Instruments «Made in China» by Jean-Sébastien Gascon
/ September 9, 2004
For the last few years, an influx of instruments made in
China, priced at almost one third the cost of other instruments, has been
flooding the market targeting beginners and first-time buyers. Although these
instruments are generally considered to be of inferior quality, some retailers
have begun to endorse and sell them.
The music instrument market is now subject to the forces
of globalization. As with most manufacturing, lower labour costs in China and
Asia (sometimes 75 per cent less than in the West) are the main contributing
factor for the difference in price. The USA has accused China of dumping, saying
it exports more instruments there than the total number sold in America by all
manufacturers. Evidently, this new economic reality has given consumers more
product choices and more competitive pricing.
Constructing instruments, however, is not the same as
manufacturing toys. The craft requires decades if not centuries to develop the
necessary expertise. The usual Asian approach has been to study and copy the
best instruments and to hire the best makers as consultants for the missing
expertise. After initial failures, the results today are more convincing,
although due to the high volume of production there are still variations from
one copy to another.
This competition has forced the main instrument
manufacturers (ie, Yamaha, Steinway, etc) to adapt and invest in Asia to develop
their own "Chinese" line of instruments. To protect their reputation, they
control the quality strictly.
"Our goal to make violins accessible has prompted us to
develop a line of student models with a Taiwanese manufacturer who knows the
violin," says Montreal violin maker Jules Saint-Michel. "Several years of
cooperation was needed to develop good products that include a Brazilian bow and
a good carrying case."
At wind instrument retailer
Pascal Véraquin, this is the first year Asian-made models are being sold. "Before,
I would never sell these instruments, as the quality was not sufficient
for my clientele," says Véraquin. "This year, I saw superb quality at NAMM, the
Taiwan instrument maker show. We will however make sure that each model is adjusted
and tested in our workshop before we put it on sale."
[Translated by Wah Keung Chan]