An Upright Bassist at Guitar Center

The Guitar Center is as commercial and corporate as you can ever make a music shop. The purpose of Guitar Center is to make money and profit, the same way any other corporate retailer makes their decisions. At one point, Guitar Center was publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, If it sells and makes money, it gets space, if it doesn’t it gets discontinued.

spotlightA few days ago I needed a new instrument cable, so I figured I’d pay GC a visit since it’s the closest music store with decent quality 1/4″ cables.  I hadn’t been there for many years and somethings never change “Guitar line 1, pro audio line 2, etc..” over the loud speaker. What is different is the fact that now the Synth/Electronics/Keyboard section is larger and the bass guitar section is much smaller.

Decline in Bass Guitar Sales

I remembered when I used to walk into the local Guitar Center back in the late 80’s, there were guitars and there were bass guitars. Synths/Electronics/Keyboard was a small room.

They (the all knowing product peddlers) educated me on the fact that “everyone” is doing computer/electronic based music now. They even demo’ed the latest sound module with all the bass guitar sound you could ever want in one box. Before you guys start hurling your neon green bass guitars at me like Bobby Dall at his fellow Poison bandmate, I’m just the messenger. I agree with them that Popular music (including rock) has been moving towards synth bass and bass patches. “This new generation of teens are crazy about technology, so they aren’t flocking to the bass guitar like they used to”, “For pros, gigs don’t pay much and people expect to pay $1 a song, and you’re lucky to sell 1000 of them a year, so musicians don’t want to pay a bass player”, says the painted and pierced life size vodoo doll behind the counter. He says that the only thriving genre of music that still demands a real bass guitar is country music.

The Upright Bass in the Corner

Guitar Center does sell electric upright basses. While I was inspecting it, another helpful and knowledgeable peddler comes to assist me.

“You’ve been helped?” he asks me.
“I’m curious about this upright bass” I reply
“Yeah everyone coming in tries to play it”
“You sell a lot of these?”
“Sure, but they keep bringing it back because they can’t figure out how to play it, that’s the great thing about our return policy. You want to try it?”
I play a few bars of On Green Dolphin St. “It needs to be set up and adjusted” I answer
“Honestly, no one knows anything about that thing here. You’re the first person I’ve seen who actually can play it…”

So the conversation continues and the gist of it is that people like it, but no one knows how to play it. Bass guitarists are often self taught; tackling something fretless and with a string length too wide for one finger per semitone, they just give up. A lot of bass guitar players like the novelty of the upright bass, but aren’t willing to commit time and money to learn to play it. The sales guy says that he’s a fretless bass guitar player and that most guys that walk in want instant gratification, “frets make life easier because you don’t have to develop your pitch”.  “You buy it (a bass guitar) and you’re playing in a band by the end of the week.

He rings me up for the instrument cable, “You need any strings or anything else? We have a good deal on amps, today only, plus I can do 0% interest for 90 days.  You know, I think we have a special on it and I can talk down my manager on the price of that upright if you buy it right now”.

Now I’m starting to remember why I haven’t been back in years.

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