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A visit to a Vietnamese Guitar factory


Etienne Rambert
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I agree Frets 99. But most people buy the products.

 

It's only a few who raise hissy fits about how they think

other people in other places ought to be living.

 

Concerning shoes:

 

1. Most people here don't wear them at all. They wear flip flops or sandals.

 

2. It is de rigeur to remove shoes when one enters a building.

It's good manners over here to remove your shoes when you enter

a building. That is the custom.

---

And quite honesty, these working standards aren't bad compared to some I've witnessed.

The workers are comfortable. A lot of them are family members. They seem content.

 

Compared to some larger factories in this part of the world, this little shop is probably a nice place to work. The owners treat them well. In some factories, workers are beaten and humiliated, just like they used to be in America and Europe.

 

There is quite a lot of space at this shop. I lot of workshops I've seen are tiny,

cramped places with too many people jammed inside. That's the norm for Saigon sweat shops.

 

Concerning work benches, they may have some somewhere. Or they may prefer not to have them. The restaurants here are often very close to the ground. People sit on little stools, not even a foot above the ground. People squat close to the ground when relaxing and talking with each other. It's a comfortable posture over here. I've never mastered it. But they may prefer not standing up all day or sitting in chairs.

 

At any rate, they wouldn't be wearing shoes.

 

I've learned that America has more than its fair share of provincial know-nothings.

Anybody whose done any traveling quickly learns that.

 

BTW: This one was strung up in Binh's shop yesterday.

I'm gassing real bad. I may arrange a trade - a lot of guitar strings

for this guitar.

 

Cedar top, Cambodian Rosewood B&S. What a sound!

 

cedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_back.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_cutaway.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_sides.JPG

 

It may be mine by the end of the week.

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Marcellis, I was curious about the headstock on these guitars. It's hard to tell from the pictures but they appear to have different writing or names on them. Is that a brand name or the name of the guitar?

 

You're right about that shop. It's surely one of the better and cleaner shops I've seen in the Saigon area.

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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.

 

I couldn't agree more with this. If the workers and family are happy and content then I think a lot of people who live and work in more "developed" nations may just be a touch jealous .....

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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.

This is so well said. :thu:

 

As someone born in North America to an immigrant parent who has lived/worked in similar conditions, I've found the perspectives in this thread to be very interesting and very telling. It's immediately clear who has traveled and seen the world, and who has not. It's also obvious who has ever had it tough, and who has not.

 

The people at this factory don't sit around feeling sorry for themselves. Feeling sorry for ourselves is a privilege that North Americans take for granted, a privilege these people don't have. The people at this factory don't want, or need our sympathy. They especially don't want people misguidedly boycotting their products out of the erroneous and very patronizing belief that it's for the good of these workers.

 

Things don't become perfect overnight. By definition, progress involves intermediate steps. I don't see how it's at all objectionable to give our support to a working culture that is not yet perfect, but on its way to taking the next step. We have to look at the current practices of this factory in context in order to see that progress is being made. It's completely counterproductive and makes no sense to take that out of context and then make a direct comparison against the standards of heavily regulated American businesses.

 

And it goes both ways - I have friends from Scandinavian countries who think some of our employment laws are pretty archaic. Who are we to tell people how to live their lives?

 

As I said, I have family who work in similar conditions and I don't see anything in these pictures that would raise my ire. In fact, looking at these pictures overwhelmed me with a sense of joy. They're happy and they clearly take real pride in their family business. Many thanks to the OP for putting up these beautiful pictures, I learned a lot from them. They were one of the highlights of my day. :)

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Headstock labels? Good question. Most of these don't have head stock labels. The one going to Paris has

the buyer's name on the stock. They make guitars for other suppliers. I know there is an Aussie company

they export a lot of Mandolins and guitars to. They export to California. They do some work for Bruce Wei

& Antonio Tsai too. I told 'em Tsai had a very bad reputation yesterday. Binh didn't know. I only saw

one Tsai label and zero Wei labels. I don't think I saw any other headstock labels except for that one bound

for Paris. I was only looking at their high-end stuff. There may be some inlay designs. But those aren't brand labels.

 

Speaking of head stock logos: What should I put on this one?

 

I'm trading a few hundred dollars worth of US-made guitar strings for it:

It's hard to buy decent strings here.

 

I don't want to put my name on this one. I'm thinking a blue goose. I don't know. But it's mine now baby!

This thing sounds amazing! I had to have it. Cedar top, Cambodian Rosewood back & sides.

 

 

cedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_back.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_cutaway.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_sides.JPG

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yeah that is a beaut. I`d love to have something from them, I`m selling some guitars off these days to create room and I just have too many to bring back home when I go. Have you seen any solid body electrics in the shop? I`m curious if they make em or not. One thing for sure, they sure make gorgeous guitars, I`d be proud to own one, and hopefully I will. Do you know if they sell to any Japanese chains?..these days things are tough for many here but that won`t last forever...I hope...but I bet the Japanese would go nuts for those here.

