The Gibson Bankruptcy – For Whom, The Bell Tolls?!

Did ya hear? Huh, huh? Didja?!

Last Tuesday, the beloved guitar company, Gibson, filled for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They put all their cards on the table in a grand acquiescent fold, and now the chips are falling where they may.

And they’re not in Gibson’s favor.

Even Guitar Center is in the cross-hairs of potential bankruptcy, being  in debt today. They will probably make it through, though, because of uber-fans that have come like superheroes to its rescue in THIS REAL ARTICLE.

It is real, right?

So, was all this monetary loss a surprise? Or was it expected? Depends on your level of awareness, and/or cynicism.

One thing’s for sure: the music business has changed, and not only we musicians, but the companies that serve our interests (and our G.A.S.!) must change with them.

The Pundits Punt in

I read and listened to and watched lots of experts in our field kick around this news story recently. They’ve given many reasons why the debt has amassed so out of control, and they have enumerated at length all the many things Gibson did wrong to get them here.

One of the top slams against them was the “Robo-Tune” feature that they premiered on some guitars. Players hated ‘cuz it, uh… didn’t really work! Was that enough to put them in the dire straits they’re in today (cue the Knopfler track)? No.

Was it the buying up of many other businesses to widen their market influence? That certainly had a significant effect. I’m not going to say that Gibson is innocent of making some unwise financial decisions. They clearer over-reached their gamble in hopes of winning a bigger slicer of the pie.

But here’s what I found interesting: I heard none of them speak about how WE, the buyers of their gear, influenced, exacerbated, or perhaps even created the problem.

Why would I think we had anything to do with it? Well, let’s see…

To Eat, Or Not To Eat?

… maybe because… we’re not rich yet?!

Of course, one day we ALL will be rich: once that song becomes a hit; once our tour sells out; once our merch’ is depleted from rabid fans; once…

Yea, we keep the dream alive. But for right now, I dare say, a fair majority of us musicians are in the habit (somewhat forced, admittedly) of finding THE BEST DEAL we can find on the gear we’ve got G.A.S. for.

Otherwise, we might have to go without Top Ramen for the sake of a new gear piece.

More than we already DO. lol

Did you know that full-time U.S. musicians earn a median wage currently of only $39,899 per year? Um, yea, that probably has a little to do with it.

Would we have more drums, more mics, more guitars… if we didn’t have to eat? Oooooh, most deeeeefinitely… !!

So, if we are typically having to either go without gear, or buy it at rock-bottom dollar wherever we find that, could our frugality have affected not only Gibson, but the whole music industry of late?

I believe so. Here’s why…

The Music Times, They Are A-Change-in

in the last ten years significant new sales tools were given to us in the Buyer’s Market that we NEVER HAD before. These tools have leveraged our buying power to unimaginable new heights, giving us the ability to, like never before, amass really exceptional studio gear and instruments for a SLIVER of the cost we used to have to shell out.

In other words, we get cool gear AND get to keep a lot more money!
We obviously have nothing against the music gear companies. They have every right to make a living just like we do.

But when new, cheaper purchasing funnels are discovered, monopolies are broken up, and money is dispersed over wide new vistas, away from where it used to normally be gathered, a heavy toll must be expected for the businesses that were the “only gig in town” in former days.

This is exactly what we’re seeing happen today.

So what are these tools, that we now brandish with burly buying power like a singing “Excalibur”?

Oh, come on… you know. Because like me… you’ve got ’em bookmarked on your home page too!

Make Way For EBay

The first tool that revolutionized my music buying habits was EBay. Upon looking its potential almost a decade ago, I soon discovered that pretty much everything I might want to buy is already on EBay for, many times, hundreds of dollars less. Add to that the fact that, most of the time, the only drawback is a scratch here or there that no one would notice anyway, and you can see why I was soon buying almost all my gear via EBay.

Granted, you have to be careful to buy from reputable dealers, but it’s so easy to check those stats on EBay that there’s no excuse to try it. I can tell you, straight up: every single piece of used gear I’ve gained through EBay has worked flawlessly. In fact, the only gear that’s given me issues, repair costs, and ultimately had to be thrown out as useless have been things I bought in a retail store! Every time. Go figure.

The other incredibly useful feature of EBay is the ability to search for “Completed Listings“. It’s under the “Show Only” menu selection on the left side of the home and search page.

Once you use this on whatever you want to buy, you can see what dozens, if not hundreds, of people have recently paid for the item in question. In other words, you get an instant look at the current going rate, or market value, of the instrument you’re interested in.

Once that’s done you can look at auctions that are not completed yet and be able to confidently set your “highest offer” price, based on the completed sales you just monitored.

Oh, and I also noticed in the last decade that I was not the only one switching over and no longer hitting Guitar Center as much. Most of my musician friends were doing the same.

Nail in coffin #1.

Craig, and His Most Entertaining List

The second tool to surface in the 2000s was Craigslist. If you haven’t discovered this wonder of wonders yet, let me tell you: once you start using this website, you probably will never go back. It’s addictive. Aaaaaand… it saves you a ton of money.

Why? To find out, take any piece of gear into any music retail store. Ask them to give you a trade-in price for it.

Then ask them this: “Could I get more money for this if I sold it myself instead of trading it in?” Most sales assistants will be honest, as they have been with me, and they’ll tell you, yes, you can get substantially more if you sell it yourself. Many just don’t because they’re in a hurry, they have serious G.A.S., and can’t wait!

