Oasis lead the great guitar revival

After two decades of synthesised music, sales of pop's essential instrument are rising again, reports Mark Rowe
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The Independent Online
The Guitar is back. After two decades of decline and the dominance of disco, techno, and other music largely made by machines, the instrument that started it all is suddenly striking a very loud chord with a new generation of music fans.

Sales have soared in the past year - and behind the boom is the success of Oasis, Manchester guitar band par excellence.

With the band's third album, Be Here Now, released this week, it was revealed that sales of acoustic and electric guitars rose by 20 per cent last year, from 308,300 in 1995 to 369,400 in 1996; sales value over the period rose from pounds 33.1m to pounds 46.3m - 40 per cent. This year's sales are likely to show an even bigger jump.

"It's wonderful news and a fantastic shot in the arm for the industry," said Bob Kelley, secretary general of the Music Industries Association.

Figures from the MIA show that sales of electric guitars have also risen since the start of the decade, amounting to 133,900 worth pounds 29.5m last year, compared with 116,200 worth pounds 21.8m in 1990.

"It may be cyclical in that people have had enough of the singing and dancing phase and want to hear people do more than just front a song," said Mr Kelley.

Cliff Cooper, who owns the World of Music store in London's Denmark Street, the hub of the guitar industry, has seen sales almost double in the past year. "It's directly down to Oasis. Since Oasis came into the charts we've been booming with people buying Gibsons and Fenders and bass guitars. We've also sold out of Orange amplifiers since Oasis started using them," he said.

American models, including Fender, Gibson, Hammer and Epiphone are the most popular buys, said Mr Cooper. The top-of-the-range models are by Martin - their Gene Autrey acoustic guitar will set you back a cool pounds 22,000 - and by Gibson, whose electric Corvette retails at pounds 9,500. The cheapest model is the Fender Squire, which sells for between pounds 75 and pounds 100. The most popular models are those that inspired Jimmy Hendrix and Eric Clapton - the Fender Stratocaster (pounds 950) and the Gibson Les Paul (pounds 1,300).

"I see no reason why sales won't continue to climb next year." said Mr Cooper. "Oasis have set a trend and that will keep things rolling."

But perhaps the most envied guitar "riff" of the summer will be played by whoever becomes the proud owner of the first Epiphone Noel Gallagher Supernova to be sold in Britain.

This sky-blue piece of work has just rolled off the production line. There is only one for sale this weekend. You can finger it and admire its pounds 635 price tag inside Macari's musical instrument store in Charing Cross Road, London. Epiphone's decision to name their new guitar after the Oasis virtuoso and one of his hit tracks from the album What's the Story Morning Glory? puts Gallagher Senior up there with guitar legends BB King, Eric Clapton, George Benson and Jimi Hendrix.

Sam Richards, of The Band, a magazine aimed at aspiring guitarists and rock bands, says. "You see more guitar bands in the Top Ten than there were five years ago," he said. "Oasis songs use a small number of chords. You can learn a few chords and before long you're writing your own tunes.

"There used to be a barrier of technique preventing people from picking up a guitar. There was an idea that to play the guitar you had to play a great solo sequence. But now enthusiasm is the important thing. People are wanting to form bands and get together to make music."

However, Andy Preston, who runs Andy's Guitar Centre in Denmark Street, and who has supplied Oasis with guitars, is less optimistic.

"I expect we will see a lot of guitars being bought as Christmas presents . But that will not really help the guitar industry because parents will understandably buy the cheaper models for pounds 80 to pounds 100.

"The guitar industry has been in decline since the late Seventies. But there is no doubt that Oasis have sparked an interest in guitar music in the way that Bob Dylan did. That's no surprise because Oasis are really Beatles clones," he said. "A lot of people who try out a guitar in our shop play Oasis tunes."

Critics: page 15