not last much longer. Since the company went private it has gone down hill. The employees now have no clue what they are selling and all of the good guys are gone. The stores don’t stock any high end audio gear, you have to have them order it. There was a time when they had $2000-$3000 mic pres and outboard gear in stock. Now everything is under $1000.00. It’s not the same anymore. Back in the day everyone at upper management were musicians and now they all come from various retail companies and they don’t understand that musicians have passion. The passion is gone.

  20. Falcon HZ

    As a kid (18-25) I went to GC to buy guitars. Very few times they treated me nicely though I was a paying customer. As I grew older and wiser I began defending myself verbally but I was still buying. One day I realize I didn’t need more humiliation from them and stopped going to GC completely. I am an active musician still and for 15 years I shopped elsewhere. THey lost a continuing paying customer (me) due to their poor, insulting service.

  21. Megabroke

    The right move to closed GC no one is playing guitars anymore cuz guitars are extinct like the vhs and today guitarist are just dull and has been done riffs already and sell a lot of junk like dean Ltd Jackson bc rich bringback Kramer charvel schecter must visit musician

    • Former GC Stockman

      Not true. There are great guitars out there and there are many people who want to play. There are more boutique guitar makers out there because the main manufacturers have also lost their way.
      BTW, Musicians Friend is owned, or at least was, by Guitar Center (purchased in 1999)

  22. Dude

    First! A common thread throughout this topic as that the entire guitar industry is in trouble or duress as stated in this article. All info concerning I have read seems to be bias for some reason and I do not believe for a second that guitars are going anywhere but in the hand of new players . Back to GC. I have been in enough of them in different states and am glad they are going bye bye. Most are a frig’n joke when it come to customer service and customer loyalty must be a myth to them. This garbage about the guitar industry decline is an American piece of BS. In the U.K. stores like Andertons are thriving and other shops are springing up like weeds on South American countries, even China. Also Sam Ash is doing fine. It gives me a warm fuzzy to hear GC is leaving. No more college ages punks who think they are special because they work in a music store. They’ll have to go back to McDonalds or Starbucks. Bye bye Guitar Center! Good riddance!

  23. RIP GC

    I worked for Guitar Center for four years. The company at it’s core has always had an ethics problem. Which initially is one of the reasons they had been hemorrhaging money for years. On top of that they have always had a sense of arrogance about being the largest musical retailer in the country. They always considered themselves some kind of unstoppable juggernaut. All the while pressuring poor idiots into taking a second mortgage out on their house in hopes of becoming the next Eddie Van Halen. And don’t get me started about the hostile work environment for women that they seem to embrace as a positive thing. I for one would be glad to see them go. I have a lot better experiences at Mom N Pops and shopping online.

  24. Rockin Ron

    I’m still waiting for my Marshall amp cover I was supposed to get when I purchased my amp in 1978! Lol!

  25. Anny

    Millennials are the culprit. They are really the generation of everything fake, from fake lips using botox, fake music with their auto tunes, and the music industry is run by street untalented hood thugs. The music now reflects that. You don’t need to learn the art/craft of playing a REAL MUSICAl INSTRUMENT with this generation. This generation even believes a turntable or any pro audio device like a mixer is a musical instrument… LOL!! Its all thug music and processed music created by no talent thugs really. Yes, Millennials killed Guitar Center as there is no market in the musical instruments and the music in general has gone down hill. Thank you Millennials a generation of worthlessness.

    • Trollmaster Todd

      Beg your pardon, Anny, but Baby-Boomers killed everything you know and love. Steve Jobs (Baby Boomer) Killed the Sony Walkman with the iPod, killed Pro Tools with Garageband, and killed real instruments with iPhone Apps. So go ahead and blame the millennials for sh*t that was invented while they were still in grade school, moron! Millennials have no choice but to capitalize on the world that boomers built for them. Suck it!

  26. Former GC Stockman

    The problem with Guitar Center is completely about not understanding their clientele and the new business environment. Guitar Center started out basically being run like a car dealership, but they had guys (mostly, but some gals) who know about instruments who were local players. And they encouraged their guys to learn about the instruments and equipment. They have now completely driven all of those guys off. Now they hire warm bodies who have less knowledge about the gear than I’ve ever seen and run the place like it’s a Walmart. In this business climate, the only way to distinguish yourself is by service and knowledge. Music is very personal. Service has never been a strong suite with GC, but knowledge was. Now, all gone. It’s not Millennials. It’s not Boomers. It’s not understanding the environment and thinking you can still make it by running off competitors, bullying vendors, hiring inexperienced employees (and not appropriately training them), and not expanding quickly enough into markets that are desired.

  27. Friend of Leon

    The GC in my town have a staff of people who know their job and what they are doing and are accomplished musicians. I promise you can not go in the door without being greeted and help offered to you. I find it a pleasure to shop their and I find in most cases they will beat others prices.

  28. Jeff

    Good riddance! I hated guitar center the first time I went in 25 years ago. Never set foot in another. I go only to local shops, friendly people who are there because they Love guitars…..not only a job.

  29. WH

    Knoxville GC doesn’t seem to be doing well. I can remember them being stocked a lot better, maybe too well. The funny thing is that they didn’t have the model I wanted. Visited Chattanooga as well and they didn’t either. Used inventory lacking and not marked properly (which affects price). They bought my guitar. I am grateful. Would have bought a guitar if they had the model. Did have a lot of employees. Person who helped me was nice, but she disappeared. They have good policies, I think, for returns and satisfaction. Not many customers. I can’t afford Gibson. I wish the best for both companies.