Gear in Review: The Stories That Dominated Music Gear Discourse in 2018

If you clicked on a link that brought you to this particular Reverb article, there's a good chance that you care about music gear and the music gear industry. And if that is indeed the case, then you're likely aware that every year there are a few key headlines that sweep through our plucky little corner of the internet, dominating debate and capturing a slice of the collective music-making consciousness. Today, we're going to look back on a handful of the key news events and storylines from the gear world in 2018.

For these stories, we have some earlier or complementary coverage that you can see by clicking the links below. For a comparative look at what was big in 2018 over 2017, you can check out last year's version of this article.

How Will Gibson's Bankruptcy Affect Used Gibson Prices?
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Gibson Bankruptcy and New CEO

Without a doubt, the biggest news story from the guitar industry in 2018 was Gibson's declaration of bankruptcy, the public reaction to this news, and the subsequent appointment of a new CEO and executive suite by the company's new ownership later in the year. Gibson was and remains one of the most recognizable brands in music, and for years, every one of their moves has been dissected with parliamentary vigor by people who care about things like robot tuners, wood sourcing, and the neck profiles of different Les Paul reissues.

In a lot of ways, the bankruptcy announcement and ousting of long-time CEO and general comment section punching bag Henry Juszkiewicz was a predictable conclusion to a years-long saga of questionable business decisions, disappointing instrument quality, and a whole lot of armchair quarterbacking. Initially, some assumed this meant the company would stop making guitars, but once that notion was dispelled, the chatter generally centered on how Gibson might rebound from its perceived period of decline in a way that would appease its fanbase.

Since then, the 2019 model range seems to have taken at least one step towards the "back-to-basics" ethos that many have campaigned for, with Gibson's new CEO, JC Curleigh, seeming to share a similar vision.

We'll see how it all pans out in 2019, but if experience is any indicator, whatever Gibson's newly appointed leadership decides to do or not do, people in the online guitar-o-sphere will debate, praise, and scrutinize it with a singular focus and passion. Just look at how much people opined on this random one-off reissue model.

Behringer to Release Clones of the 808, ARP 2600, and Other Classic Synths and Drum Machines
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Behringer Clones

In the synth community, probably the most hotly debated topics centered on Behringer's ongoing project of creating dirt-cheap recreations of classic synthesizer models. Behringer—the monolithic global manufacturer of budget music gear—entered the synth market for the first time with the DeepMind a couple of years ago and has since built a whole team dedicated to synth design and development. As early as March 2017, they announced their intention to offer clones of a slew of classic synths, with CEO Uli Behringer getting involved in some forum threads to justify his company's comfort with copying the legacy design work of others. Of these, a copy of the classic Moog Model D was the first to be confirmed and began shipping to retailers in January of this year.

To date, Behringer has announced or "leaked" its intentions to give the same treatment to the Sequential Circuits Pro One, Roland TR909, TR808 and SH101, Oberheim OB-XA, and Arp Odyssey—all of which are all inbound, according to Behringer—with plenty more models said to be at different stages of development. The company had prototypes for some of these models at Superbooth back in May, though generally speaking, they seem to take a bit of a vaporware approach to their release cycle, announcing products, drawing out hype, and slowly following through on the ones that excite the most potential. But who knows, their gargantuan city-factory in Guangdong Province may just be struggling to keep pace with what is clearly very high demand.

Now, of course, the most obvious criticism of these model is the fact that they are copies of older IP from their circuits up through their enclosures. The designs don't really innovate on any level apart from economies of scale, and could potentially be taking profits away from companies that actually push the envelope of synth design and tech. This could be especially true if they follow through on hints of creating a full range of sub-$100 Eurorack modules.

