Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Teemu Suomala
Author: Wesley Severson
Wes is a freelance writer and 2x Emmy Award-winning TV news journalist who has been surrounded by guitars since the day he was born. His father, Rich Severson, is an elite jazz guitarist and world-renowned guitar instructor. Wes has been creating video lessons, guitar reviews, and other content with his dad for more than 2 decades and is currently the manager of Rich Severson’s popular YouTube channel. Wes has been playing guitar, singing, and songwriting for almost 30 years and has recorded dozens of songs with various bands and as a solo artist.
Expertise: music industry, recording, journalism, acoustic & electric guitars, jazz guitarsHide The Rambling▲
Editing & Research: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
If you play guitar, chances are you’ve thought about what it would be like to do it as your full-time job, which would likely mean relocating to a guitar-friendly city. But what are the best cities in the U.S. for guitar players?
Sure, some iconic music meccas immediately come to mind, but when you really consider several factors, there are some less obvious choices that certainly stand out as locations where guitar players can really thrive. Below, we break down the 7 best cities in America for pickers and shredders based on several different benchmarks from a variety of helpful sources.
Factors – How Did We Choose?
- What type of music is popular in the city
- Musical reputation of the city
- The proportion of music-related occupations (rent.com)
- Average annual income for guitar players (ZipRecruiter.com)
- One bedroom median rental price (zumper.com)
- Cost of living index (bestplaces.net)
- Number of small music venues per capita (listwithclever.com)
- Number of musicians per capita (listwithclever.com)
- Approximate number of stores that sell guitars (google maps)
- We also display the population of the city (worldpopulationreview.com)
Also, keep this in mind. The average annual income for a guitar player in the U.S. is $51,561, according to salary.com. We have all heard stories of guitarists moving to Nashville with only their guitar and a suitcase full of clothes or the guitar player who moved to Los Angeles and spent the first year living in their car on the side of the road in the Hollywood Hills while seeking fame and fortune. Our choices on this list are based on a life that is realistic. The places we chose are cities that a guitar player could move to and afford a decent living situation and lifestyle while making a decent salary.
7 Best Cities for Guitar Players In The U.S.
1. Nashville, TN
Nashville is the “Music City” because of its thriving music industry and rich history of country music, and that makes it a prime place for guitar players.
One reason Nashville is considered the best city for guitar players is its emphasis on collaboration. Many musicians who migrate to Nashville are always looking for opportunities to play with others, which makes for a thriving open mic scene.
When it comes to small venues per capita, Nashville leads the nation. Spaces like the Bluebird Cafe have produced superstar country acts that have gone on to play the bigger, more famous Nashville venues like the Grand Ole Opry or Ryman Auditorium. The city is home to numerous music industry professionals, including producers, managers, and record label executives for huge music conglomerates like Warner Music or Universal Music Group, which makes Nashville one of the best places to get discovered.
Although the average annual salary for a guitar player is around $41,000, which is relatively low, rental prices and the cost-of-living index score are very close to the national average, making it a realistic choice for a guitar player who is looking to relocate. If you’re not gigging, job opportunities could pop up at Nashville’s plethora of music schools and great guitar shops, including Carter Vintage Guitars, which is regarded as one of the best vintage guitar shops in the world.
|Proportion of music-related occupations||4.15%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$40,739|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$1,780|
|Small venues per capita||6.7|
|Musicians per capita||127|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 20|
2. Austin, TX
Like Nashville, Austin has a nickname that makes it stand out as a great place for guitar players. It’s known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” If you take a walk down 6th Street on any day of the week, you’ll see live music going on at nearly every single bar, hotel, and restaurant. The city has one of the largest folk and bluegrass communities, but country, indie rock, and blues are also prominent.
Austin is home to several music festivals, including South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin City Limits, and the Texas Guitar Festival. These festivals are often scouted by music industry professionals who are seeking out new talent. Austin also has dozens of live music venues, ranging from small clubs to large amphitheaters. It boasts an impressive 5.2 score when it comes to small venues per capita.
You can make a pretty good living in Austin, with the average guitar player making $57,474 per year. The nice salary combined with the relatively low-priced rental market makes it a very realistic place for someone to move to in order to pursue their guitar-playing dreams. Transportation, food expenses, and other daily necessities tend to be much less expensive than in cities like New York City, San Francisco, or Los Angeles.
|Proportion of music-related occupations||3.76%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$57,474|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$1,600|
|Small venues per capita||5.2|
|Musicians per capita||22|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 16|
3. Memphis, TN
Memphis is often considered the overlooked sibling thanks to the star power that nearby Nashville is known for, but as a city for guitar players, Memphis offers a lot of bang for your buck. Not only is there a thriving live music scene with plenty of venues, but the affordability of the city makes it hard to pass up. Since a one-bedroom apartment runs below $1,000, it makes the city very approachable for a person who wants to make a career out of playing guitar.
