By ALEX RIESE
On the corner of Victoria and Park Street in Kitchener, there is a sleepy little plaza tucked out of the way. Within this plaza is a musical haven called The Guitar Corner. Opened by Duane King, the music retail store is the only one in Kitchener that specializes in guitars. King sells brands that other stores don’t carry, conducts repairs for people who need instruments and equipment fixed in a pinch and makes custom guitars for acclaimed recording artists. The Guitar Corner is dedicated to keeping interest in the guitar high.
Unfortunately, the instrument’s effect on modern music is slowly dwindling.
According to a March 27, 2015 article on multimillion-dollar marketer Brandon Gaille’s official website, shipments of electric guitars have declined 4.6 per cent to 1.10 million units in 2014, whereas shipments of acoustic guitars have increased to 1.2 million units over that same time frame. The acoustics market now has 34.7 per cent of the market share, a full 10 per cent more than the electric market.
Purchases of used guitars are also increasing dramatically due to the rising price of new guitars (up 10 per cent in the last decade), coupled with high unemployment rates and changing musical tastes.
In a similar trend, the 2014 National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Global Report demonstrates that the biggest gains in instrument sales were in DJ equipment and synthesizers, the former growing by 15.52 and the latter growing by 13.53 per cent in 2013. Conversely, sales of electric guitars only rose by 4.21 per cent in 2013. This trend can be easily explained by the rise in electronic dance music’s popularity over the past decade, which also accounts for fewer sales in entry level guitars. In the report’s analysis, authors Larry Morton and Joe Lamond suggested the lower sale rates are simply a phase.
“In the five-plus decades since the guitar has become the world’s most popular instrument, the market has run through a half-dozen booms and busts,” they wrote. “Those old enough to remember the early ’80s would recall the bleak acoustic guitar sales, the modest electric guitar sales and the sense that the best days of the electric guitar market were long past. If the past is any guide, interest in the guitar, particularly electrics, will rebound in the not-too-distant future.”
Though interest in the guitar has declined from a business perspective over the past 10 years, it still holds vast cultural significance in the Western music market. The independent music scene in Waterloo Region features many bands that still play guitar-driven music. Local band Jon Knight and Soulstack’s eclectic blend of different Americana music styles would be bleak without the inclusion of the guitar.
“With a keyboard, you have the ability to play notes very quickly, but each note only has one pitch,” said Jon Knight, the band’s lead singer. “With a guitar, you can bend the pitch or modulate it further. It’s the little bends and vibratos that add so much to the instrument, and that’s why we love it so much.”
Knight has been a dedicated guitarist since he was a kid. His influences range from country blues guitar player Mississippi Fred McDowell to legendary slide player Derek Trucks.
“He added so many little different vibratos and different touches to slide guitar that just opened up how expressive the instrument can be,” he said.
Through years of practice, Knight has developed his own approach to playing slide guitar.
“I try to make my slide playing sound like the whisper of a ghost,” he said. “To do that, I tense up my bicep, take my wrist out of the equation and only apply vibrato after I’ve held the note for a second or a second and a half.”
The guitar’s immense popularity is hardly an accident. Local blues picker Gary Cain has been playing the guitar since he was nine years old. After an education in Humber College’s music program, Cain became an expert. He thinks the instrument is among the most versatile instruments in music.
“Aside from the human voice, the guitar is the most expressive instrument I can think of,” he said.