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Saturday, October 22, 2011

国际指弹吉他音乐节 - International Fingerstyle Guitar Festival 2011

It was that time of the year again to make a trip to China for the annual Music China Expo in Shanghai. I have attended this event in 2010. It was my first visit then and everything was novel and interesting. This year October I was back there once more to scout the music industry of China. Actually, the Music China Expo was secondary this time. The main event was the International Fingerstyle Guitar Festival (IFSGF) organized by Huang Chia Wei of Naga Guitars of Taiwan. It was held from 15 to 16 Oct 2011 at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 上海东方艺术中心. My role in that event was an exhibitor.

The International Fingerstyle Guitar Festival

上海东方艺术中心, the Shanghai Oriental Art Center
Taken from:

The entrance to the expo

One of the exhibition halls

To benefit those who haven’t heard of Music China Expo and ISFG, here is a brief background of both events.

Music China Expo – if I am not wrong, it started in year 2010 as part of the World Expo Event in China. This event pulls together the entire music industry. Consolidating all industry players into one major expo. If you know about NAMM, it is the same. One thing about events in China; they are HUGE! Here is the weblink to Music China:

International Fingerstyle Guitar Festival Shanghai (国际指弹吉他音乐节) – it started also in 2010. Various industry players collaborated to stage this festival. The main organizer is Naga Guitars that bases in Taiwan. The person behind the scene is a Taiwanese artist by the name of Huang Chia Wei, 黄家伟 who is also the owner of Naga Guitars. Another strong support for this event was Fusion Guitars, a Guangzhou based guitar manufacturer. The festival features three concurrent events, a fingerstyle guitar competition, two days of marathon fingerstyle performances by international artists and an Acoustic Guitars exhibition. While these exciting competition and performances were underway, the acoustic guitar exhibitions were held simultaneously at the performance venue. It was indeed filled with activities that never stop.

黄家伟 Huang Chia Wei with a Naga Guitar

Taken from:

Here are the weblinks.
For this year’s festival, 12 international artists were invited. Here is the line up of the invited artists for this festival.
  1. Alex de Grassi, USA (
  2. Dan La Voie, USA (
  3. Justin King, USA (
  4. Shun Komatsubara, Japan (
  5. Ryohei Shimoyama, Japan (
  6. Vitaly Makukin, Ukraine (
  7. Paolo Sereno, Italy (
  8. Tomi Paldanius, Finland (
  9. Sungha Jung, South Korea (
  10. Hikaru Tanimoto, Japan (
  11. Chris Liu, Taiwan (
  12. Jacky Lau, Hong Kong (
  13. Stuart Masters, UK (
For more detail, the weblink to IFSGF:

In chronological order, here is a recount of my trip.

12 Oct 2011

Jeff was on an earlier flight hence he checked into the hotel. I arrived to the hotel with no sight of Jeff as he went out with the crew of Naga Guitars for dinner. Unexpectedly, three gentlemen showed up at the hotel and mentioned a pre-arranged meeting with Jeff. The purpose was to try his guitars. Well such things do happen in China I guess. They waited patiently at the hotel and Jeff finally returned.

The visitors are professional classical guitar teachers. So they went on to sample Jeff guitars one at a time. A country with population exceeding a billion, it was no surprise that these teachers were well connected to their counterparts in Shanghai. They invited us to a classical guitars gathering at another lodge. It was closed to midnight then. Nevertheless, we obliged.

Jeff brought his classical guitar to this meeting. The classical guitars at the gathering were mostly high-end stuffs. The moment the door swung opened, I was puzzled by the unusual low visibility even at such close proximity but not for long. When the scent diffused into my nose, it all made sense then. Well, we learned to adapt to such situations.

Eric Wu or 吴老师 playing Jeff's classical guitar

One of the classical guitar teachers at the gathering

After brief moments of playing several guitars, they traded opinions and knowledge regarding classical guitars. Inferring from their conversation, it was evident that they were fixated on the tradition of classical guitars especially in wood selection and basic construction. Most of them were not accustomed to see innovative features on classical guitars. Their conversations revolved about the cosmetic attributes of classical guitars. It was also usual to assume that expensive wood gives quality tone. In terms of awareness in guitar building processes, it was elementary. However the general awareness has risen a lot more compared to my previous visit to Shanghai.

