David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 12:05 am

Warning: This posting is long, I mean really long. There are over 140 photos and links to about 20 short (4 -5 second) vids.
You'll probably need to make yourself a "cut lunch" and have some "travellers" (beers to the un-educated in Aussie slang) within reach while you read this. I also was in two minds as to whether I should make this one thread or split it into two separate threads, in the end I went with a single thread ... why? ... I'm lazy.

One more thing .. while the main part of this thread is about visiting the guitar factory, I have included many other photos (some tourist style pics) because I suspect the vast majority of those reading this thread have never been to or seen these places, as I hadn't prior to my visit.

OK a couple of weeks back I had a business trip to China. In all my many trips to China in the past they were either personal trips to southern China or business trips where we held meetings in major cities (Shanghai, Beijing). The difference with this trip was I was travelling to where a factory/plant was located in an area that I had never been to and where essentially westerners do not go, unless there for manufacturing business activities.

As I organised my flights/hotel bookings for the trip I noticed that the plant was located in a small city of 5 million (small by Chinese standards) called Yantai, in the Shandong province. Some weeks later while looking at a shipping document that had arrived with a Chinese made acoustic guitar that I had recently purchased I noticed that the address of the factory was also in the Shandong province.

I decided to contact the lady at the guitar factory (Julia) and asked whether she would be available on one day over a weekend period for a visit ... assuming I was able to (a) be in that part of China over a weekend and (b) I could determine a safe and reliable method of transportation. As it happens the dates for the trip I was organising changed ... which always seems to happen, but we managed to lock in an agenda and I would be still in that part of China over a weekend.

I contacted the Concierge at the Hilton hotel in Yantai and enquired as to how one would travel to a city west of Yantai called Weifang. also a small city of 6 million people. Julia had said she could pick me up from Weifang and then drive me to her factory an hour away in a small village (outer farming area) called Changle. The concierge said that it would take 4+ hours to drive to Weifang, plus I would need to hire a driver. He suggested that I take the (200 kph) train, which would take only 2.5 hours to get to Weifang. While Weifang is only about 250km direct from Yantai, the path of the train goes first down south to close to the city of QINGDAO which is where this beer comes from, before it heads north west again.
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I asked the concierge if he could organise two return tickets for me (my manager was also going to make the expedition with me). I had to supply copies of our passports, our visas into China, the reasons we were in that part of China and why I was wanting to travel to this other part of China ... all in a days activities for modern China. And of course I had to provide my CC details so they could guarantee the payment for the tickets. So far nothing out of the ordinary has been seen on my CC :D

After all that was organised, I just went on with my daily life until we travelled to China in mid November.

My first stop was Shanghai. I have been to Shanghai many times and it with its weird (modern) shaped buildings it always reminds me of the backgrounds that were used in the 1950s Warner Bros Daffy Duck cartoons of "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 century" ... the one's where Daffy is always confronting Marvin the Martian.

I can take or leave Shanghai, while it maybe a modern city, it is a little soulless. Most of my time was spent in meetings and only had a couple of evenings to do anything. Below are some photos taken of the Pudong side of the river looking towards the "Bund" area of Shanghai.
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Just as an aside... the technology that I saw in China was truly amazing ... if you think there is a race between China and the west, don't worry, China has already won the race and we haven't even put our running shoes on.

Everywhere you go are electric vehicles and electric scooters (whispering death - you just don't hear them). They are not special or a status symbol, they are just what people use.
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Even when we first drive from the Shanghai airport to the hotel we could see that there were a lot of speed cameras taking photos of the offending vehicles. We asked our Chinese colleague about the speed cameras and he said that they were not speed cameras, they were surveillance cameras. They are EVERYWHERE. Apparently they are so detailed they can see the brand of polo shirt you are wearing as you drive your car. There is just a continuous visual cacophony of flashing surveillance cameras as you drive anywhere in Shanghai (and other places as I later discovered).

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The arrow shows the cameras... note the Chinese Buick
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While much of my normal internet use was curtailed during my visit to China (google, youtube, the vast majority of the news websites I normally watch and occasionally OSG could not be seen in China), those locals that I spoke to have the same opinion about Trump as we do (oh! except for you Scott). But the USA's number one historic cultural export is still popular in China:
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On the technology topic... this is just a little example ... there was a huge furniture store near the hotel we were staying is... makes any IKEA you have been to seem like a small local store from a country town... In the evenings they turned the side of the store into a huge video screen.
Here is also a short video of it taken while driving past the store in the evening.

