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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sound Messe Osaka 2012

Arrival at Kansai Airport
The Japan market for any product is renowned to be demanding, exclusive and lucrative. In guitar trading, only America is ahead of Japan. While China is catching up rapidly in trading volume, China remains behind of Japan in terms of quality and market maturity. Learning from some Japanese guitar makers, Osaka is a city where the craftsman gathers, in this case the guitar makers. The desires for sharing and gathering eventually transforms into the Sound Messe Osaka. In September 2012, the Sound Messe Osaka has gone into its third run. From many Japanese guitar makers' point of view, this show was arguably the biggest one ever held for acoustic guitars. They have even remarked that the Tokyo Sound Messe was smaller. It was certainly an honor for Guitaring Passionately to attend the show as the guest of Jeffrey Yong.

Jeffrey's showpieces, Tiger 2, Autumn Leaves, Monkeypod and Mango

Making sure…
The Sound Messe Osaka 2012 was held from 29 September to 30 September 2012. The show features acoustic guitars and its companying accessories that are trading in Japan. These are the genre of exhibitors that have participated.

1. Guitar Importers Sole Agents and Distributors
2. Individual Guitar Makers, a.k.a. Luthiers
3. Musical Instruments Retailers
4. Guitar making material suppliers
5. Music Retailers
6. Music Education Institutes

A total of 121 booths were set up and the range and quantity of guitars displayed were simply overwhelming. Almost any well-known guitars I can think of, I can find it in the show. My personal highlight was test driving many international hand-built guitars. This opportunity has enabled me to appreciate the fine quality of these high end hand-built guitars in both detail and tonal qualities. My test drive includes John Greven and Erwin Somogyi's guitars. The experience was indeed rare and rewarding to me.

Osaka Guitar Show Exhibition Hall
Taken from:

Through speaking to many exhibitors and visitors, many assumptions and preconceived opinions of the Japan acoustic guitar market were both confirmed and debunked. The retailers and consumers were very particular in built quality. After all, such extrinsic value can be readily discerned through thorough visual inspections. One thing I have learned was not to assume too quickly about their opinions because Japanese are mostly reserved in voicing their thoughts.  In the case of buying guitars, observing patience and sensitivity will go a long way in interacting with Japanese guitar players. Their behaviors have probably stemmed from the roots of heritage and culture of Japanese; vis-a-vis their great emphasis of respect for each other.

Japan Hand-Built

With a sense of great privilege, I emphasize that Jeffrey Yong was the only non-Japanese invited as an exhibitor and this speaks volume about his standing among the Japan guitar market. The team consists of Jeff's daughter Hanna, Shun and yours truly. Indeed we have such a great time together.

From left, me, Miwa Guitars, Hikaru Guitars, Shun, Jeffrey and Matsumoto Guitars

Hiroshi Masuda
Hiroshi Masuda, a YouTube artist who has numerous credits to his name in interpreting Beatles songs' in fingerstyle guitar playing. In fact Sungha Jung founding years in playing has much to credit to influences from Hiroshi's work. Sungha Jung has played many songs that are rendered by Hiroshi. In this show, Hiroshi has extended his invaluable assistance in many ways. Without going into details, I must say the the success attained by Jeffrey in this show has largely due to Hiroshi's interventions and assistance. He has been most gracious and generous in providing timely advice and help to facilitate so many things, regardless of trivial or critical matters. I am very honored to meet Hiroshi, and he is a friend now.

Hanna and Jeffrey
Hanna, the daughter to Jeffrey, speaks fluent Japanese and she has been very helpful in facilitating numerous conversations Jeffrey and I had with Japanese visitors. She wasn't keenly aware of his father's standing in guitar making field before. However the Osaka show has shown her the level of respect Jeffrey has garnered through his unparalleled contributions to art & craft of guitar making. Surely she was greatly impressed by the praises accorded to Jeffrey's guitars from many Japanese. I think she has seen and felt the Jeffrey guitar effects.
Jamin away! Shun, Okapi and Tanaka

Shun Ng needs no introduction. He has grown up in Singapore and his talent was beyond the Singapore music industry. He has obtained a scholarship to further his music study in Berkley Music College in Boston, USA in August 2012. He has since become a USA citizen. In this show, his unique playing style has stolen the show in many ways. He was like a guitar players' magnet. From Hiroshi's observations; he has never seen so many big names like Akida Tanaka, Okapi Kimura, Hikaru Tanimoto, etc. (Japanese guitarists) crowding at one booth before. Shun's out reach in YouTube channel has attracted these big names to visit the booth to jam with him. It was so much fun watching them "talk through playing guitars". Not only the generation X guitar players, the pioneers of fingerstyle guitar players were seen gathering at Jeffrey's table. Rynten Okazaki was one of them.