Me having a go at one of the hi-end classical guitars

A nice group shot. Thanks to Dexter (second from right) for his photos

It was cleared to me that the industry was growing fast in China. In not time, the depth of knowledge and appreciation should cascade down to the end-users and they should be able to appreciate the intrinsic values of this wonderful instrument at deeper levels.

13 Oct 2011

Jeff and I spent the day at the Music China Expo. It was similar to the previous years except the organizer has tightened the grouping in terms of genres. Again there was no escape from walking from one hall to another to see all the exhibits. We must have walked miles. Below are some random pictures of the expo.





In my last visit, many exhibitors were focusing on product varieties. Most booths were packed with merchandizes that one could hardly notice any visual identity. This year, I observed more companies emphasizing on simplicity over variety. Some large booths contain a low number of products. It gave a clean look, and visitors can focus on the main products. Distractions from other peripheral items were kept to the minimum. The performers stage set up was closer to the visitors unlike the previous show where most performers were standing on elevated stages. At Ayers Guitars' booth was a good example of up close to the artist. Stuart Masters from UK was performing for Ayers Guitars. He was one of the featured artists for IFSGF. Due to his schedule, he could only perform on the first day of the festival. Here's a picture of him in action at Ayers Guitars' booth taken a few feet away.

Stuart Masters playing for Ayers Guitars

Jeff and I were merely visitors for this expo. The primary purpose of our visit was the IFSGF. Jeff has sponsored one guitar as the top prize for the fingerstyle guitar competition. As Naga Guitars are the main drive behind the ISFG, we visited their booth to meet Huang Chia Wei. We met a few artists at Naga Guitars’ booth as well. Chia Wei has generously allowed Jeff to display one of his guitars at the booth in helping Jeff’s guitars to gain some mileage in China. For the event, Jeff has made the Blackie, a fanned fretted, scalloped top edge fingerboard, fitted with Anthem pickups, full monkeypod body guitar. Here’re the pictures.

Jeff's very own design, the "Blackie"

Just arrived

Cleaning the "Blackie"

"Blackie" on display

Vitaly Makukin at Naga Guitars' Booth

Tomi Paldanius performing in outdoors for Naga Guitars

We went about the other halls and along the way we met a few familiar faces. The walk wasn’t fruitless for me. We met Don Alder, a Yamaha artist, 2 times winner of fingerstyle guitar championship at Winfield, Kansas and also the winner of the Guitar Superstar Champion 2010 organized by Guitar Player Magazine. That is something! Jeff knew him for a long time and they were buddies. Incidentally, Don will be a judge for the fingerstyle guitar competition at the IFSGF. More pictures of the expo.

Me, Don and Jeff





A sure-fire formula to get attention from the crowd

The expo ends at 1700hrs daily. By then, we were pretty drained by the amount of walking and talking. We left with the crew of Naga Guitars, Fusion Guitars and the artists for dinner. This so called dinner, drinking was actually the main activity and filling our stomachs were meant to neutralize the alcohol effects. Tomi stole the show by making everyone drink. We played the “spin-and-drink” game. Well, in China there was no lack of good drinkers and Mr Lee, the owner of Fusion Guitar surely fits the bill. He didn't seem to have limit to the amount of liquor intake. Of course he gladly down whatever alcohol and amount toasted towards him. What a man … few pictures to illustrate my point on drinking …

Mr Lee and Tomi

Vitaly, Paolo, Mr. Lee and Tomi

14 Oct 2011

It was the final day of Music China Expo. Jeff and I continued to booth hop. It was usual for exhibitors to utilize the afternoon for packing and moving out of the venue. As such there wasn’t much to see in the afternoon.






At the violin section, we met Christie (宋青), a close friend to Jeff and 仁强. He was the winner of last year’s China fingerstyle guitar competition. We chatted about the music industry in China. Incidentally 仁强 has a gig in the evening at a cultural activities centre. It was a local fingerstyle guitar concert and we were invited to attend it. In China, classical guitar is known as 古典琴 whereas steel string guitar is known as 名谣琴. Within the genre of steel string guitars, there are Fingerstyle(指弹) guitar playing that is emerging fast in China and the popular strum & sing (弹唱). Internet has been a major driving force for the emergence.