Memphis is known for having the best blues scene in America, and that is very apparent when you take a walk down Beale Street. There are dozens of bars, clubs, and performance venues that feature live music every night of the week as well as during the day on the weekends. Although blues is the prominent genre, being a three-hour drive from Nashville means that there is also plenty of country players. Memphis also has a thriving punk rock community.
Memphis isn’t packed with as many musicians as Nashville, and with an abundance of small venues, getting a gig may be a bit easier. And, as we alluded to before, with rental prices and the overall cost of living almost 23% lower than the national average, you’ll likely be able to keep more of your money instead of spending it on your living situation.
|Proportion of music-related occupations||3.92%*|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$39,455|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$900|
|Small venues per capita||4.6|
|Musicians per capita||16|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 12|
4. Los Angeles, CA
Aside from all the movie magic of Hollywood, Los Angeles is home to one of the most prominent music scenes in the world that spans almost every musical genre. Thousands of hit songs from jazz to rock to pop to rap have been recorded at studios all over the area by record labels based in the iconic, great-weather city. There are also some of the most famous live music venues and theaters, especially along the Sunset Strip.
Because of its massive population, the city scores low on the scale for ‘number of small music venues per capita,’ but there’s an abundance of gigging, studio recording opportunities, and chances to see some of the best musicians in the world. Los Angeles also has one of the highest proportions of music-related occupations and scores very high for its number of musicians per capita, which means there are plenty of opportunities to find band members and friends who share the same passion.
Los Angeles is notorious for its high cost of living, but it also dishes out one of the highest average annual salaries for a guitar player at $69,519. With rental prices for a one-bedroom apartment at $2,400, it would be feasible for a guitar player to make ends meet, especially when you compare rental prices in New York City and San Francisco, which are in the $3,000 range.
And with LA’s reputation, there is always the possibility of catching the ear of a big-time record producer that could help you make a killing, or you could land a gig with a band that hits it big and heads out on a world tour. Though the odds of something magical like that happening are slim, it is more of a possibility in Los Angeles compared to most other cities in the country.
Los Angeles Stats:
|Proportion of music-related occupations||6.26%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$69,519|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$2,400|
|Small venues per capita||1.3|
|Musicians per capita||49|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 20|
5. New Orleans, LA
New Orleans is a great place for professional guitar players because the city’s rich musical heritage has made it a hub for music lovers from all over the world. There are opportunities for gigs, collaborations, and networking all over the Big Easy. New Orleans is often referred to as the ‘birthplace of jazz,’ and it certainly lives up to that moniker. The jazz clubs on Frenchman Street and the historic Preservation Hall are just a couple of the many venues where guitar players can be found performing alongside other musicians. There are also dozens of gigging opportunities along the world-famous Bourbon Street, which is why the city racks up a huge score (5.9) on the small venues per capita scale.
With musicians per capita at 32, New Orleans is a great place to form a band or find friends that share the joy of music. Although the annual guitar player salary isn’t as high as in Austin, the cost of living in New Orleans is a bit lower, which still makes it a very affordable city for someone looking to turn their guitar passion into a career.
New Orleans is all about fun, which may make it one of the most enjoyable cities to live in. There are countless parades, festivals, and parties that not only provide gigging options but also provide an overall sense of community and artistic expression.
New Orleans Stats:
|Proportion of music-related occupations||2.77%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$43,508|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$1,550|
|Small venues per capita||5.9|
|Musicians per capita||32|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 12|
6. Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis has always been known for its thriving art scene, but its music scene has been steadily making a name for itself over the past two decades, making it a true underdog when you put it up against Nashville or Los Angeles. The affordability of living in the Twin Cities area and the salary you can garner are undeniable if you are looking to relocate and pursue a career as a professional guitar player. On average, guitar players make $59,936 per year, which is very good when you consider the low average price of a one-bedroom apartment.
Minneapolis has a rich history of producing talented musicians, from Prince to Bob Dylan to The Replacements. It welcomes all genres of music, but it is emerging as a great rock and roll city where you can catch a great concert pretty much any night of the week.
Minneapolis is uniquely supportive of musicians, with organizations like the Minneapolis Music Coalition and the Minnesota Music Coalition that are built to support and promote local musicians and help them network and collaborate. The resources have helped the rate of musicians per capita skyrocket to 53. Another often-overlooked aspect of the Twin Cities area is the vast number of guitar shops that rival cities like Nashville and Los Angeles. Twin Town Guitars and Willie’s American Guitars are often said to be two of the best.
|Proportion of music-related occupations||4.42%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$59,936|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$1,290|
|Small venues per capita||2.5|
|Musicians per capita||53|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 20|
7. Pittsburgh, PA
Like Minneapolis, Pittsburgh is also an up-and-coming music city that is often overlooked as a destination for guitar players and music lovers in general. It celebrates many types, including jazz, blues, rock, and folk. Many people don’t realize that Pittsburgh has a rich musical history that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, when the city was a hub for jazz and blues. It has been evolving ever since, creating one of the most vibrant R&B and doo-wop scenes in the 40s and 50s and then adding a robust rock and roll scene in the 60s. In recent years, Pittsburgh has become known for its indie and alternative rock scenes while also building up a large community of folk artists and EDM creators.