On forums, Uli has been extremely upfront about the legality of these units and you can respect the readiness with which he's willing to jump into the public debate, share his views, and hear feedback from the community. More importantly, though, most people love these instruments. They provide an undeniable entry point into the synth market for many players who will likely eventually upgrade to something a bit heftier from the likes of Moog or Sequential/DSI. If, for example, the company put out a bunch of inexpensive powered Eurorack cases, that would give a tons of synthists the infrastructure to start buying modules from smaller boutique companies.

It's a complicated set of issues with lots of valid arguments to be found. Take a look at the coverage from our pals over at cdm for insight into a very peculiar lawsuit levied by Behringer against some of its critics as well as a reposting of Behringer's perspective on many of these themes.

As for the "Boog" Model D, well, the little $300 analog box ranked as the most popular new synth of the year for 2018.

Full Details on John Mayer's Silver Sky PRS Revealed
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John Mayer's Silver Sky

As far as new guitar releases in 2018, probably the most widely debated came in the form of the Silver Sky, John Mayer's new signature model from Paul Reed Smith. The official launch of this guitar had been a long time coming. Mayer publicly split from Fender in 2014 and signed with PRS soon thereafter. In the time since, he's teased glimpses of the new signature PRS model on Instagram and on-stage, spurring a rumor mill that's generated ample hype leading up to the Silver Sky's full release earlier this year.

Now, as is obvious from one look at the Silver Sky, this guitar is essentially a Strat by another name, and indeed, Mayer and Mr. Smith himself have discussed modeling the neck profile and other elements after vintage Fender instruments from their personal collections. There have been some critics saying if you want a Strat, buy a Strat. On the other end of the debate, many recognize that PRS is an excellent maker of guitars and that there's a lot more to the appeal of this instrument than the body shape. Smith himself commented on the controversy directly, explaining, among other things, that both he and John love all the chatter about their new model.

Moog Releases Moog One, Its First Polyphonic Synth in Over 30 Years
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Moog Re-Enters Poly Market with Powerhouse Moog One

Moog Music Inc had a huge year in 2018. The iconic synth brand released their Grandmother monosynth this year with a clever and engaging layout that's earned absolutely rave reviews from all corners of the synth world. Moog also made some headlines this year with its plea to the industry regarding how newly announced tariffs on electronic components threatened their ability to build instruments in the U.S.

But perhaps most impressive of all was the release of the new Moog One, the brand's first proper polysynth since its rebirth in the early 2000s. This Starship Enterprise-like marvel of a synthesizer has set a new bar for Moog capabilities and design. It's an expensive instrument. In a synth market that caters extensively to less experienced users with ample lower-tiered gizmos, the price tag ($7,999 USD for the 16-voice model, $5,999 for 8-voice) has inspired a lot of sticker shock, envy, and also a lot of memes. But regardless of the feasibility of owning this instrument for most, it remains an absolute statement piece for Moog and for the entire analog synth business by extension.

Fender Releases Its Parallel Universe Series
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Fender Parallel Universe Series

At NAMM back in January, Fender gave a sneak peak of a new limited run of guitars dubbed the Parallel Universe series. These instruments offer reimagined takes on Fender's classic designs, combining, for instance, a Telecaster body shape with a Jazzmaster pickup and trem set. One Parallel Universe model has hit the streets each month in 2018, and each one has given occasion for Fender enthusiasts to debate whether or not they'd be caught dead with one in hand. The radical Meteora was the first model to hit the airwaves, sparking ample discussion on the virtues of its revisionist form factor. Subsequent months saw the release of the rest of the series including the LP-cum-Tele Troublemaker.

Understanding the New Generation of Tone Tech
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Modeling Continues To Be Popular

In 2018, modeling amps and pedals continued a several year-long upward trend in awareness and popularity. While there's not a single headline or event to point to within this trend, the numbers from our database indicate more sales, more searches, and more excitement over Fractal and Kemper products, the two heavy hitters in the lineup of high-end amp and effect-modeling tech.