Local Fingerstyle Guitar Concert

仁强 playing the Blackie

We had dinner with Christie before we adjourned to the concert. There were 3 main performers. Each has his unique style. 仁强 was very obliging, he played Jeff’s guitar even on an eleventh hour request. The performance was well received by the audience. This private event was put together mainly by friends and volunteers. From the conversations I had with the performers one thing came out evidently, i.e. cliques formation within this music circle has made retarded its progression. Mutual support between cliques wasn’t spontaneous, e.g. like attending each other’s events. Eventually the lack in attendance may translate to inability to mobilize sponsors.

Just when I thought the evening has ended. When I got back to hotel, we met Don at the lobby as well as other artists. Don dropped by our room to … of course play Jeff’s guitars. We had a great time chatting and watching Don’s amazing finger work on the guitars.

Don and Jeff, doing their own thing
That was a perfect day for me.

15 Oct 2011

First day of the Internation Fingerstyle Guitar Festival (国际指弹吉他音乐节). The festival venue was at the Shanghai Arts and Cultural Centre. In the morning, the IFSGF team met at the hotel cafeteria during breakfast at different tables and times. Many concurrent conversations were going on between the crews, managers, exhibitors and artists. Unexpectedly, we met Justin King, who was one of the artists. If you are into finger-style guitar playing, Justin needs no introduction. So we had breakfast. One thing common for all guitarists regardless of your proficiency in playing was the curiosity to try new guitars. Justin tried the Jeff’s Blackie and it was pretty easy to tell that he was impressed with it. It was indeed an honor to have Justin playing beside us.

Justin and the Blackie

Me and Justin

Jeff felt like the concert has began

Justin's 1957 Martin Dread, Braz B/S

Back view of this awesome guitar

Playing away ...

Jeff and Justin

Dan and Jeff

Me and Dan

Before we left the hotel, we caught up with Dan La Voie who is a Harp guitarist and a very talented one too. He is very approachable and I felt at ease totally talking to him. Of course we didn’t forget to take photos with him.

Boarding tour bus

Paolo, Hiko, Michel and Vitaly

Just alighted

Sungha Jung and Tomi

Group shot at the entrance

Finally we left for the festival venue. We were excited to kick start the festival. At the moment we arrived, we gathered at the entrance for a group photo. Immediately after that, everyone just went about to do what needs to be done spontaneously.

The exhibitors were busy setting up their tables and displaying their guitars. These are the participating guitar brands at the festival.
  • Ayers (
  • Crafter (
  • Fusion (
  • Furch (
  • Naga (
  • Yamaha (
  • Farida (
  • S. Yairi (
Beside guitars, there were accessories too like Freeman Acoustic Amp by Lisheng Musical Instrument, Vertech’s Humidity Manager and MiniFlex Microphones.
Max Lee of Fusion Guitars and I





Mr Namkung, the man for Crafter Guitars and Vertech Equipment

The main bulk of morning was spent on sound checking. The artists took turns and it ended just after lunchtime. The concert is scheduled to commence in afternoon. The detail schedule can be found here:

Hikaru Tanimoto sound checking

Ryohei Shimoyama sound checking

The artists' gears

Shinichi at work

While the artists were busy sound checking, many concertgoers have reached the venue. The exhibitions were in full swing. Entertaining the curious patrons who were eagerly waiting for the concert to commence. To many acoustic guitar players, they were not aware that guitars could be made from Monkeypod wood. Their knowledge on guitar building was generally derived from the Western methodologies and principles. Those who have tried Jeff's guitar were astonished with the design and tonal qualities of his guitars. Most agreed that Jeff's guitars were worthy to be regarded as high-end guitars. In this festival, the editor for Acoustic Guitar Magazine Japan was invited to cover the event. He is Shinichi Watanabe. Throughout the festival, I noticed his tireless professional attitude. He was present for all segments of the concert to capture the festival through taking pictures, videos and interviews. A familiar sight of Shinichi-san was his sitting posture along the stairways of the performance theater. He literally worked throughout without stopping.

Jeff and Hikaru

Me and Hikaru

Hikaru trying the Blackie

Sungha Jung, Jeff and Dan

Enjoying the Harp Guitar

Me and Sungha Jung

Sungha Jung and Tomi jamming

As the sound check was underway, Jeff and I visited the artists at backstage. We met Hikaru Tanimoto, a young guitarist from Japan. His unique style has earned him a place in this industry. Very approachable guy and his energetic persona never failed to delivered exciting shows. The other artists were having fun jamming with each other’s guitars. Nothing beats such informal settings. SungHa was enjoying Dan's harp guitar. Tomi was playing Jeff's Blackie. Don, Vitaly and Dan just looked on with joy. Soon after the concert has started. The artists were greeted with loud applause and excitement. The concert was in several segments that ran from the morning until night. The first day ended after 2200hrs. What a day. Artists' lives were not as glamorous as most people imagine. Unless you're a Mega star …

16 Oct 2011

It was the last day of the festival. Many eager contestants were waiting for their turns to impress the judges. It was the fingerstyle competition in the morning. The judges were Don Felder, Alex de Grassi, Hideaki “Pooh” Mastuoka, Paolo Sereno, Tomi Paldanius and Justin King. While this went on, the other artists found some breathing space and they came over the Jeff’s booth to check out his guitars.

