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A visit to a Vietnamese Guitar factory


Etienne Rambert
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The Ayers factory is about 40 kilometers outside of Saigon.

TJ Baden worked for Taylor & then started his own line, "Baden". I'd love to visit their factory.

I haven't asked. And I don't know that they would want me there with a video camera.

They can make their own promotional videos.

 

As I understand it, the Ayers' factory was already there. Baden decided to build in it.

Ayers is a Taiwanese maker. But the guitars are built in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Reportedly,

Ayers had European luthiers designing & supervising. I heard French. Then I heard German.

Then I heard Austrian. I'd be surprised if there were any European luthiers on site. If they were

French, I might have met them already.

 

Binh has had a couple in his shop. One Ayers & one Baden.

The Maple Baden was real nice.

 

BTW, for steel-stringed guitars from Vietnam, I strongly recommend

Maple/Spruce or Rosewood/Cedar.

 

They both have very special sounds, unlike anything I've heard in the West.

 

Of course, you should wear protective gear anytime you play a Vietnamese guitar.

Boxing gloves, goggles, helmet with face-shield, Kevlar vest & Kevlar codpiece.

 

Exploding Vietnamese guitars have killed or wounded a lot of good, brave & proud American guitar players.

 

NB: I'm thinking of an experiment. A friend of mine in suburban Dallas wants to order an arch-top like mine.

I may fly mine back to the States for him to keep for me for several months or a year. I would instruct him

to not humidify it. Just use it normally.

 

Of course, Dallas has a 60% relative humidity (annual average). So it's only a 20% drop.

But I've had this big arch-top since 2006. It's had a lot of time & exposure to varying humidities.

I don't think a year in Dallas will bother it at all.

 

But anyone who lives in a dry place should humidify their wooden-stringed instruments, no matter

where they are made. But if they are made in Vietnam, it's wise to take a few more precautions.

Kevlar ain't cheap. But you wouldn't want to have any of your appendages blown off either.

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First of all, I never said I would buy one of these Vietnamese guitars. I just said that they seem like a good value ($225 for an all solid wood archtop).


I have never said I know anything about guitar building or manufacture. All I mentioned was the mere fact that most factories in Asia do not conform to our standards of safety or attention to detail say like Larivee or even the Gibson USA factory. What is it about that you can't seem to read in my post...(Thank God for the ignore feature)."

 

Wow, OGP, I just watched that video. Fascinating.

 

My observations:

 

1. China is huge. It's the size of the US with Alaska. Humidities vary as

much as they do in the US.

 

2. If that factory is in Guangdong Province, it's pretty humid.

 

3. Note how the workers wear uniforms. Compare that to Binh's shop.

 

crew4polishing.JPG

 

That is the difference between China & Vietnam - in a nutshell.

 

Also, we know a lot of the Vietnamese luthiers buy their wood from Taiwan.

That's especially true of tops, which they sometimes buy from Yamaha.

 

2a_sitka_germany.JPG

 

So top-woods may be kilned in climate-control areas before they get here.

Necks, backs & sides over here tend to be local, except for the Maple.

 

I think finish makes the biggest difference of all. Don't buy a thick, glassy finish.

 

It makes sense. The more flexible the finish, the less chance of cracking due to the elements.

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Climate controlled building environments are a comparitively modern worldwide development within the timber and luthiery industries, but an emphasis has to be placed upon consistancy in terms of timber storage and handling.

Yes, if an instrument is crafted in a high humidity environment of e.g. 65% - 99% RH there's a need for it to slowly acclimatise and for the owner to be aware shrinkage can occur when it's taken to a climate experiencing lower humidity levels. The main factors to watch out for are warpage, shrinkage, cracking and banding/binding separation over a period of time. Tonal changes also occur, but potential problems needn't be too great if an instrument is carefully monitored and humidified.

It's generally a buyer be aware (Not beware) situation.

Insomuch as traditional Far Eastern craftsmanship within the field of instrument making is concerned, some quite astounding pieces hail from a tradition of typically small workshops where families have often been involved within the same craft for numerous generations (Think up to 400 years in some cases and with traditional apprenticeships still lasting up to 10yrs or more). They therefore often possess greater skill sets and much more flexibility when it comes to moving from one style of instrument making to another. Very often much more latitude than western craftsmen who tend to be restricted to working within one discipline without ever experiencing anything different.