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Fly here and try 'em out. I've seen several Japanese on luthier Street.

Loads of 'em in Saigon. There seem to be two groups.

 

The young Japanese tend to hang out in the Pham Ngu Lao/De Tham area,

where Western tourists hang out.

 

The older ones who live here, live in a different part of town, in a more expensive area,

near Texas BBQ in fact. He gets quite a few Japanese who eat there.

 

Not many solid body electircs. None in my visit to their factory.

There is a forumite here who could help you. His name is Runn3r.

He has bought solid-body electrics and parts from Vietnam. PM him.

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People in the US don't know how good they got it sometimes.

 

I grew up in So. Cal. My mom was born in So. Cal in '31. My dad in NJ in '28. We all grew up with all the modern conveniences of the day.

 

Now I live in San Antonio. My mother in law, who was hispanic, was born here in '37. She was the youngest of 7. Their family didn't have indoor plumbing or electricity until after WWII sometime. That's here in the US!!! Even the white parts of San Antonio had all the modern conveniences at that time.

 

A lot of people think conditions in places like that shown us by Marcellis are deplorable and wonder how anyone could live/work like that. It's all relative. As someone said, the people in those pictures seemed very content. Relative to other conditions, they probably have it pretty good. They don't look malnurished. They have a highly desireable skill.

 

My mother in law may seemed to have it bad compared to US standards of the day, even compared to other parts of the same city, but they weren't miserable. They led happy AND productive lives. They weren't fat couch potatoes either, like those that are churned out from 1 of every 3-4 households in the good ol' USA.

 

You've got to cross the street to really know and appreciate what's on the other side. To comment otherwise is foolish.

 

Great thread Marcellis. Absolutely fascinating.

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Here is a nice unfinished Maple dread I forgot to post.

 

 

maple_dread.JPG

 

maple_dread_sides.JPG

 

maple_dread_top.JPG

 

 

I'm not sure what these are, Mandolas?

 

 

mandolas_or_mando_guitars.JPG

 

 

Me

 

 

me_w_Paris_custom_order_back.JPG

 

 

Some new apartments going up nearby. Saigon has a lot of these.

 

 

luxury_apartments_nearby.JPG

 

 

And a river shanty town on the way back home.

 

 

river_shanty_town_enroute.JPG

 

 

Factory parking lot

 

 

courtyard_exterior.JPG

 

 

Tam biet!

 

 

entrance2factory.JPGfactory_grounds.JPG

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Fly here and try 'em out. .

 

actually I was thinking about this last night and remembered...I have to get a re-entry visa every time I leave the country, been a while and I`d forgotten that...bit of a pain in the buttinski. Going to the immigration office is not one of my favorite ways to spend time.

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Headstock labels? Good question. Most of these don't have head stock labels. The one going to Paris has

the buyer's name on the stock. They make guitars for other suppliers. I know there is an Aussie company

they export a lot of Mandolins and guitars to. They export to California. They do some work for Bruce Wei

& Antonio Tsai too. I told 'em Tsai had a very bad reputation yesterday. Binh didn't know. I only saw

one Tsai label and zero Wei labels. I don't think I saw any other headstock labels except for that one bound

for Paris. I was only looking at their high-end stuff. There may be some inlay designs. But those aren't brand labels.


Speaking of head stock logos: What should I put on this one?


I'm trading a few hundred dollars worth of US-made guitar strings for it:

It's hard to buy decent strings here.


I don't want to put my name on this one. I'm thinking a blue goose. I don't know. But it's mine now baby!

This thing sounds amazing! I had to have it. Cedar top, Cambodian Rosewood back & sides.



cedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_back.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_cutaway.JPGcedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_sides.JPG

 

Those are just gorgeous, as are the many other examples you've shown in this thread and others. It's enough to make me wish I lived in Saigon: I'm guessing I'd be buying at least a guitar a month.

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Which post?

 

I missed it. (Edit: I found it.)

 

2a_sitka_germany.JPG

 

Ah this one.

 

I don't know why. It's got another label on it also. I can't read that either.

But I remember reading it at the time. The AA Spruce came from Germany.

The AAA came from the US.

 

They buy their woods from Taiwan. Yamaha builds in Taiwan. I know.

My APX6na was built in Taiwan.

 

They may be using a Yamaha template. Or they may have bought that wood

from Yamaha in Taiwan. The wood may be excess from Yamaha's operation

in Taiwan.

 

I don't know. I'll ask.

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Thanks for the fascinating tour, Marc! I enjoyed it greatly.

 

I've perused many threads in which you've posted pics of Mr. Binh's guitars and really want to order one from him once I'm back on my feet. Been gassing for a spruce/maple jumbo 12-er, but that Cambodian rosewood is gorgeous, too.

 

I wish I could hear some clips of the hybrid. If it sounds anywhere near as good as your F65ce, it will be a treasure!