Pittsburgh offers guitar players a nice yearly salary of $50,787 and has kept its rental prices and cost of living expenses pretty low. There is also not an overload of musicians in the city, which can put you in a better position to get consistent gigs.
Venues are plentiful in Pittsburgh, including the Rex Theater, Mr. Smalls Theatre, and the Club Cafe, but the city also hosts some noteworthy music festivals, like Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, and the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, which provide a boost in gigging opportunities. It also has a strong lineup of guitar shops and other supportive resources that will help you thrive as a guitar player.
|Proportion of music-related occupations||3.06%|
|Average annual income for guitar players||$50,787|
|One-bedroom median rental price||$1,250|
|Small venues per capita||2.9|
|Musicians per capita||18|
|Guitar Stores||Approximately 15|
7 Best Cities for Guitar Players In The U.S. Head-to-Head
|City||Population||Proportion of music-related occupations||Average annual income for guitar players||One-bedroom median rental price||Small venues per capita||Musicians per capita||Guitar Stores|
|1. Nashville, TN||658,525||4.15%||$40,739||$1,780||6.7||127||Approximately 20|
|2. Austin, TX||966,292||3.76%||$57,474||$1,600||5.2||22||Approximately 16|
|3. Memphis, TN||621,777||3.92%*||$39,455||$900||4.6||16||Approximately 12|
|4. Los Angeles, CA||3,769,485||6.26%||$69,519||$2,400||1.3||49||Approximately 20|
|5. New Orleans, LA||364,659||2.77%||$43,508||$1,550||5.9||32||Approximately 12|
|6. Minneapolis, MN||418,075||4.42%||$59,936||$1,290||2.5||53||Approximately 20|
|7. Pittsburgh, PA||295,793||3.06%||$50,787||$1,250||2.9||18||Approximately 15|
You may find yourself asking why we didn’t include cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle, which is to be expected. The fact is that unless you have already made a big name for yourself, most average guitar professionals wouldn’t be able to afford to live in these cities. We realize that these four cities have thriving music scenes, great venues, and rich musical histories, but the average prices for homes and rentals make them out of reach for most guitar players who are trying to live comfortably.
3 Things to Keep in Mind Before Moving
- Do your own research: If you are serious about relocating to pursue a career as a guitar player, then it is best to find the city that is really right for you. Sure, we have laid out a lot of groundwork, but there is a lot more research you should do on your own before packing up and moving. This guide is meant to be a springboard for you to look deeper into the city that intrigues you most.
- Visit the city you choose before deciding to move there: Many cities look great on paper and in photos, but until you visit them, you can’t really experience their true essence. You may have your heart set on a certain city, but then after you visit the city, you might find that it is not all that you imagined it to be.
- Look at the opportunities in the city you live in right now or the largest city that is closest to you: A lot of times, we overlook our own areas because we have lived there for so long. People love music, and that means most larger cities have built up pretty good music scenes that could provide you opportunities to become a career guitar player. Exploring what cities around you have to offer could save you from having to move hundreds of miles away.
FAQ-section is written by Teemu Suomala, editor of Guitaristnextdoor.com.
Where can I work as a guitarist?
There are many possible jobs for guitarists, depending on your skill level, style, and preferences. Some examples are:
-performing in bands, orchestras, or solo acts
-teaching guitar lessons
-recording music for albums, films, or games
-composing or arranging music
-working as a session musician or a studio engineer
-or working in music-related businesses such as music stores, labels, or publishers.
What city has the best music scene?
Some cities that are often cited as having great music scenes are:
-Nashville, TN – the heart of country music
-San Francisco, CA – a rich history of rock, folk, and psychedelic music and hosts many music festivals;
-London, UK – diverse and influential music scene ranging from classical to punk to pop
-Memphis, TN – home of the blues and the birthplace of rock’n’roll
-Milan, Italy – which is the ideal place for opera buffs and electro fans; and
-Seattle, W – which is the birthplace of grunge and indie rock.
Which country has the best music scene?
Some countries that are known for their music industries and cultures are:
-USA – massive music market and has produced a fair share of world’s legendary bands and artists
-South Korea – a booming pop music scene and many talented artists
-Japan – a large and diverse music market and a strong tradition of classical and folk music
-Canada – is home to many talented musicians and has a supportive government for music
-France – a rich musical heritage and a vibrant contemporary scene
-United Kingdom – has produced many iconic bands and artists across various genres.
If you’re serious about being a professional guitar player, these cities will undoubtedly help you achieve that as fast as possible. They all have the characteristics and statistics to make it as easy as possible to network with other musicians and find gigs. Of course, since we limited our list to just seven cities, we encourage you to check out other cities in the U.S. that could offer similar attributes that are well-suited for a professional guitar player.
The fact is that if your heart is set on becoming a professional, and you want it bad enough, you could make it a career just about anywhere, especially since there are so many aspects to music that can be done remotely over the internet.
I wish you all the best and keep rocking!
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