Perhaps the Far Eastern economical environment is poorer in some countries than what we experience in the west, but their crafting traditions are far richer and have far deeper historical roots. I'd personally place far more faith in the workmanship and knowledge of craftsmen like Mr. Bihn than so many western makers who's baseline of knowledge and experience often amounts to a one month guitarmaking course before leaping onto the bandwagon and setting up shop as "luthiers" whilst muddling along. Indeed, many can't even correctly spell or pronounce the title of their assumed trade.

Will an instrument built in a high humidity enviroment be capable of withstanding long term storage in drier climes without severe problems? Yes, if carefully humidifed and monitored. ;)

A very simple request for the interior of an instrument to be lightly lacquered and for all exposed end grain to be sealed if ordering and buying a bespoke example in a high humidity location, but transporting for permanent use and storage in a consistantly lower humidity location. This can help safeguard - to a certain extent - against drastic shifts in timber and reduce the development of flaws.

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I`ve got lots of old MIJs from 1948 to the mid `60s...I doubt all of them were built in climate controlled facilities at the time. They are still going strong and will out last me I`m certain. The climate in Japan is all over the place and all that climate controlled talk is fascinatin` `n stuff but in my experience it doesn`t seem to have much affect on what I own and see here in Japan.
Japanese companies have expanded into Viet Nam for some time, some of the big electronics corporations have factories there.

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I`ve got lots of old MIJs from 1948 to the mid `60s...I doubt all of them were built in climate controlled facilities at the time. They are still going strong and will out last me I`m certain. The climate in Japan is all over the place and all that climate controlled talk is fascinatin` `n stuff but in my experience it doesn`t seem to have much affect on what I own and see here in Japan.

Japanese companies have expanded into Viet Nam for some time, some of the big electronics corporations have factories there.

 

A lot of Japanese tourists shop on 'Luthier Street' in Saigon. (Nguyen Thien Thuat, District 3)*.

 

*The expats call it "Guitar Street".

 

In fact, the day I bought my arch-top, there was a Japanese couple in Binh's

shop. The husband told me that he thought the F-holes were too big.

 

I told him thanks. And I put $100 down on it right there. One of my best guitar buys ever.

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I`ve got lots of old MIJs from 1948 to the mid `60s...I doubt all of them were built in climate controlled facilities at the time. They are still going strong and will out last me I`m certain. The climate in Japan is all over the place and all that climate controlled talk is fascinatin` `n stuff but in my experience it doesn`t seem to have much affect on what I own and see here in Japan.

Japanese companies have expanded into Viet Nam for some time, some of the big electronics corporations have factories there.




Much of their success has to do with long held traditions in woodworking traditions and a broad knowledge of proper timber handling, seasoning and control of timber moisture content. I'd dare say Far Eastern carpenters have forgotten far more than many Western carpenters will ever know and the evidence can be seen in the things they craft and the size of timbers they handle on a day to day basis.

The same can be said of how Far Eastern crafts people handle the various aspects of metalworking, lacquerwork, textiles, etc.. All long held crafts that have been maintained and of much higher standards in comparison to the western "Bronze Age" attitude to the same crafts. Western crafts are in their infancy when placed in direct comparison.

Provide a list of specifications and materials and they'll produce the goods every single time, but this is where many westerners seem to misunderstand how lower quality goods enter the marketplace. Not by virtue of poor craftsmanship, but more in connection with low level specification via western companies who place orders while trying to save a buck or two as they cut corners.

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Much of their success has to do with long held traditions in woodworking traditions and a broad knowledge of proper timber handling, seasoning and control of timber moisture content. I'd dare say Far Eastern carpenters have forgotten far more than many Western carpenters will ever know and the evidence can be seen in the things they craft and the size of timbers they handle on a day to day basis.


The same can be said of how Far Eastern crafts people handle the various aspects of metalworking, lacquerwork, textiles, etc.. All long held crafts that have been maintained and of much higher standards in comparison to the western "Bronze Age" attitude to the same crafts. Western crafts are in their infancy when placed in direct comparison.


Provide a list of specifications and materials and they'll produce the goods every single time, but this is where many westerners seem to misunderstand how lower quality goods enter the marketplace. Not by virtue of poor craftsmanship, but more in connection with low level specification
via western companies
who place orders while trying to save a buck or two as they cut corners.



:thu:

hear, hear.

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yeah well that may have been true in the past but now money talks and the news has been filled with stories of the unscrupulous who cheat and swindle as a way of life... news in Japan that is...not sure how much gets reported overseas...like the architectural firms who cut corners for years by reducing the number of steel rods in concrete used in condos and when that came to light the buildings were deemed unsafe and everybody had to move out...the firms filed for bankruptcy, families had to leave while still paying mortgages on places they were not living in anymore. Or steel makers who fudged their data on product used to build bridges...the list goes on...in a country as prone to earth quakes as this one is...shameful. Many long held traditions ain`t what they used to be...but bid rigging is still as prevalent as it`s always been. And political scandals involving the top tier officials...ministers as well as prime ministers... are common so it flows from the top down.
Are all Japanese like this...no...some are still honorable but the dirt bags seem to be taking over.