A public performance
There were two types of performances in this show, i.e. public and paid. Throughout the show, a series of performances were scheduled to take place in public areas within the show venue and also the paid performances in the designated auditorium. As it was Shun's first visit to Osaka, he wasn't known to the Japanese acoustic guitar field. Needless to say that he wasn't scheduled for any form of performances. By chance, one of the main organizer, Takeda-san met Jeffrey on day one. He is also the owner of Dolphin Guitar Shop, a pro shop that consigns and sells high end acoustic guitars in Esaka. Takeda-san was on a hectic schedule but Jeffrey managed to convince him to spend a few minutes at his table to watch Shun perform. It is well known that Michael Jackson was extremely popular among Japanese. Shun unleashed his rendition of Billie Jean before Takeda-san. Shun started with the signature riff of Billie Jean. Takeda-san was captivated immediately. When Shun started singing over his complicated playing style, Takeda-san was totally caught off guard. He was in awed from that moment. At the end of the performance, Jeffrey has requested for Shun to be scheduled for a public performance and Takeda-san has agreed immediately to slot him into the packed performance schedule. What a moment for Shun and Jeffrey! The following day, Shun brought the house down by his soulful playing and energetic performances. The other chief organizer Takimoto-san saw Shun's performance and he said such level deserved a placed in the paid performances category. I think it might happen in the near future.

On right, Takeda was in awed watching Shun

Shun performed at Osaka Guitar Show
Taken from:

Fine craftsmanship
Japanese guitar makers have great respect and fondness towards American made guitars. After all, the Westerners did invent steel string guitars. As a result, Japanese guitar makers have made close references in construction, styling and voicing approaches to that of American made guitars thus the tonal characteristics were comparable and also similar. Many Japanese guitar makers received their guitar making training from Western guitar makers and this also accounted for the close resemblance. It wasn't spoken but the number of spruce topped guitars I have seen in the show seems to imply that spruce is the Holy Grail choice for guitar top plate. Spruce may every well be the best choice because of its mechanical and acoustic properties and also its frequency in application. Well, we can see this from either the half filled glass or half empty glass perspectives. Is there nothing out there that can fit the bill? While I have seen some incremental innovations there wasn’t any breakthrough of quantum leap degrees. Nevertheless Japanese hand-built guitars do display very high level of craftsmanship.

A 1998 Somogyi
Yamaha LJ86

Jeffrey's table was among the luthiers' sector. Due to Jeffrey’s unique design, his guitars have generated abundance of curiosity and talking among luthiers and guitar players. Jeffrey and I initiated small talks with some Japanese guitar makers. Gradually we were able to share our ideas openly in day 2 of the show. Many ideas were traded and we become friends as well. Through these conversations, Jeffrey and I have discovered their staunch beliefs in traditional approaches in guitar making. However their curiosities and desires for improvement have also provided the impetus to push and the perceived boundaries. Indeed some guitar makers have exhibited their avant-garde designs.

Yasuhiro Takeshita, founder of Blue String Guitar and I

Prior to the show, Jeffrey has made contacts with Maasaki Kishibe, a renown Japanese fingerstyle guitarists, to meet at the guitar show. However it didn’t materialized. Just when we thought it was not going to happen, our dear friend Hiroshi received a call from Kishibe as we were on our way to Kyoto to visit Pooh-san. We quickly altered our plans to shorten our visit in Kyoto. Eventually Kishibe has agreed to meet us in Dolphin Guitars shop which located in Esaka. It was my honor to meet him in person. It was practically a private concert we had as we were watching Kishibe from arm’s length. Anyway we did visit Kyoto to have lunch with Pooh-san. His CD shop is filled with great stuff. As a guitar player, it was like a wonderland

Jeff, I and Pooh-san
Jeff, Kishibe and I

For Jeffrey, the show has been successful. His third Mango wood JJ was sold to a Japanese professional acoustic guitar player. Another Autumn Leaves Spruce Monkeypod JJ was consigned to a Japanese guitar music CD distributor. We brought 4 guitars and we returned with 2. Above all, the invaluable bridges we have built were the major indications of success. We left Osaka with a sense fulfillment and exciting anticipation of the Jeffrey Yong guitars’ effect coming from Japan in the near future. Thanks for reading.

Okapi and Jeffrey

Here are my favorite pictures

Jeff, Takimoto and I
Guitars Galore 
Blue String Guitar 
Shun and Okapi 
Shun and I
Jeff and Rynten 
Pooh-san, Jeffrey and Hiroshi 
At Dolphin Guitars 
Hana, Pooh-san, Jeff, Aki, I and Hiroshi 
Jeff and Tanaka 
Shun and Hikaru 
The infamous "Chicken Backside"
-end of article-

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