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A visit to a Vietnamese Guitar factory


Etienne Rambert
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I went on a Sunday. There was a skeleton crew, only 10 people working.

If I'd gone on a week-day, I might have seen more processes going on.

This is probably similar to the way guitars are made in Mexico. They make

mostly steel-string acoustic here though.

 

They buy most of the wood from Taiwan. They buy the Ebony he told

me from North Africa. Here is something, I didn't know what it was.

 

 

close_up_zircote_maybe.JPG

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Think Houston or New Orleans.

 

Relative humidity averaged annually is +/- 5 degrees of Houston & New Orleans. That's 70 -80%.

 

But the annual average is misleading because it's hot and dry during the dry season and hot and wet during the monsoons. So in actuality, you may go down to 50% during the hot dry season and up to 100% during the monsoon season.

 

Just like Houston or New Orleans.

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Thanks for the thread. The thing that strikes me most is that there doesn't seem to be any temperature/climate control, which is striking when you consider the pains that manufacturers like Martin and Taylor go to to control the environment in their factories.

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I'll ask about that.

 

But this is a poor country. There is no way these people can pay for electronic

climate control systems. That's one reason why Martins are expensive and these are not.

 

What I wondered about was that I did not see a kiln. But OTOH,

this is a very hot region - all year around. It is hot, hot, hot.

 

Hanoi has cold seasons. Down south, it's 10 degrees above the equator. It's hot all the time.

So the weather is a kind of temperature control. There are not wild variations like there are in

California or Montana. It rarely gets below 78F at nights. It sometimes gets above 100 F in the days.

 

2 seasons. Hot and dry. Hot and wet.

 

I've bought six or seven guitars from this shop.

Thus far, no checking,no cracking, no warping.

 

But I live in Louisiana.

 

Looking at this guitar puts it in perspective for me.

 

When is the last time you saw a Martin, Gibson, Guild or Larivee with a back & sides like this?

 

If youve ever seen one, how much did it sell for?

 

custom_order_from_paris_back.JPG

 

Even if it needs repairs down the road, the investment would be well worth it.

The guitar is a stunner.

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What I wondered about was that I did not see a kiln. But OTOH,

this is a very hot region - all year around. It is hot, hot, hot.

 

I noticed that there were a lot of pieces of wood stored on the rafters just below the roof. I imagine that conditions up there could be kiln-like.

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Nice pictures and an excellent post......but

 

Those manufacturing methods scare the heck out of me. No climate control, no ventilation, no protection for the workers breathing the back spray of finishing chemicals....not good. Some of the pics show mold growing on the walls, etc...OSHA would have them closed in 2 minutes flat.

 

I always wondered why some of the Masterbilts that come from the PacRim have issues once they get here.....seperation of braces, bridges, etc. Maybe its because of the like conditions the woods have to go through.

 

I'm not bashing the workers here.

I'm sure they know how to make a fine instrument.

 

It's the conditions that I find abhorrent. One of the reasons I have such trouble purchasing a PacRim instrument. And I know this is a small family business in a poor district. But still, with todays sophisticated chemicals utilized in guitar making, a certain level of caution must be used to protect the workers....this place didn't seem to employ any of them.

 

Also, I wouldn't want to buy one of those instruments with the expectation they could last any particular amount of time. I would really worry about durability from shipment to climate change.

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They last just fine. At lest the ones I've bought over the past four years

are doing splendidly. Two for my son. Two for clients. Three for me.

 

One out of 7 may need some work. My jumbo that was constructed

by another shop, not Binh's, may have had the neck set wrong

in the beginning. When I go back home, I'm going to check into that. But wow! What a sound that guitar has. Cedar/Indian Rosewood. I never heard a guitar that sounds like it. The strum is absolute velvet.

 

I don't worry about climate adjustment. Use a humidifier

and don't leave it in the trunk of your car on cold, dry nights.

 

I do worry about shipping. That's why I tell people to come here

and buy them on vacation. Or else - Fed-Ex/DHL.

I would never ship one of these postal.

 

Plus - they restored my 1972 Guild beautifully.

They have a lot of repeat Western customers.

I've seen Binh restoring a vintage Martin D-28 for

a Canadian diplomat.

 

I don't buy the high-gloss finish. I'd worry about

cracking in dry temperatures on them. But some name

brands crack in dry temperatures too. .

 

I'll buy two more before I'm finished. Maybe 3.

I may yet get another arch top.

 

I'm not selling these things. I don't have the temperment

to sell guitars. And I make better money at my other job.

 

But I know a bargain when I see one too.

I know their virtues and drawbacks of these

instruments very well. Longevity isn't a drawback.

 

I only saw a skeleton crew working on Sunday.

Like it or not - that's what it is. This is how most

of the world works and lives.

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They last just fine. At lest the ones I've bought over the past four years

are doing splendidly. Two for my son. Two for clients. Three for me.


.....I only saw a skeleton crew working on Sunday.

Like it or not - that's what it is. This is how most

of the world works and lives.

 

I'm glad your guitars are fine. I'm not so glad how the rest of the 3rd world manufacturing has to work and the living conditions they have. I'm not talking about having a simplistic life style, I'm talking about poor conditions.

 

Actually I believe that a simpler life is much prefered over the norm how "Americans" live their life. But there still has to be some balance.

 

Hopefully, the future holds a safer environment for these private small businesses. Again, a very good post.

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these pics remind me of an American history schoolbook I read as a child. A section of the book was dedicated to the improvement of working conditions and the creation of child labor laws. Thank you for providing me with a glimpse of how manufacturing is performed in developing countries. It makes me glad to have the working conditions I have taken for granted. I am very glad I spent the extra money on A California made Taylor.

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A lot of Westerners have lived sheltered lives. As a result, they're clueless.