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exactly...many westerners, myself included till I`d been here a few years...have this rose colored view of Japan and the people. My opinion now is...they are no better or worse than people from any other country...some good folks some less so...like the woman who admitted last week she would bind her 5 year old daughter and put her in the washing machine...and turn it on...to punish her. She finally died and I hope they through the book at her, but alas...child abuse is not rare here.

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Much of their success has to do with long held traditions in woodworking traditions and a broad knowledge of proper timber handling, seasoning and control of timber moisture content. I'd dare say Far Eastern carpenters have forgotten far more than many Western carpenters will ever know and the evidence can be seen in the things they craft and the size of timbers they handle on a day to day basis.


The same can be said of how Far Eastern crafts people handle the various aspects of metalworking, lacquerwork, textiles, etc.. All long held crafts that have been maintained and of much higher standards in comparison to the western "Bronze Age" attitude to the same crafts. Western crafts are in their infancy when placed in direct comparison.


Provide a list of specifications and materials and they'll produce the goods every single time, but this is where many westerners seem to misunderstand how lower quality goods enter the marketplace. Not by virtue of poor craftsmanship, but more in connection with low level specification
via western companies
who place orders while trying to save a buck or two as they cut corners.



:cool::thu:

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yeah well that may have been true in the past but now money talks and the news has been filled with stories of the unscrupulous who cheat and swindle as a way of life... news in Japan that is...not sure how much gets reported overseas...like the architectural firms who cut corners for years by reducing the number of steel rods in concrete used in condos and when that came to light the buildings were deemed unsafe and everybody had to move out...the firms filed for bankruptcy, families had to leave while still paying mortgages on places they were not living in anymore. Or steel makers who fudged their data on product used to build bridges...the list goes on...in a country as prone to earth quakes as this one is...shameful. Many long held traditions ain`t what they used to be...but bid rigging is still as prevalent as it`s always been. And political scandals involving the top tier officials...ministers as well as prime ministers... are common so it flows from the top down.

Are all Japanese like this...no...some are still honorable but the dirt bags seem to be taking over.



Human is what human does, but your angle on things doesn't truly touch onto involvement within the traditional crafts. I'm not viewing the topic through rose tinted spectacles, but I am speaking from experience. What you deem as having existed in the past is most definitely still present in terms of craftsmanship, craftsmen, their perspective on their craft and the abilities use therein. There are craftsmen and there are jobbers who'll try to pass themselves off as craftsmen, but they're soon enough caught out by virtue of their general lack of crafting skills

While companies and their executives may well get what they can, whenever they can and by whichever means they chose, they're not craftsmen. Crafty perhaps, but not craftsmen. :lol:

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Gary Palmer: "very simple request for the interior of an instrument to be lightly lacquered and for all exposed end grain to be sealed if ordering and buying a bespoke example in a high humidity location, but transporting for permanent use and storage in a consistantly lower humidity location. This can help safeguard - to a certain extent - against drastic shifts in timber and reduce the development of flaws."

 

That's a really good suggestion.

 

I don't think I've ever heard this before. Will sealing or lacquering the interior of a guitar have an effect on the tone?

 

I still say -- stay away from thick, gloppy finishes.

Here are the two Binh guitars I have at home now.

I recommend the finish I have on the classical.

 

The arch-top does not have a thick finish, but it's a bit shinier than

I would special order. I bought it off the shelf because I fell in love with it.

I'm thinking about ordering a blonde arch-top. If I do, I'll order it with a

finish like the classical.

 

finish-classical-guitar.jpg

 

finish-archtop.jpg

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I don't think I've ever heard this before. Will sealing or lacquering the interior of a guitar have an effect on the tone?



Often done in shellac it does nothing to hurt tonality, but does seal exposed end grain and reduces the likelihood of shrinkage during shifts in humidity.

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I've sealed the inside of a few guitars with shellac. I never noticed any difference in sound before and after. I did it usually because the guitar was one of those Brazilian rosewood guitars that just plain cracks easily along the back and sides if you look at it the wrong way. I'm of the opinion that the back and sides don't contribute much to tone anyway...and I've never finished the inside/braced side of a guitar top.