Video of a furniture store in Shanghai at night

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There is always gong to be the "funny Ching-lish" language mistakes that one notices when travelling in China.
This was seen at the Shanghai airport while waiting for our flight to Yantai. I suspect the word they may have been looking for was "cerebell"
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While on the flight to Yantai, my colleague and I were asked by one of the flight attendants if we would like a drink. My colleague asked for coffee. I asked what other drinks were available and was told there was English tea. So I asked for English tea with milk.
This is what arrived. Did the attendant spend 5 minutes opening up 30 little milk satchels to fill the glass? We shall never know. (and for what it's worth my colleague nearly pissed himself laughing)
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On the first map it shows where Yantai is with respect to Shanghai and Beijing. (the red bordered section in the Shandong area)
The second map shows (by the red arrow) where the location of the guitar factory is.
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The flight to Yantai was event free and the country side was free of beauty. Maybe it is because it is winter time but I gotta say it was uninspiring.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:25 am

Now I am in Yantai, a city of 5 million, that is relatively close to Korea (both Koreas) and has a large amount of manufacturing activities that are joint ventures with overseas companies.

The Hilton hotel was as one would expect. There is a consistency about Hilton hotels around the world that allow someone on business to relax and not have to worry about that side of the trip. But ... when I went down to the front desk one morning and handed over 10 envelope (each containing a postcard) the two people at the desk looked at the envelope, at the address, at my return address, turned them upside down and eventually said "we do not sell these things". It was like handing an IPAD to a groups of chimps. They literally had no idea that I wanted to buy stamps or have them organise someone to post the envelopes for me. I had to get a colleague from Shanghai to call them to explain what I was wanting.

The pollution in this part of China, while not life threatening ... I hope, was bad. Only once saw what I would regard as a blue sky.
While I am told that this part of China really rocks in summer, it being a seaside town that many visit in the hotter months, during winter it was like a "Zombie apocalypse", except with out the walking zombies. There was no one around. The place was dead. For a town of 5 million, I have no idea where they were all hiding.
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the four of us went for a walk one evening and the only living thing we saw was a dog near a closed rollercoaster park and a policeman on a moped. But we did come across these ... now come on? .. what are these doing in a park area in north east China?
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We were out looking for a restaurant... two of us walking on the under covered footpath next to a multitude of closed stores and shops and the other two risking everything and walking on the road.... again everything was dead. then I spotted a store with a light on and it looked like it was a restaurant. when we got to it, the two on the road told us to stop... and our pic was taken... only then I realised what we had assumed was a restaurant.
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Even though there is no one around, the light show at night happens 7 days a week, all night.
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One of this things I was not expecting ...was that at the malls, the shopping centres and the production plant (and fortunately not in the hotel rooms) they had "long drop" toilets.
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What has changed in China is that the road side night markets appear to be less frequent and utilised by less of the public. While we did find a few, they had none of the "knock off" products that one would have seen 10 or 20 years back. this is what happens when the middle class want to spend their times in shopping malls, rather than out on the street.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 1:45 am

The Big Adventure - the Guitar Factory Visit
To get the 8:00 train from Yantai South we had to take a 40 minute taxi trip.
So to ensure we had plenty of time to ask "where the fuck are we?" when we got to the train station, it was a 6:00 start.
It seems that every couple of kms there was some toll booth that needed to be paid and every one seemed to be dressed like they are in the military.
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In general, there is no English in this part of China from the perspective of signs. Also most people do not understand English. We did come across a couple of train station attendants who, once seeing our tickets, were able to point and say English words like "at the front".
Yantai South Train Station
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Signage, not that helpful
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Yes ... we wait at the front!
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During the 2+ hours train trip two things were very apparent.
1. The train was extremely quiet and smooth, even at 200kph, it was very impressive
2. The landscape was uninspiring. Small towns after towns flashed by, all obviously "manufactured" as all building had the same look about them.
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Construction occurring everywhere:
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A power station in the middle of the suburbs
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Even a shack owner is proud of his flag
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Now we had no way of really knowing where our destination station of Weifang was. The train stoped a number of times during the trip
There was no signs telling us where we were, but going by the fact that the city Weifang was a large city (from an Aussie perspective) and working on the time we spent in the carriage, we (luckily) got off at the correct station.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 2:04 am

Every time we passed through some sort of transport hub (in or out) we had to have our bags X-rayed. Also every time we walked anywhere, we were like the animals in the zoo. The locals had no embarrassment at looking at us, staring at us... even coming over and asking for a selfie. I am sure they all went home that evening and told their kids about these strangers that they had seen in town that day. I suspect the town of Weifang has next to zero westerns living there.