If you still need further proof, go to the Internet, and compare the price they just gave you with the prices you see for the EXACT SAME ITEM on EBay or Craigslist. You’ll see what I mean.

Any retail shop will not give you what your instrument or gear is really worth, because that’s what THEY will have to sell it for. Instead, they must give you substantially less so they end up making SOME bit of profit. And these days, their profit is dwindling smaller, and smaller, with every passing new website.

The only caveat I give with Craigslist is you must USE the piece of gear before you hand over the money. Most things work great, but I have played through a couple things that I ended up not buying because it had a defect of some kind that the seller did not disclose, either because they didn’t realize it (yea, right) or they conveniently left out that little detail.

I have seen on Craigslist, however, that most people are honest, helpful and take good care of their gear like I do. At least half of the guitars on my wall did NOT come from any retail store. There’s a reason.

Do they all work flawlessly? Ooooooh, yea, baby.

“But wait,” you might say, “we used to buy used gear before. We just looked in the Classified ads.”

True, but do you remember how many ads there were, compared to how many listings there are on Craigslist or EBay? A much smaller percentage. The reason was because it wasn’t easy or convenient to have to try to finally get through to the newspaper and spend a loooooong time giving the particulars of your ad. And most times…HELLO! It cost MONEY to place an ad.

Does Craigslist? Nope. Quick, free and easy.

So, do you think thousands of us no longer going into a big box music retail store and instead using the Internet has had an effect on their business?

Oh, look – who’s that flying through the air?! It’s Captain Obvious!!

Nail in coffin #2.

Dizzy From the Savings Goin’ Round!

The third venue that has aided me in my G.A.S.-y quests again and again is the fine establishment called Music-Go-‘Round.

I had never heard of this store until about five years ago. I was driving by one of our local malls and happened to see its sign and said, “Hm. What’s that?” I stopped in and discovered a gold mine. Of savings!

Music go Round

Music-Go-Round is a store whose mission is to take in your used gear, and sell you other people‘s used gear. There’s sundry little items that are new, like strings and capos and the like, but otherwise everything in the store was (hopefully “gently”) used by someone else at one time.

I have a great relationship with Chris Wilson, the manager at my local Music-Go-Round in Troy, MI. We know each other by name, greet each other warmly, and have what I consider a good reciprocal relationship.

I teach music in my studio, so I always tell my students about the store, and have even driven with them there to show them what a great place it is if you need gear and want to save money. I also check with Chris first, before I buy anything. This helps support both a friend and a great local store that is SO worth having at our disposal.

Chris, then, gives me the best deal he can, based on demand, inventory and the money he already has into whatever instrument I’m looking at.

Together, we have completed many a transaction, and my studio would look, and SOUND, a lot different without him and his crack bunch of audio nerds. Of which I am proudly one. lol

Now, do you think having a whole store full of used gear at great prices and good quality, has made a dent in the profits of the big box retailers and manufacturers??

I’ll just say… nail in coffin #3.

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

So our industry keeps feeling the earthquakes of the Internet revolution. It’s amazing to think that we really have only been using the Web for a couple decades, yet already we wonder how we ever got along without it… and never wanna go back.

I mean, come on… who doesn’t like Siri telling a joke or singing? lol

Yep. I'm cheap!

Anyway, I think it’s time we as musicians started raising our hand and saying, “Yea… I contributed to this problem, and here’s why”, so the manufacturers and retail shops understand… it’s all about that dirty bottom line. We know shops have overhead costs to maintain their brick-and-mortar presence, but if it means hundreds more from our pockets… we’ve gotta go elsewhere.

Secondarily, it’s about convenience… like the convenience of not having to leave our home AND saving money at the same time.

What do you think? Have your buying habits changed, like mine did? Do you do most of your shopping online now? Do you get an Amazon box almost every day on your doorstep, like my family does??

And finally, do you think we’ll still see the big box audio chains survive?

I personally hope we can all find a way to make it through and thrive, not just survive, but to do so, it means being honest about what’s really going on, and not keeping blinders on to the little revolutions spinning all around us.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and how YOU would solve the whole issue.

In the meantime, I feel the need to get real wacky and practice the Locrian scale. I know – what’s wrong with me?! ;-o

Now, go… make… sounds!!


2 Replies to “The Gibson Bankruptcy – For Whom, The Bell Tolls?!”

  1. You could make a great case for that, John. Especially now that PRS is PREVALENT in all kinds of music stores throughout the land. Remember when they were hard to find, even just to try out? Kind of like Mesa Boogie still is.
    Or Kiesel Guitars, which was “Carvin Guitars” until recently.

    To me it seems clear that the Les Paul, being such a revered iconic model, is THE number one reason Gibson has been, and will continue to be, a part of the pro audio landscape. Even if the current Gibson team goes under, somebody will buy that company and keep those Pauls crankin’ out.

    By the way, have you tried the lower priced PRS models, as opposed to the higher end “Paul Reed Smith” axes? I think they’ve done a good job keeping the lower-priced models still really good!

  2. Nice work as usual, sir.

    One other idea: has Paul Reed Smith replaced Gibson? If you’re looking at the higher end market, the vintage Les Pauls sell, but PRS dominates the new market. And Paul’s less expensive stuff is even better than Epiphone too.


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