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Unread 04-13-2012, 01:44 AM   #1
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Is the quality of Indonesian/Chinese guitars improving?

In the past, I've always tried to avoid Chinese and Korean guitars, and always stuck with Korean instruments when getting a mainland asia guitar. However, over the past few years it seems that many companies have been moving production away from korea to indonesia and china (Certain LTD and Schecter models for example) and prices have been the same/raising. Yesterday I was in GC and saw one of those new Ibanez XXV models. Seeing a $900 indonesian guitar just got me wondering, have things changed? Has the quality of the guitars made in these countries risen to the level that one might find with a korean guitar? FWIW I played the Ibanez (albeit very briefly) but it did give me a good first impression
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Unread 04-13-2012, 06:34 AM   #2
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There has always been quality in Chinese made guitars, it's just that now Indonesian ones are coming into their own, and if Fender has it's way India as well will start putting out better instruments.

Going back to the late 80's and early 90's when Ibanez was putting out the Artstar and later Artcore models, quality was awesome, not just for Chinese built guitars, but for guitars in general.

What's happening now is that factories in China and Indonesia are coming into their own. There are shops in China that are older than a lot of shops in the US and Europe, the longer a shop operates the better it's employees are (I don't care who you are, if you're working on frets every day for a decade you'll get better at it.), and the more streamlined the building process is. Just look at the early Ibanez EX models compared to the later Korean standard series. The jump in quality over a relatively short time span is amazing. The same goes for a lot of brands that started using Cortek in the 90's.

Another driving force behind this is the movement by major guitar manufacturers to leave South Korea, as it's economy is getting strong to the point of not being as cost effective. Labor over there is getting more expensive as it's not a developing nation anymore. In another ten to fifteen years we'll probably see the South Korean guitar market starting to look like that of Japan not too many years ago. It's a good thing for South Korea, not such a good thing for large scale builders based out of South Korea, such as Cortek and World, who are both looking into large scale Indonesian and Chinese production to help keep their prices low on large scale OEM work. Cortek is still the biggest producer of guitars in the world.

There's also a trend over the last decade of bringing things in house for larger guitar companies. In Indonesia, Ibanez now owns and operated their own facility, Gibson/Epiphone owns their Chinese facility, and even FMIC owns and operates their Indian facility. This leads to more direct QA/QC which can be seen in the huge jumps in quality that these factories have brought. Granted it wasn't overnight.

I think there will be a stigma attached to Chinese and Indonesian guitar production, but it'll go away. In the 60's and 70's it was Japan that was looked at as inferior, then in the 80's and 90's it was South Korea, and now it's China, Indonesia, and India. In another decade or two there won't be a stigma and there will be new locations of production.

People want guitars and they want them cheap. That's going to mean that production will have to always be brought to countries where wages are low and labor is abundant.
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Unread 04-13-2012, 06:48 AM   #3
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I believe this is a big yes. My rgds are some of the nicest quality guitars I have ever seen. I would not trade them for anything because the quality and feel are so amazing. way better then previous guitars I have owned from that area.

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Unread 04-13-2012, 06:15 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MaxOfMetal View Post
There has always been quality in Chinese made guitars, it's just that now [...]
This whole response right here, gentleman, is what you call a thread killer. LOL. Nailed it right out of the gate. Thanks for the great information as always, Max.



Quote:
Originally Posted by MaxOfMetal View Post
There are shops in China that are older than a lot of shops in the US and Europe, the longer a shop operates the better it's employees are (I don't care who you are, if you're working on frets every day for a decade you'll get better at it.), and the more streamlined the building process is.
This right here is pretty much what I had planned to respond with.

The longer a factory does a process, the better that process becomes. That combined with modern operations management techniques, such as Six Sigma, ensures ever increasing quality. There is even a possibility that quality becomes so high and unvaried between individual products off the line that they surpass that of the USA CS shops (theoretically).

Of course, this is all mitigated by the lack of transparency of overseas factories, even when those factories are owned and operated by the corporation. For example, FMIC will never disclose what its worker turn-over rate is at its factories, much less will a foreign-based company. If these factories have generally poor working conditions, which many overseas factories are known to have, then worker turn-over my ascend to a level that ensures a limit on quality.



Quote:
Originally Posted by MaxOfMetal View Post
People want guitars and they want them cheap. That's going to mean that production will have to always be brought to countries where wages are low and labor is abundant.
Also, this is a good point.

In the future, maybe guitars are maybe in Ethiopia. Who knows.

Companies will always look for the cheapest way to manufacture a product. In the past, it was Japan. When Japan's economy ascended to higher levels, companies started to look elsewhere, such as South Korea, Indonesia, India, Mexico, and China. Interestingly, many of these economies are ascending to new highs of economic prosperity, and as a result, they are losing their comparative advantage towards manufacturing in the USA or other countries. As a matter of fact, there is a small but growing trend in the USA to repatriate manufacturing processes as the cost advantage of manufacturing overseas disappears, due to higher oil prices, currency fluctuations, etc. Moreover, companies are finding out that all too often, there are hidden costs with manufacturing overseas that just aren't worth it. For example, imagine having to recall 10,000 guitars because they were painted with lead-based paint or something similarly damaging.

However, keep in mind that when manufacturing facilities are relocated, it takes the factory time to bring workers "up to speed". As a result, quality may initially suffer. This is also true of factories repatriated back to the USA, especially if manufacturing for that specific product hasn't been done by the company here for a decent amount of time. As a result, you end up with this oscillating wave of quality as the company establishes a process based on cost advantage, wears out that advantage, and then seeks new opportunities.

Right now, I think Asian made guitars are at the highest level of quality they've ever been. How far into the future this continues is unforeseeable. It's impossible to say when a company might decide to change geographical locations of its manufacturing facilities.


Quote:
Originally Posted by MaxOfMetal View Post
I think there will be a stigma attached to Chinese and Indonesian guitar production, but it'll go away.

True dat, holmes.

20 years ago, I would have never even considered an MIJ. Based on my experiences now, I'll take a $1,000 MIJ over a $2,500 USA any day of the week.
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Unread 04-13-2012, 06:23 PM   #5
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I've always liked Indonesians and Korean made guitars for decent qualities ( the 1s I got were always perfect) but doubted china models. But recently I played an mh-417(made in china) and it was hands down one of the best guitars I've played 7 or 6 string
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Unread 04-14-2012, 04:17 PM   #6
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Great post Max! Thanks
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Unread 04-15-2012, 06:29 AM   #7
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I aks myself the same thing....have been wanting ibanez xpt for some time.......
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