Electric Guitar Sales Have Plunged 23% Since 2008

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.

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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.

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(click to enlarge)

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.



11 Responses

  1. Lucien

    They’re using an outdated metric and not looking at the immeasurable rise over the past 10 years of independent companies that ship right to the customer like Ormsby, Legator and Kiesel.

    • Kev-o

      Or…people really aren’t interested in electric guitars anymore…

      • Desert Scorpion

        I agree. The electric guitar gods are no longer popular anymore. I think this is a permanent decline. I own some acoustic and electric guitars but I think the electric guitar isn’t as appreciated by the critical 18 to 24 year demographic anymore.

        • EGW

          nothing is permanent. trends go up and down and so on. from my experience typically at 10 year cycles.

      • Donny

        I disagree. To quote, “The Acoustic Guitars category includes banjos, dobros, mandolins, and other acoustic fretted instruments, excluding ukeleles.”. That’s like saying horse carriages are outselling cars but when we say horse carriages we include wheelbarrows, carts, bicycles, trikes, rickshaws, and other non-motorized vehicles excluding unicycles. It’s a dumb statistical analysis that is meaningless without correlation. Guitar means Guitar.

        Besides that poorly governed statistic, I think what’s missing here is correlation between teachers and their insistence that new players first learn on acoustic. Anecdotally, this happened to be the reason I didn’t want to learn for many years. Parents have this issue too, in that they think acoustic is how little Johnny must learn if he wants to learn electric.

  2. Blobbo

    Good that people are buying acoustics, since keys and guitars reign supreme, particularly at songwriting. Anyone who thinks they are going to learn jack squat from samplers when it comes to songwriting is living a delusion.

  3. Adam

    Does this person think that Gibson only make Electric Guitars? I think more research is in order..

  4. Don

    EBay is killing sales because there are so many people reselling their gear

  5. Dan

    “Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, especially since printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance.”

    “The view that the sun stands motionless at the center of the universe is foolish, philosophically false, utterly heretical … the view that the earth is not the center of the universe and even has a daily rotation is philosophically false, and at least an erroneous belief.”

    “If Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse.”

    “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty–a fad.”

    ” … civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,” 1970. Shh, don’t tell the climate change advocates!

    “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

    Many, many people have been wrong in history. I don’t doubt your sincerity, but using bad statistics is a poor way to try convince anyone that you’re right…

  6. Melville

    Being out of date is good, but being REALLY out of date is better.

    I remember living in an apartment and interviewing roommates in 1995 and in 2010. In 1995 everyone was in a band. In 2010 everyone was a DJ.

    So people don’t learn to play an instrument and practice, then in 2030 someone who can play the guitar is some rare freak. It’s like being a Delta bluesman in 1970– they were all elderly or dead , and there’s no way you can steal what it takes to become one in one or two years.