 

One aspect of this that has gone utterly un-noticed, is that this is a family business.

The workers you see are mostly family members and friends of the families. There are apprentices whose families

sent them to learn how to become luthiers. Do they look unhappy? Do they look mistreated or stressed?

 

They eat together, they sleep in the same grounds. Their earnings aren't static.

They go up and down depending on sales. The family rises and falls together.

 

In the US, we don't have families like that anymore. Or we have very few.

In the ethnic communities families like this still exist. Mormons, Amish & Mennonites

may still have family units like that as well. But American families have atomized.

 

I'm certainly glad I did NOT spend the extra money to buy a Taylor. And the most recent top of the line Guild

I bought off EBay, I sank a thousand dollars worth of repairs into.

 

Never had to do that with any of these guitars. These instruments

are a lot better than people imagine. You've noticed, there is no assembly line.

Western makers & players are whistling in the graveyard if they think they can

diss these instruments.The skill is already there. It's been there hundreds of years.

The expensive machines will follow, in time...if they even need them.

 

This is the only shop in the world designing hybrids like this one. They could patent it if they wanted.

 

 

a_killer_book-matched_maple_inspired_by_

 

The instruments speak for themselves. And the price? $400-500 USD.

 

cedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_back.JPG

 

This jumbo is going to be sui generis. It will be a tone monster. It will be beautiful.

And the owner has his name on the headstock - not someone else's name.

 

custom_order_from_paris_back.JPG

 

This week I am going to post some raw sound clips of my arch top they built for me.

I haven't played an arch top that touches it in terms of sheer volume and yet it

retains the bright, crisp attack and fast decay that arch tops should have.

 

They may not have yet mastered the magical, fast Gibson necks over here yet.

 

But they will. And it's just a matter of time.

 

ready2gig.JPG

 

In terms of materials, they're better most of the time than what you can buy in the West.

In terms of craftsmanship in hand-making instruments, they're already as good or better

than most Western makers. Don't forget, they have been making stringed instruments

in Vietnam longer than America has existed.

 

In terms of precision-fit and finish on guitars, sometimes they miss the mark. Most of the

time, they nail it. They can't afford the expensive machines. But the expensive machines will come.

It's just a matter of time. I'm not sure they will be necessary. Skilled labor is a lot less expensive

here than in the West.

 

And one quality these people have, is they are persistent and they are patient and they are not

afraid to learn something new.

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If having a decent workbench and shoes is only the norm in the western world, well thank God I'm an American. I noticed that the factory owner had a nice table to serve you his tea. As far as your Taylor and Guild comments are concerned, I'm sure they will hold their value long after your sweatshop trinkets are in someones landfill. I'd bet you are living in a very comfortable home somewhere knowing you are making a decent living selling your "air dried wood" guitars to Americans at a fat profit.

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Hi. Cheezeweggie.

 

You're mistaken. I don't sell guitars.

I buy them. I have never sold a guitar in my life.

I traded one once, for another guitar. But I don't have

the patience to sell guitars to guitarists.

 

That table I think is granite. It's not reserved for the owner.

Anyone can sit there. But Vietnam does have some special granite

and marble that is unique. In other parts of the world, it's pretty expensive.

It's not so expensive here.

 

I've recorded a lot with a Taylor 814ce. I loved it. But I didn't think it sounded exceptional. Most of these high-end guitars sound A LOT better. The 814ce action was very nice and comfortable though. I've never played a guitar that felt so

right when I was playing it. Sound as I said, was mediocre.

 

I've only heard one guitar they've made over here that sounded like a comparable Guild. Some of the Maples they make here have an incomparable sound, a sound like I've never heard anywhere else.

 

Resale depends on how you look at it. If you keep a $500 guitar for 10 years and then sell it for $500, you've played it for free. A Taylor 814ce value drops by at least 1/3 the minute you take it out of the show room. I'd bet a 10 year old Taylor 814ce sells for less than the original price.

 

Gibsons and Martins hold their value & are good investments.

I've not seen that kind of appreciation with Taylors or Guilds.

 

BTW, I'm a Guild guy. But I also know a bargain when I see one.

And I've almost bought 2 Taylors. I was offered the 814ce for $1600. I passed. I almost bought a 7 series, I think it was a 715 or 710. I don't remember. It was used. I loved the way it felt and played. Again, the sound was only middling. The Martin 15 series I played just blew it away.

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yeah Ithink more people should live in a foreign culture to really get to know it, the Discovery channel is nice, I love it but theres nothing like living among people to really understand them, and I don`t mean a two week vacation. Never been to Viet Nam so I can`t say diddly about their lives, I have been in Japan long enough to get a bit of an understanding on how the culture works, still much to learn though. I won`t pass a comment on Mr. Bihn`s operation since I`ve not met him, seen his shop, nor met his staff. Have enjoyed the pics though. Not everybody has to drive a Chevy and watch the Simpsons to be happy.

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You are absolutely right, I'm clueless how the rest of the world operates. I'm basing my judgement on the pictires of the Yamaha shops in various countries that I've seen. Those facilities are vastly superior to what I've seen in this posting and have obviously slanted my view. Enjoy your guitars.

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A marvelous thread, Marcellis.

 

I find some of the comments detracting from the thread incredibly interesting. We live in a country that has been centuries ahead of many parts of the world. There are still places in Africa where children grow up without shoes. We have the benefit of deciding whether we will eat meat or choose a vegan diet. In many countries, one is lucky to eat, and getting the nourishment your body requires is not an option.

 

We deplore the work conditions of the third world. The only thing that would improve that is capital gained from selling products. Products we won't buy because they come from countries with bad working environments. Kind of a catch 22, don't you think?

 

Enjoy your overpriced guitars from countries fortunate enough to be able to afford decent working conditions for their employees.

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