Electric guitar sales have slipped 22.7% since 2008, based partly on decreased demand from younger buyers. Surprisingly, acoustic guitar sales are a totally different story.
Last year, the Washington Post reported that electric guitar sales had plummeted 33% in the past ten years, from 1.5 million units annually to 1 million currently. Now, there’s more data showing a precipitous decline.
According to data shared by Music Trades, which tracks annual instrument sales in North America, electric guitar sales slipped 22.7% over the past decade. The report counted sales of 1.452 million guitar sales in 2008, a figure that had slipped to 1.123 million units in 2017.
Ironically, the report was shared by a representative of Guitar Center, who sent the report to show a sales increase over the past year. But that increase appears temporary, with the broader trend since 2008 showing a clear decline.
Here’s a quick look at the unit sales of electric guitar sales in North America, broken down by year (a more detailed breakdown is below).
The report shows a serious lull in sales in 2015 and 2016, which may have been the basis for the Washington Post’s report. In both years, unit sales are slightly above 1 million units, before showing an uptick in 2017.
Surprisingly, it looks like the average price of an electric guitar is increasing.
Specifically, the average price of an electric guitar has surged from $390 in 2008 to $525 in 2017. That could indicate a greater effort to sell to more moneyed buyers, particularly Baby Boomers. Or, it could reflect a more serious problem attracting younger buyers, who may be more interested in entry-level, bargain guitars.
Those increased price-points are boosting overall revenues, according to the report. It’s unclear if those price-points are adjusted for inflation, or if they will be sustainable.
The electric guitar category also includes bass guitars, of course a highly-related category.
Electric guitar sales are dragging overall guitar sales downward, but acoustic guitars are actually increasing.
In the same ten-year span, acoustic guitar sales grew 14.6% to 1.51 million units. And unlike the trajectory of electric guitars, acoustic guitars enjoyed fairly strong sales in 2015 and 2016. Similar to electric guitars, average prices on acoustic guitars have also been gaining, specifically from $359 to $490.
That increase could be based on a number of factors. For starters, the acoustic guitar category includes a lot of sub-categories, including banjos, dobros, and mandolins. Importantly, it doesn’t include ukuleles, which have reportedly been booming, but mega-successes like Mumford & Sons may be spurring greater interest in other non-electrified fretted instruments.
Additionally, acoustic guitars may be growing for reasons similar to the vinyl LP. Both are totally analog and retro, and perhaps acoustic guitars are also appealing to a population overloaded with digital formats (of course, electric guitars can be recorded analog, but, acoustic guitars are definitely not digital).
It’s also worth nothing that overall revenues appear to be increasing across both categories, though importantly, Music Trades isn’t recording the actual transaction (purchase) price in their breakdown. Instead, Music Trades is using higher wholesale and retail values, which may not reflect what the customer actually pays.
Here’s the complete breakdown.
The sales drops offer greater insight into the troubled situation at Gibson Guitar.
Just recently, the guitar maker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, based on weak sales and an inability to excite customers around digital add-ons and features. Incidentally, Guitar Center has stated that Gibson’s situation will not impact their broader sales, though Guitar Center remains heavily indebted and potentially in danger of declaring bankruptcy itself.