The next problem we had was making our way to the front of the station and finding Julia. This was easiest of all the potential pitfalls.... standing there very "prim and proper" was Julia and her 2IC.
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Some pics of downtown Weifang
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Notice the surveillance cameras ... everywhere
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We were driven in a 10 year old Buick and as we started to get to the outer suburbs of Weifang, what we saw started to become a little more rough and country like and then suddenly there was a huge brand new (sort of) boulevard.
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That then took us to even more farming like area, and then to a motorway
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After about another 30 minutes it was quite apparent that modern suburbia had been left behind long ago. Road were bad, pot holed, tarmac broken up, every car was dirty because of the mud on the roads, some roads were just muddy tracks. this was the beginning of rural China for us.
The only thing missing was a slightly retarded kid sitting in a tree playing a banjo.
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And finally we get to the factory:
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 2:34 am

Julia's English ability is very low
She can understand emails, when written clearly and succinctly.
She can understand small amounts of spoken English.
She doesn't like to speak English because she gets embarrassed, like everyone else when trying to communicate in a foreign language.
But we all communicated just fine.
Her 2IC had about a grade 5 level of English, so he translated sometimes, but it is amazing how smiles and hand gestures allow us all to communicate with each other.

Once we got to the factory the tour started almost immediately.
Now when ever I have seen photos of the Fender or Gibson guitar factories and even the old historic photos from the 20s and 30s, I have always been left with wanting to see more. What I have presented below, while not all of the photos I took, is essentially what I saw and thought "wow I need to take a photo of that". You see everything I saw. I would have liked to have seen their acoustic guitar section (especially after I discoivered that they were the people who built the awesome OOO style rosewood/cedar acoustic I bought a few months back), but I believe that is at a another small group of work shops further out in the boondocks.

Now before I start the tour ... one of my friends said it best when he saw these photos ... he essentially said that it is amazing that such high quality product comes out of such Dickensian looking factories.
What I learnt after seeing this factory is that they have a staff of 35 people, including management/accounting/drivers. They manufacture for many local brands, as well as their own brands and it appears they also (and have historically) manufactured for larger overseas brands. I got the impression that if someone calls up and says they need 100 of type XYZ guitar, they just stop what they are doing and build that order.

Most importantly, every guitar is hand made, which blew me away. There is very little mass production facilities like one would see in modern (larger) factories. This company was first started as a grower and supplier of "tone woods" for Chinese instrument makers. Then they started supplying wood to South Korean guitar and bass manufacturers and that eventually lead to them manufacturing instruments themselves.

So as you look at this photos, remember the following instruments (ordered by me and people I know) were manufactured in these workshops.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:10 am

The factory is really a series of workshops... the sort of workshops I remember my grandfather had 50 years ago.
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Julia is very proud of her factory and the people that work at her factory.
In the Spring/Summer they grow vegetables in the spare land around the factory workshops
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Guitar Factory Video No.1
Guitar Factory Video No.2
Guitar Factory Video No.3

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Guitar Factory Video No.6

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Guitar Factory Video No.9
Guitar Factory Video No.10

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Let's walk to the next workshop
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:18 am

By this stage of the tour I did not want to leave. I was amazed at all the parts that were still yet to be used. Waiting there for the order to come through for 50 of these or 50 of those. None of the workers were told I was coming to visit so it was a surprise when they looked up from their work stations and saw a foreigner there smiling at them.
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This spray painter was of the highest quality... he did it so casually, yet we could not find any drip marks at all.

Guitar Factory Video No.11

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On to the next workshop
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:25 am

relaxing alternative to doing actual work ...

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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:29 am

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Now back to the main office to look at the show room

Guitar Factory Video No.22
Guitar Factory Video No.23

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That blue box contains some Chinese white spirits that we drank to celebrate the visit.
Every time I took a mouthful I could feel brain-cells dying.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:49 am

After the lunch and with my head and stomach coming to grips with what I had just eaten/drunk, we then went to their workshops that do the inlay. these buildings are located about 1km away.
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Guitar Factory Video No.25
Guitar Factory Video No.26
Guitar Factory Video No.27
Guitar Factory Video No.30
Guitar Factory Video No.31
Guitar Factory Video No.33
Guitar Factory Video No.34
Guitar Factory Video No.35
Guitar Factory Video No.36
Guitar Factory Video No.37




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this is one of the few modern gadgets that they use... a laser cutter that is programmable. They use it for the mother of pearl and wood inlays.
When a customer wants a customised headstock label (as I did) they just reprogram it and let it cut away.
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These ladies just did their work while having a conversation as if they were playing Mahjong or waiting for a bus...
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Because our return train was scheduled for 16:30, we only had about 4.5 hours at the factory.
At this stage we went back to the head office, stopping off along the way to drop off a guitar to a local.
The guy wasn't home so the 2IC pushed open a window and shoved the guitar in onto the bench.
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Lastly we went into Julia's ceremony room where we drank some tea and she showed me photos of her family.
She presented my manager and me each with an abalone inlayed concert sized Ukulele.
A nice way to end the visit.

