Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

World's Largest Guitar Factory

Jan 15

Written by:
1/15/2008 2:23 AM  RssIcon

Sales from the massive Sejung guitar plant in Qingdao, China have never been so good but locals aren't buying

An indication of how huge the instruments business has become here: At the weekend I was in Qingdao and sought out the plant of Sejung, a Korean firm with the world's largest production line for guitars and pianos. They say they are stretched to full to meet their order book, that's how heavy demand is for their Ibanez, Epiphone guitars and their own mostly entry level Sejung guitar line. 

It took us three hours to find the factory in the warehouse wasteland that is Qingdao's industrial belt. Sejung, a huge Korean American conglomerate with fingers in real estate and steel businesses in the town, is shifting its piano and guitar assembly lines into a new purpose built plant, abandoning the maze of blue tin and brick down the road where it's manufactured up to now. The cheap bicycles and scooters of blue-overalled workers stand in neat lines in the front yard while pick up trucks and Daewoo vans were searched at the main entrance by security guards.

The Korean management were not very helpful, telling us we'd have to be ordering minimum two 20-foot containers of guitars to get a hearing from their export sales department. "Everywhere! everywhere!" said sales manager Keith Lee in response to my question about where the guitars are selling. "We even sell in Africa!" 

Qingdao is home to dozens of musical instrument factories, many of them built by Koreans who take advantage of low labour costs, one aeroplane hour from Seoul. Jobs for locals aside, there's unfortunately not much of a pass-off in terms of knowledge or aftersales locally. If you go into a music store in Qingdao or Beijing the staff are generally incapable of talking you through the products, so , largely because all of this stuff is being exported. By contrast, I had a music store in Manchester explain the whole pheonomenon to me while I was home for Christmas: Chinese guitars are cheap because they're usually made of resin rather than wood and few people can resist a Yamaha acoustic for $80, when a wood-body Japanese made Yamaha costs $800 (but there's no difference in appearence).

Still, Epiphone guitars made in China are used by professional musicians. I tried to get a look at the company's Qingdao factory but my several emails and calls were unanswered by the press office at Gibson, the company which owns Epiphone. The press office was kept busy in 2007 explaining why seconds from Chinese factories were showing up in USA showrooms as the real product.

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1 comment(s) so far...


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Re: World's Largest Guitar Factory

"Chinese guitars are cheap because they're usually made of resin rather than wood"

What utter bullshit you write here.

The Chinese Epi Les Pauls are just as well made as Japanese ones were.

On the very cheap Chinese unbranded guitars though you would find shortcuts like photo flaming technique uses in place of flamed maple.

I used to own a Japanese Antoria Les Paul and that actually had a pressed laminate top rather than carved so it was partailly hollow. Yet these old Antorias now sell second hand for more than Chinese fully solid carved top Les Pauls brand new.

The Japanese quality reputation is well deserved for certain brands such as the old Ibanez and Tokia's but not true across the board.

By TC on   1/27/2010 5:03 AM

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