The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

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The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Wed Aug 29, 2018 1:32 pm

guitar_factory.png

Thought this was an interesting conversation to be had and something perhaps we don't often think about.

Richard of http://www.rguitars.co.uk posted this video yesterday and it did get me thinking. Do we take it for granted that most of the big names in guitar manufacture are not involved in the exploitation of workers and unethical manufacturing processes? How much do we actually know about how the guitars we buy are made? How can some guitars be produced and sold for such small amounts of money.

Would love to hear what you all think.



http://www.rguitars.co.uk
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Mimasu » Wed Aug 29, 2018 9:56 pm

While talking about the "The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry" I think the clothes you're wearing are a bigger issue, as is the Phone you're using to shoot this blog.

Talking about guitars in this matter is a non issue,....... or even worse......... or a sales pitch. The last would be bad becourse it would mean that someone is suggesting the others are bad while some your selling yourself are good: Nonsese!

Did we think Fender was exploiting the Mexicans while moving some production over the border, or Yamaha did when going first to Taiwan, Indonesia, later China?

Why talking about how it's possible to buy a guitar for 50 dollars or euro or GBP. I think none of the serious guitars brands are selling that kind of guitars. And if they would I think they have sense of what is decent manufacturing and what is not.

Leon
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Wed Aug 29, 2018 10:54 pm

That's your opinion Leon and your very welcome to it. I happen to agree with Richard and that's my opinion which I am also entitled to. It's not a battle of who is right or wrong. It's about a conversation over where and how guitars are made. You don't have to take part in that conversation if you think it is a non-issue.
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by GraemeC » Thu Aug 30, 2018 6:25 pm

I think that the "I want more stuff" and "I want it for less" is the mindset that makes it possible for unscrupulous manufacturers and suppliers to essentially turn humans into robots and slaves. I would love it if everything I had and used was produced in a way that enhanced the lives of all involved in providing it.

I'd like to know that the food I eat was grown and processed around where I live. That my house was built with renewed forests and ecologically produced bricks. I'd like all my guitars to be hand made from start to finish. I'd like my car to be made in such a way that all who were involved in making it had a decent standard of living. To be honest, I'd like to get paid quite a bit more for what I do for a living too. Life is a bit of a battle these days. And I'd like to be paid quite a bit more when I play gigs too.

But its not possible. If I was happy to have hardly anything, and to make most of of what I did have myself, I might create a marginally better "ethical footprint". I certainly wouldn't produce a surplus.

The entire concept of the "economy of scale", which makes things available in huge quantities, means you have to shrink input costs so that you can make things affordable to many customers. Robotisation, mechanisation, specialisation, cheap labour and aggressive consumption of resources are the only way that our modern civilisation could have been built.

It took a different mindset to construct our industrialised world. It was all driven by greed, ego and lust for power. Not one tiny bit of it was motivated by a desire to build a better earth.

It is nice to think that my Faith guitar was largely handmade out of solid woods. That my gorgeous "ridiculously expensive" Yamaha was the result of love and craftsmanship. By some old English or Japanese guy with wizened face and wrinkled hands and hand sharpened tools he inherited from his grandfather.

But what about the glue? Who mined the metals? Where were the perfectly wound strings made? What was the factory like that made the tuners? Or the screws? The sandpaper? The nitro cellulose? If all these things were hand made, how much would these guitars have cost? How many would there be in the world?

And how many people would either have starved to death or never even been born because there would have been no mass economy to provide them with a way to live.

To own an ethically produced article is magical. But it is the privilege of the very few.

T'was ever thus!
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Thu Aug 30, 2018 7:42 pm

Very well put Graeme. It's a tough nut to crack for sure. The only things we can do as consumers is "the best we can". Support manufacturers that perhaps whilst not perfect at least try and make things better for the consumer and the people who produce the goods.

Perhaps we are too far down the road now. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle and he definitely ain't going back in.

Maybe the key to things like ethical guitar building is to move away from mass production and toward smaller builders supplying more local needs. There are quite a lot of these smaller concerns springing up all the time and they manage to keep production in-house, crafting guitars from locally sourced materials but still making enough per year to be sustainable as a business.

Is there a perfect solution? I doubt it but maybe we could at the very least make sure workers are treated well, treated fairly and paid a decent liveable wage. That may not solve issues like materials provenance but it would be a good start.
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by joeymakesmusic » Tue Oct 09, 2018 6:47 pm

Saul wrote:
Thu Aug 30, 2018 7:42 pm
Support manufacturers that perhaps whilst not perfect at least try and make things better for the consumer and the people who produce the goods.
Wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment.

Do we have a list of manufacturers that are better employers and adopt sustainable practices? Like a guitar industry version of Patagonia?
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Tue Oct 09, 2018 6:57 pm

I would "like" to say Yamaha are on the ethical list but that would be more of a hope than a certainty. Being a large well known brand seems to be no guarantee these days but I would like to think Yamaha treat their employees well.

Perhaps the best way to begin would be to create a list of manufacturers who have all or part of their guitar line built in the far east? It is probably not that difficult given that most budget/mid-range guitars come out of the same small number of factories. Cort are the supplier to many big names and unfortunately they don't have the best reputation when it comes to treating workers fairly. There was a lot of trouble back in 2011 when Cort upped sticks from Korea and moved their entire production to a new facility in Indonesia, sacking the entire Korean workforce in the process https://cortaction.wordpress.com/

Not sure how things are now with Cort, anyone know about that?
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Cuthbert » Fri Oct 12, 2018 11:45 pm

Yes, cheap and guitars don't get along well, the Yamaha plant in China looks like a decent working environment...if you have scruples of course you can always buy a Martin that has quite a lot of reputation in treating its employees very well.
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:05 am

Cuthbert wrote:
Fri Oct 12, 2018 11:45 pm
Yes, cheap and guitars don't get along well, the Yamaha plant in China looks like a decent working environment...if you have scruples of course you can always buy a Martin that has quite a lot of reputation in treating its employees very well.
Exactly. You have to wonder when looking at really cheap guitars just how much are the workers being paid?

Of course it could be the case that many cheaper brands are now more automated in the production process so perhaps the "workhouse" type scenario is not as prevalent as it once was. Still, you do have to wonder?
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Cuthbert » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:50 pm

Well on youtube there are a lot of videos on Martin and Gibson factories, for instance this one:



It appears that Martin is strongly automated with a lot of CNC machines, while in Gibson Montana at least in the Ferguson era they just had one to shape the necks.

This is the Yamaha factory in China:



While they have a lot of CNC machines many operations are still handmade..I don't think other Far East brands achieve an higher level of automation IMO.

In short if you buy a £$300 guitar you can't expect those who built it were well paid in any place in the world, IMO
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Re: The inconvenient Truth About The Guitar Industry

Unread post by Saul » Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:23 pm

Cuthbert wrote:
Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:50 pm

In short if you buy a £$300 guitar you can't expect those who built it were well paid in any place in the world, IMO
I agree with that to a point but we have to remember scale of economies. So for example here in the UK you could probably build a guitar yourself for £300 but you would not be able to build them on mass for that price because the cost of living here is too high. To pay a UK worker to create a guitar like that would simply be uneconomical.

However move that scenario to the Far East and it becomes viable because the relative cost of living is so much lower than here. Hence why all the big brands and many smaller ones are now building their budget and mid-range guitars in places like Indonesia, China and Malaysia.
India will be next on the target list and in fact I am writing an article at the moment about an Indian Luthier who makes fantastic quality guitars, check them out http://www.bigfootguitars.com/
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