We were driven back to the Weifang train-station, said our goodbyes, collected our thoughts, our bags X-Rayed again, found the correct train, relaxed for 2.5 hours and eventually arrived back in Yantai. Put our lives in the hands of a taxi driver, back to the Hilton, which is an oasis for any business traveller.

It was a good day and I was pleased I had the chance to meet Julia and see her factory.
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David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 3:56 am

The next day, Sunday, was the only day we had that we could see any blue sky.
We decided to "see the suburbs" and got some (not so good) directions from the Concierge at the hotel.

This is the view once we were dropped off in god knows where by the taxi driver.
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A nice Buick in the carpark
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While obviously not a scene from the Who's Quadrophenia, there are bikes and scooters everywhere.
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It has all the trappings of modern western society, but there is still a way to go.
People have no understanding of queues, unless someone in authority tells them off ( on the way back from Yantai to Shanghai, while taxiing at Shanghai airport, a woman got up, walked to the front of the plane and obviously was demanding to be let out there and then.... in the middle of the runways !)
People in restaurants, still spit out on to the floor what they do not wish to eat.
But they have come a long long way since I first was in China in 1990.
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have no idea what they are trying to convey with these uses of the English language.
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Local market that we wondered into...
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Then we went looking for some guitar shops, the get an idea of how they sell their product.
Hey if you want a nice little skirt, or a puffy jacket and you want to pick up another 6 string acoustic, why not try this store:
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Then we found an actual music instrument store.
But it wasn't what we expected. The owner had almost no English, but that was Ok, I pointed to a guitar I would like to look at, he grabbed it from the wall, but did not hand it to me. Instead he sat down and started to sing me a Chinese love song as he accompanied himself. Then without a drop of a beat he started on a C&W style song, again sung in Chinese. Eventually, begrudgingly, he allowed me to play the instrument. Complete shite it was. Sounded more tiny that an empty can of beans. But it as an experience.
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The Chinese government(s) have build a huge amount of infrastructure, that western countries can only dream about. Huge boulevards with very few vehicles on them, ready for when they are actually needed ... 5, 10, 20 years in the future.
They also seem to have this fascination with strangely ornamental road lights.
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The local post office working out where to send the mail... maybe this explains why sometimes packages from China never make it to their destination.
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Monday was our last day at the manufacturing plant, finalised the work I had come here to do.
I have been travelling in Asia for work for the past 28 years, 21 of them for the company I currently work for. This trip has to be one of the best ... for many reasons. One of them is that everyone I met was friendly and took us at face value.
At the plant I was working, at Julia's guitar factory, people in the street, even taxi drivers, all were great.

Tuesday pick up from the hotel was at 5:00, which meant a wake up call at 4:00.
It would be about 32 hours before we would get back to Oz.
At least I could entertain myself along the way.
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Re: David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by lunaticjaguar » Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:20 am

interesting to see the factory pics (and the others as well) thanks!

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Re: David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by timtam » Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:44 am

Great trip report. I have a Grote 335 copy, like the red ones in several of your pics. Bought on ebay for all of AUD$200 (incl delivery from China !) when the dollar was healthier. It's a nice guitar. And actually came well set up. Did you see any final QC where they do setups ?
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Re: David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by sookwinder » Sun Dec 09, 2018 7:00 am

In the very first workshop where you see/hear someone tuning up a headless guitar is where I think they do the setups... but I did not manage to go back there. There was so much to see, one could have spent days and days there.

I would have also like to have seen where they do their fret dressing and cleaning up of the fret ends. The frets on their guitars are the best I have ever seen/felt. Perfectly rounded off.
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Re: David's excellent adventure at a Chinese guitar factory

Post by jthomas » Sun Dec 09, 2018 7:03 am

Sook... Very cool. Many thanks for the time and effort to share all that you saw. I wonder if this factory is where Guitar Fetish gets their special factory seconds sale stuff from.

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