Beijing Beat blog with Mark Godfrey

Beijing Beat

US Slump A Sour Note for China's Instrument Makers

May 7

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5/7/2008 3:52 AM  RssIcon

Local instrument makers will have to make better guitars, pianos and sell more domestically to survive a tougher export market

On a call this morning with Betty Heywood of NAMM, the US-based international body representing makers of musical instruments I learned that one of the least likely victims of the economic turn-down in the USA are Chinese instrument makers. Ambitious local brands like Pearl River are hurting as house-building slows down means fewer grand pianos are going into the living rooms of middle-class America.

The slump in the USA and rising raw materials costs globally (caused largely by China's rise) means rising costs for instrument makers Jumps have been particularly sharp in traditional Chinese instruments – often made of imported hardwood – rose 162 percent. Liu Sheng, Maketing manager at Shanghai Piano Co.Ltd, a private company exporting 20 percent of its mid-to-upper level pianos - The US and Europe and US, Germany and France are top three markets tells me that rising wood and metal costs are forcing the firm to spend 5% of the revenues are spent in R&D “We'll stimulate our sales by improving our technologies.”

Some of the companies I've talked to, like massive Korean-owned Sejung which makes guitars and pianos in Qingdao, say they're cutting costs through  local sourcing of parts like wood and strings. Others will just sell more at home, to ever-wealthy Chinese. Nanjing Moutrie & Schumann Piano Manufacturing Co sells two thirds of its 6,000 pianos to Fujian and Guangdong

 

Like its cars though, China's instruments definitely have an image problem. Guitars made in Japan and the US boast better materials and sound quality, says Wu Ligen, a technician at the maintenance department at GAid, a rare guitar. “You can easily tell the difference in listening to the timbre of a Chinese and then a Western or Japanese made guitar.”

It may all just be a matter of time before China has a brand of its own to rival Gibson or Steinway. I also talked earlier with Wang Gentian an avuncular bureaucrat who runs the China Musical Instrments Association from a comfortable new office in Beijing’s Fengtai district. “If western peers compete with us in making traditional Chinese instruments they wouldn’t be able to match us,” he said. Wise words.

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