Line 6, for its part, is lowering the barrier to entry to this realm with new entries in its Helix line including the popular HX Stomp and HX Effects. There are more standalone amp-modeling pedals from firms like Atomic, while the wealth of software options has only grown more sophisticated. More and more professional musicians are touring exclusively with powerhouse modeling amps, and it's not uncommon to see sensational headlines on forum posts about the imminent collapse of tube amp demand as digital amp models grow more and more convincing.

Richard Devine on the Thrill of Eurorack
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Eurorack Scene Continues to Grow

This year on Reverb, the number of Eurorack systems and modules bought and sold on the site more than doubled over 2017. In addition to purely Eurorack-format modules, adjacent boutique standalone synths from the likes of Dreadbox, Folktek, and others have also proven to be extremely popular. There are more people building Eurorack synths than ever before, and more and more thrilling modules hitting the market every month.

There are a lot of factors behind this growth. For one thing, the massive volume of semi-modular and patchable beginner synths has grown, which offers an essential gateway into the more complex systems you find filling Eurorack cases. For instance, if someone buys a Mother-32, it's not a massive leap for them to start branding out into more and more modules. Additionally, the depth of used inventory for Eurorack gear has expanded a lot in recent years as more advanced players continue to upgrade their systems and release their older modules back into the wild.

Fender's New Report on the Guitar Market Highlights Gender and Racial Diversity
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Fender Study Indicates New Guitarists Are 50% Women

In recent years, and especially in the reign of current CEO Andy Mooney, Fender has done excellent work showcasing the fact that a huge segment of their customer base are new players, and that of these, there's a far more diverse picture than the standard stereotypes some associate with guitar playing. Back in October, the company released some findings from a recent study that indicated that 45 percent of new Fenders are sold to first-time players, 10 percent of those new players will be players for life, and 50 percent of new guitar buyers are female. For an industry that's often obsessed with decline and stagnation, these numbers tell an extremely encouraging story.

Is Jack White Done Playing Pawn Shop Guitars?
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Jack White Buys Fancier Guitars

For years, Jack White was the poster child of dingy, so-called department store guitars of the '60s from the likes of Supro, Harmony, and others. In fact, his use of one particular Airline model resulted in many just calling it the Jack White model. I wrote a bit about White's use of this guitar and its effect on the market in this post.

Early this year, however, Mr. White was increasingly seen performing with a set of new instruments, all of which were high-end signature guitars of other players. Selections have included the St. Vincent Signature Music Man, a souped-up EVH Wolfgang, and a Gibson Jeff "Skunk" Baxter Fort Knox Firebird.

In relation to this gear selection development, White has expressed that he no longer wants to fight with his guitars on stage, and the appeal of playing signature guitar models with specs selected by other players.

Moby Is Selling Drum Machines Through Official Reverb Shop
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Moby Sells Drum Machine Collection

Every year on Reverb, we play host to a series of shops stocked with gear from the private collections of various artists. This year, while the Sonic Youth shop showcased some of the raddest guitars to ever come across our screens, it was Moby's sale of his massive private collection of historic drum machines that earned the most attention. Earlier in the year, Moby also used Reverb to sell a bunch of other gear and a giant pile of records, but the drum machines were something special. In fact, we used this very cache to produce a comprehensive yet short documentary on the history of the drum machine.

Internet Famous Headless SG Lands on Reverb
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Headless SG Lands on Reverb

And in closing, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the notorious headless SG. Within a certain circle of guitarists (namely, the always exciting Ugly Guitars Facebook group), a lone picture of this modded, rebuilt, bizarre SG has been shared and reposted for years. Imagine our delight when the actual instrument was listed for sale on Reverb. So often is this guitar shared around that its overexposure has become a bit of an inside joke in and of itself.

The headstock has, in fact, not been fully transported into the body. Instead, just the headstock’s veneer has been moved and glued on to the front, while the back of the body has been routed to allow for the tuners. Be sure to click on our article to read more about the creation of this strange and alluring axe.

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