Ryohei and Jeff

Me and Ryohei

Jacky Lau of Hong Kong

Dan and Jeff

Chris Liu of Taiwan

Dan and I

Chris and I

I managed to invite Shinichi-san, the editor of Japan Acoustic Guitar Magazine to sample Jeff's guitars. He was one of hardest working person at the show. Totally professionally I must say. Even with his vast knowledge, he was humble and unassuming. When arrived at Jeff's booth, it was love at first sight between him and Jeff's guitars. He was astonished by the wood selection of Jeff's guitars because Monkeypod was unheard of in Japan. The Japan acoustic guitar market was primary flooded by Westerners' and Japanese made guitars. Their knowledge of Asia’s luthiers was limited to their native.  

Shinichi and Jeff

Me and Shinichi

Guitar talks

He was in awe when he tried Jeff's guitars. The unique features of Jeff's guitar design arose his curiosity to a great extent. He was taking notes and asking many questions. With some good Japanese words from Shinichi-San, Jeff should be hearing some Japanese real soon. By noon, the competition has concluded and judges went into deciding the rankings of these contestants. Shortly, the rankings were decided and the prize presentation ceremony was held. Here’re pictures of the winners and prize presentation segment.

Hideaki "Pooh" Matsuoka giving away a prize

Top 3 prizes, left to right - Jeff Yong's Jumbo, Crafter and S Yairi



Justin, Jeff and the winner



Jeff and the winner

The final segment of the festival took over after the prize presentation. I must say the final segments of performances were electrifying. The duet by Tomi and Vitaly left the audience shouting for more. The anchor artist was Justin King. He delivered the final punch but something happened … his guitar sound disappeared in the midst of the first song. A professional he is, shrugged off the technical glitch with a smile and continued to play. The audience didn’t settle for just one set from Justin and they encored him to play more and he ended the festival by his infamous tune, the Phunkdified. He rocked the house and the festival ended on an ultra high note.

I guess it is customary to have post concert parties. We went to a steamboat restaurant and had great food and company. This trip was another eye opening experience for me. Imagine the chance to get up close with all these amazing artists, chatting, joking and watch them play before me. Above all, meeting new friends have always been the greatest reward. There is nothing like a firm handshake and a sincere smile.

Below are more pictures taken of the festival.

Artists' make up room

Vitaly Makukin and I

Dan and Don signing autographs

The artists

Jeff and Shun Komatsubara

Shun Komatsubara and I

Alex de Grassi and I

Alex, Jeff and the giant Vitaly

Going to feast

Just arrived ... Tomi, Dee, Justin, Sungha, Hikaru, Jacky

Drinks ...


Paolo, I and Hiko

Jeff and them
Chia Wei and wife, lovely couple they are

In this closing section, I would like to pay tribute to the organizing team for making it happen . Regardless those in the limelight or backstage, everyone has contributed to this festival in his or her own ways. Huang Chia Wei, the driver of this festival has worked tirelessly to get things flowing. His team of supporting members was very professional yet obliging in giving assistance when requested. Our basic needs were covered at all times. The artists have never failed to deliver great shows. They are a great company to be with. I may not have introduced every artist in this blogpost but each one is definitely high achievers in their own rights and they are all very dedicated to acoustic guitar music. The artists' managers like Dee, Michel and Hiko, they are wonderful people to meet and to have fun with. Not forgetting the exhibitors who rendered help to each other despite promoting different brands. Last but not least, Fusion Guitars has been very involved in many aspects of the show and I am very glad to meet Mr Lee and his son, Max Lee. I am pretty sure we will meet again.

If you come this far, you deserve a big THANKS for reading it.

1 comment:

  1. Another fantastic post Adam! Thank you so much for the effort you've put into documenting these events - it's very much appreciated.