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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seeing China, Feeling China

The Music China Expo has certainly established China’s position in the world in manufacturing of musical instruments. It was held from 12 to 15 Oct 2010 where the day one and two were for traders and the remaining days were for everyone. There are hardly any musical instruments China is unable to produce let alone to imitate. Broadly, I will share my take on China’s musical instruments’ scene from a few perspectives. They are,
  1. Quantity versus quality
  2. Manufacturers’ maturity
  3. Consumers’ perceptions and behaviors
I will kick off with quantity versus quality AND manufacturers’ maturity. It would be unrealistic to mutually exclusive these two perspectives when discussing the music scene of China. In the Music China Expo handbook or any given trade shows' handbooks, one will find a list of exhibitors organized in various formats but the most common one is in alphabetical order. After flipping many pages of the Music China Expo handbook for 10 minutes, I have seen nothing but Chinese companies. As many retailers I could see in the list, there were as many manufacturers. Although there were a few foreign companies but it was a far cry to be compared to the sheer numbers of Chinese companies. These companies mean business. They spare little manpower and resources in creating an impression to the others. The visual identity of each company or brand is evidently created and displayed. It is easy to agree that budget wasn’t the prime consideration. In Singapore, we lament about walking about the Singapore Changi Expo halls because of the distance and space. By this standard, we should contemplate driving within the expo halls of the Music China. Huge is an understatement … As the saying goes, you build them and they will come. The expo halls are built BIG for the BIG crowd.

Here’re some pictures to illustrate the magnitude.

Expo main entrance
This is a common sight everyday
Mass registration or Mess registration?

Pictures were taken in the early morning and I just wonder how much crowd can be built up by late morning. Hann and I took a picture (below) outside of the expo hall. The light poles behind us are still within the expo premise.

Hann and me

Another picture taken to illustrate the size of this place.

A panoramic view, the place is HUGE! 

As you gather from the pictures above, the expo centre is a purposefully built facility to handle events of mammoth scale, arguably at world's scale. By default, the number of exhibitors and visitors also flocked in by great numbers. Does it imply with great numbers mean high instruments’ quality? In mathematical perspective, it does make sense to assume the former statement to be true. However it was neither a flat NO or a resounding YES. Things are hardly black or white in China. I think you can appreciate this statement.

I was quickly dazzled by the sheer quantity of products displayed in the show. Promptly I walked through isles and halls to get a glimpse of the coverage. After the initial scan, I got into details. By conversing with the exhibitors and scrutinizing the instruments, it was apparent that they were more eager to sell the products than to emphasize the quality. Cultivating customers’ loyalty was not the prime concern too. There were a few smaller players that were very service-oriented but their influences were insignificant against the masses.

The guitars were made with quality and suitable tonewoods, much like those made in North America, Japan and Europe. Distinctively, the quality of the fine details of the China made guitars differ from the mentioned three countries. Less attention was paid to achieve those intricacies. Given the type of tonewoods available in China and the current product standards, the guitar manufacturers have yet to discern the many quality tiers among guitars, especially in these three major aspects; tone, appearance and playability. E.g. rosewood B/S guitars are regarded as good guitars regardless of the manner of construction. Matching the prices to guitars are as pragmatic as reading the specifications. The three major aspects were hardly in their awareness let alone consideration. This may also account for the lower in price range. By no mean that guitars made here are inferior. Lacking in ability was unlikely but maturity may be more appropriate. But I reckon China guitars will arrive to be recognized as quality products very soon. It was like the era in pre-world-war 2, traders shunt Japanese made products. After the war, Japanese products were elevated to world-class standards and traders started avoiding Taiwan made products. Now we have reservations with China made products. Soon we may treat India products the way China products were treated and what does mean for China products then?

Prices led the way in sales transactions. This is probably driven by the consumers’ perceptions and behavior. There were immense amount of curiosities among the consumers. While internet has kept the consumers well informed but they were not discerning in product knowledge and applications. In the show, Singapore brands were highly regarded by the Chinese because of the high standards of governance Singapore has shown to the world. It did indirectly elevate the brands from Singapore regardless the level of awareness they have on those Singapore brands.

In terms of guitar construction, the consumers were aware of the price differences between a full solid wood and laminated wood guitar. However it was not apparent that they could feel the actual quality. Invariably, it may be hard to convince them that a full solid wood guitar can sound like a dog whereas a laminated wood guitar can sing like an angel. They may also compare one brand to another without knowing adequately of both and draw their own conclusions. Does all these still happen here? I highly think it does … are we so different after all?