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Human is what human does, but your angle on things doesn't truly touch onto involvement within the traditional crafts. I'm not viewing the topic through rose tinted spectacles, but I am speaking from experience. What you deem as having existed in the past is most definitely still present in terms of craftsmanship, craftsmen, their perspective on their craft and the abilities use therein. There are craftsmen and there are jobbers who'll try to pass themselves off as craftsmen, but they're soon enough caught out by virtue of their general lack of crafting skills


While companies and their executives may well get what they can, whenever they can and by whichever means they chose, they're not craftsmen. Crafty perhaps, but not craftsmen.
:lol:



I bet you can go to a party and suck all the fun out of a room in no time flat. Spend more time in Japan then we`ll compare notes. Sounds to me like your experience here is extremely limited.

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I bet you can go to a party and suck all the fun out of a room in no time flat. Spend more time in Japan then we`ll compare notes. Sounds to me like your experience here is extremely limited.



Zenbu, I don't think you understood a word he said. Your somewhat impolite comment (attacking the speaker rather than what he said) surprised me; then you provide no notes now or previously to refute his general comments about there being craftsmanship and the craft as an entities separate from business and corruption of which you had spoken.

Also want to approve of Gary Palmer's comment about lightly shellacking/sealing the underside of a guitar top. As guitar prices reach the stratosphere and tops have cross-grain wood glued to them (braces) builders should consider more ways to protect guitars that they might want to sell to players in all climates.

Greg

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like I said, evidently much of what happens here does not get reported outside the country. I`m just not interested in going around and around in circles. If what I said was taken to mean there are no longer any craftsmen in Japan, I can`t help that...not what I meant. You want proof of how much Japan is changing, come to the country and I don`t mean for just a 2 week vacation. I`ve been here 17 years next month so I have seen a lot in that time... difficult compressing 17 years of observations into a few lines on a web site. Think what you like, I don`t lose sleep over anything I read on the web.

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I bet you can go to a party and suck all the fun out of a room in no time flat. Spend more time in Japan then we`ll compare notes. Sounds to me like your experience here is extremely limited.



Your earlier rant spoke nothing of craftsmanship, but did lean rather heavily upon corporate industrial greed and corruption. None of which bear any relevance on the attitudes and work of craftsmen or the topic at hand.

If I were to model my approach and general demeanor upon yours I'd dare bet I could suck all of the fun out of a room, but I'll stick with the way I am thankyou. :thu:

My comments pertained to the many TRADITIONAL CRAFTSMEN and their TRADITIONAL CRAFTSMANSHIP found in large and small workshops worldwide. I'm always more than happy to chat about such and if you had any real time experience concerning the things that make CRAFTSMEN tick - pride in their work, enjoyment of tools and materials manipulation, trying to get it right on a daily basis, etc. - you'd perhaps realise and understand the meaning behind what I'd said instead of springing to the offensive.

Many of us live, breath and sleep our work and yes, I do count myself as a craftsman, but don't restrict myself to blinkered views and am more than willing to look, listen and learn. We never stop learning and our views never cease to evolve.

Your assumptions are quite wrong on a number of counts in terms of my attitude :lol:, but my comments regarding the attitudes of genuine craftsmen and their approach to their work stand true on a worldwide basis and I'm not after Brownie points in terms of global location, where I've been or what I've witnessed. I have however been much farther afield for prolonged periods - not holidays/vacations - than you seem to assume.

The Far East indeed includes Japan/Ni hon and their large scale industrial influences, but craftsmanship isn't exclusive to theirs or any other nation, nor are their craftsmen as sly and conniving as you seem to suggest.

Try visiting a few traditional workshops where true craftsmen and women work instead of pigeon holing your views by solely considering larger outfits and your views and stance could well be swayed to a better understanding.

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yeah yeah yeah...why use one word when 10 will do eh.



Sarcasm doesn't suit you.

Unless poorly chosen, the use of ten words will often tend to explain something more fully than resorting to the use of one. You'd already done the same earlier during your single paragraph - plus single line - rant, but it was so far off target you had Jack Benny spinning like a top in his grave due to recoil.

All you had to say is not everyone behaves in the same way, before moving on to explain your perception of the situation. You, unfortunately, chose to potentially tar each culture with very broad brush strokes whilst seeming to forget the Far East and mainland Asia is a culturally diverse region of the globe. Regardless of if viewed from the West, Middle East or from beyond the seeming exclusivity of the shores of the Japanese islands.

Cultures diversify in so many different ways and people come in many flavours, but the approach toward genuine craftsmanship remains virtually the same regardless of location, creed or ethnic origins.

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