Korean instrument makers look abroad for business

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Korean instrument makers look abroad for business

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From left to right: Korean guitar maker Park Young-joon of Moollon introduces his vintage products to bassist Jahmal Nichols; The Cort booth was crowded with people interested in their new signature products; Swing guitars has partnered with the company Ogre for a new product. [MOOLLON, CORT, SWING]

The National Association of Music Merchants, or NAMM, is the world’s largest trade show for musical instruments and audio equipment. Taking place in Anaheim, California, the biannual show concluded its four-day exhibition last weekend. Every year, large American instrument companies such as Fender, Gibson and Martin take up a large portion of the Anaheim Convention Center with their booths dedicated to showing off their latest products.

This year, Korean companies travelled to California not simply as manufacturers, but as instrument makers hoping to grow their brands. Local companies such as Swing and Cort in particular have been struggling with finding new markets abroad. Until recently, these companies have focused on the budget instrument niche to appeal to a wide audience, but that strategy is changing.

“This was our thirteenth year travelling to NAMM,” said Park Young-joon, owner of Korean guitar brand Moollon. The company is regarded as a highly reputable custom shop with premium priced vintage products, and is not looking to change their strategy overseas. “Our specialty has always been vintage guitars, whether [based] on sound or looks. Luckily for us, the vintage market is seeing a boost in popularity overseas.”

Participating in NAMM for smaller builders and companies also represents the chance to gain media exposure and create connections with artists in the industry. The guitar company Cort, for example, has focused on building relationships with artists, like Matthew Bellamy from rock band Muse, by creating lines of signature guitars designed in collaboration with well-known guitarists. In exchange for providing the exact specifications requested by the artist, the artist promotes the instrument.

Especially in recent years, Cort has put a much higher emphasis on their signature line at the trade show. This year also included a demonstration by Frank Gambale, the Australian jazz-fusion guitarist who partnered with the brand to create a signature acoustic guitar called the Luxe last year.

Park, however, also commented on the ailing OEM (original equipment manufacturer) businesses of Korea as big-name companies are looking to cheaper alternatives to produce budget-priced products.

“Participating in the event is a must for makers, but not so much for Korean manufacturers anymore,” he said. “Companies are going to China and Indonesia for cheaper labor. Though the economy seems to have picked up in the U.S., it still doesn’t mean good news for OEMs.”

BY CHUNG JIN-HONG [chung.jinhong@joongang.co.kr]

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