Given the huge population in China, it is acceptable that they need time to develop and attain progression in the people. Unlike infrastructures, they can be built in the shortest possible time but wisdom that comes with maturity takes time. Very soon, there will be no avoiding of China made products and they are here to stay.

Enough of writing; the pictures galore starts from here! Enjoy them.

One of major retailers
Takamine Guitars
Ibanez Guitars
Demonstrating products capability 
ZOOM in action
One of the many contract manufacturers
One of the many isles
Some instruments manufacturers
Sure you can find one that fits!
Drum skins for anyone?
Case Galore!
More Cases
Brass & Windwoods
Classical Chinese Musical Instruments
Cool looking amps
Seafood galore!
Amps don't look the way they used to
Performers for B-band
New acoustic amp from B-Band
Selecting tonewoods
They are curious enough to try .. anything ...

Seeing and feeling China was indeed an invaluable experience for me. Those views were purely my personal expressions and anyone is free to contribute their comments.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Guitars of Jeff Yong

Dear Guitar Lovers,

I believe the Singapore Guitar Show has allowed some unique guitars to be showcased to this guitar community. Instead of the BIG brands we are usually exposed to, the show has created immense amount of opportunities for Luthiers to demonstrate their skills and appreciation of arts extroverted by the guitars made by them. Those who stepped into the show should have seen Jeff Yong's guitars. If one spends some time to understand his guitars, one will realize the uniqueness of Jeff's wood selection. Generally, we can recognize spruce, cedar, rosewood, mahogany, koa, etc as choice wood for guitar making. These woods are generally native in North America and Europe but we are well aware that in tropical regions, there are abundance of woods too but why tropical woods are not being considered as choice woods for guitar making like their mentioned counterparts? I am quite sure the opinions are going to be divided. Suffice to say that wood selection has something to do with accessibility and convenience and Jeff's choice of tone wood is anything but usual.

Being a friend (also a past student) to Jeff, I have many opportunities to learn from this master regarding wood and construction of guitars. They are intricately intertwined and cannot be separated when comes to evaluation of guitars' worth in various aspects. As inseparable as they are, the myth surrounding tonewood, i.e. being the sole influence of the resulting guitar tone is inevitably put to the test but not debunked as yet. So the mystery of tonewood is still lingering on ... I think it will be around for some time.

Skillfully, Jeff is able to put together a guitar which allows the wood grains to shine and the tonal properties of the wood to sing. It is hard to attribute that the smokey, sweet, balanced, chimmie tone of his guitars to just the choice of wood or purely the constructs. The blending of these two awareness and knowledge is the key to his guitar characteristics. No forgetting to emphasize his ability to identify from wood stumps those mesmerizing wood grains and patterns that will eventually become head tuners when they are transformed into guitars. I have to say that it is a gift not possess by any regular tom, dick or harry.

He has entrusted to me two very beautiful guitars. As like any exhibitions, the compounded noise within the hall didn't do justice to all the guitars. In his intention to let interested guitar players to truly appreciate his guitars, he has offered to anyone who wishes to try them and eventually to find a suitable buyer for the two guitars. A JJ model, spruce/angsana BS and a OM model, bearclawed spruce/monkey pod BS. More wonderful guitars are featured in his website:

Each is priced at MY $15,000 ringgit. I will let the pictures talk.

The JJ, Spruce Top / Narra (A.k.a. Angsana) BS model

The OM, Bearclawed Spruce / Monkey Pod (Pithecebium saman, Rain Tree) BS model

 Contact me if you're keen!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Post Singapore Guitar Show Features

Hi Everyone,

It has been a wonderful event. My gratitude to Terence and Jeremy for organizing it and I am sure most participants are yearning for another next year.

Indeed the knowledge of the consumers' towards quality guitars and accessories have been discerning and sensible. Unlike in the past, consumers are concern with the playability of guitars. Nowadays, they really know what to ask ... The number of enquires on the M--Si Pickups have been overwhelming. This exposure of the Mi-Si range was definitely a strong boost to its position in the market. Most people were amazed by the battery-free and 60 seconds to 8 hours playing time of the product. Nonetheless, thanks to those who have visited the Sozo table. You're great!

Well, what is a blog posting without pictures right? Here goes,

Guitars of Goodacoustics ...
Test Runing ...
Sozo Invent ...
The men behind Sozo Invent
They are the real deal ... Luthiers
Jeff Yong Guitars
Birds of a feather ...
Jeff and Shun, during a demo session
Shun grooving away, indeed a talented guitar player.
A satisfied customer with an Acoustic Duo fitted on his new Jack Spira Cocobolo