Photo/IllutrationSecondhand Gibson Les Paul electric guitars at a musical instruments store in New York (The Asahi Shimbun)

Eric Clapton used to do what many guitar lovers do before he became a rock superstar: stand in front of a musical instruments store and longingly look at guitars in the show window for hours.

Clapton was filled with deep emotion when he finally bought his first Gibson. He recalls in his autobiography that he felt as if he'd become a real musician.

The Gibson Les Paul, which was Clapton’s favorite, has long been coveted by rocker wannabes. The solid-body electric guitar is a heavy instrument with a heavy sound, which is, according to a colleague of mine who owns one, just the right combination.

Gibson Brands Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection on May 1. Perhaps this mirrors the declining population of aspiring rock guitarists today.

As the guitar market continued to shrink, Gibson expanded into audio equipment for survival. But that did not work, and hence the sad demise of this once-prestigious manufacturer.

A U.S newspaper pointed out that there used to be many guitarists who were worshipped by young people, such as Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, but that their likes no longer exist today.

There was a time when a guitar was the first instrument played by anyone who'd just had their musical awakening. That era may be already over perhaps due partly to the rise of hip-hop in which the guitar plays no prominent role.

In “Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar,” co-authored by Brad Tolinski and Alan di Perna, legendary guitarist Carlos Santana discusses the power of the guitar. He notes that just one sound can save someone from ruin or bring lovers closer together--and even bring a war to an end.

Of course, many musical instruments have the power to move people. But I assume that the guitar alone is capable of working its special magic, and I wonder why.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 4

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.