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This is a most fascinating thread! Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I'm amazed at the beautiful instruments they are able to create with such simple tools. But of course, like you said, they come from a lineage that have been making fine instruments for hundreds of years.

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Hi Marcellis

 

Fantastic post and pictures! I live and work in HCMC / Saigon, Vietnam and am in the process of buying a new guitar. I had a Canadian made Seagull acoustic-electric guitar that I bought in the early '90s that recently got crushed while moving. A sad day for me but also a good excuse to get a new guitar! I was thinking of buying a guitar from Ngoc Duy, another guitar luthier in Saigon who does nice work. However, sfter seeing your pictures I would really like to check out Mr. Binh's factory or shop before doing so; as nice as Ngoc Duy's guitars are Mr. Binh's look even better! Could you possibly send me his factory address or some other contact details so I can check out his guitars?

 

Thanks!

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Wow! this thread came back?

 

Larry50: "I always love the way those guitars look. Longevity remains to seen, however."

 

You'd love how they sound too. Take it from me. Set-up, fit, finish, action & accessories are issues.

Longevity ain't. I've seen Taylors, Martins, Gibsons, Guilds come out of the factory with serious

defects.

 

These guitars will last as long as the wood lasts. And the wood here is just as good or better than the wood

used on the big name guitars. Tone ain't an issue either. They will kill a lot of guitars that cost 5x as much.

 

Hi Marcellis


Fantastic post and pictures! I live and work in HCMC / Saigon, Vietnam and am in the process of buying a new guitar. I had a Canadian made Seagull acoustic-electric guitar that I bought in the early '90s that recently got crushed while moving. A sad day for me but also a good excuse to get a new guitar! I was thinking of buying a guitar from Ngoc Duy, another guitar luthier in Saigon who does nice work. However, sfter seeing your pictures I would really like to check out Mr. Binh's factory or shop before doing so; as nice as Ngoc Duy's guitars are Mr. Binh's look even better! Could you possibly send me his factory address or some other contact details so I can check out his guitars?


Thanks!

 

Hi. Binh is across the Street from Ngoc Duy - Tam Hiep @

36 Nguyen Thien Thuat. Walk 80 feet. You're inside his shop.

Go visit both. Make sure you visit the Tam Hiep at #36 though.

There is another one two doors down they own. But nobody speaks

a word of English there. Walk into any shop up & down that street.

There are still lots of them I've never been inside of.

 

Actually, I wouldn't buy from Ngoc Duy. He builds good guitars.

But I'll never buy one from him.

 

Make your own comparison. Here is mine.

 

1. Ngoc Duy's guitars are more expensive than Binh's.

 

2. I don't think his steel-string guitars sound as good as Binh's off-the-shelf. He'd probably

do ok if you spec it though.

 

3. I've played several of his guitars. I've never played a steel-string that matched Binh's best in tone. YMMV.

 

4. Ngoc Duy did make a good classical from a Japanese design though. The guy gave him

the exact spec's and drawings on how to make it. It's an excellent guitar.

 

But I'm not much impressed with his steel-string guitars. Never have been.

A lot depends on what each one has in stock at the time though.

And how much you want to pay. He built a good acoustic bass I played

once.

 

That's my experience. And the only arch top I've seen in his shop would definitely not

withstand a volume onslaught from the monster I bought at Binh's shop.

 

Some expat teachers buy from him though.

 

An Aussie touring guitarist referred me to Binh.

Binh's a nice guy. He's easy to work with. More importantly,

his guitars are less expensive & sound better to my ears.

 

That's my opinion. YMMV.

 

Here is where I first saw my Grey Goose - on this couch in Binh's factory.

It was love at first sight. I hadn't come to buy a guitar BTW, just to take photos.

 

cedar_top_cambodian_rosewood_cutaway.JPG

 

Here she is today. Two of these guitars were made in Binh's factory.

One was made in 1997 in Westerly, Rhode Island. .

 

current_crop_front.jpg

 

current_crop_back.jpg

 

That guitar I saw on his couch is now dressed out with Planet Waves tuners,

an LR baggs pick-up, and a grey goose.

 

grey_goose.jpg

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What a wonderful thread! Informed, informative, a delight to read; a visual treat as well. (To coin a song phrase, Who could ask for anything more?)

 

Particularly cherished the 'family' photos, of kids and Moms in the courtyard, the surrounding trees and vegetation. Felt like I was "there" . . . and perhaps one day I will be! (Just to check out that 'Street of Guitars') As you described it so well . .

 

" . . . [Mr.] Binh is across the Street from Ngoc Duy [just] walk 80 feet. You're inside his shop.

 

"Go visit both. Make sure you visit the Tam Hiep at #36 though.

There is another one two doors down they own. But nobody speaks

a word of English there. Walk into any shop up & down that street.

There are still lots of them I've never been inside of."

 

Thanks again, Marc, for my new favorite thread, at my new favorite website!

 

Mark B of the (usually) frozen North

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