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East Meets West

Curt blends in with the locals

Jeff and I just got back from a life changing trip to China and Taiwan. We visited over 15 factories while we toured the Chinese countryside. We noticed a lot of interesting differences between the Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturing styles.  Our discussions on how these approaches compare to what we know of the French and Japanese styles were difficult to resist when we had time to kill waiting for the train, plane, cab or rickshaw. We are back, excited to try some of the new techniques we uncovered, with a bit of a MusicMedic.com ingenuity of course.The excitement surrounding the manufacturing techniques were overshadowed by the amazing hospitality we were shown by all of the Chinese and Taiwanese people we were fortunate enough to meet.  We were truly humbled and overwhelmed by such generosity and kind heartedness.  It was a reminder for us that our industry is teeming with many great people!

The Chinese Style-

Many of the factory owners in China have advanced degrees in manufacturing.  With this knowledge they can be very creative in the process.  This creativity is required because they are manufacturing something they have little to no knowledge of.  Imagine being an automotive parts manufacturer wanting to suddenly build a saxophone, or flute, or violin.  That would create quite the learning curve.  Yet, these factories still set out with a desire to succeed.

IMG_0048 Bell and Bow Stamping in China
IMG_0041 Trumpet bells by the wheelbarrow full!
IMG_0036 Alto sax bodies ready for ribs and posts in China

Chinese factories seem to range in size from huge facilities with lots of CNC machines to small family operations with minimal tooling. Most facilities make nearly all of the parts for saxophones, or whichever instrument they manufacture.  This fabrication is done in-house along with the assemblyEven the smaller factories making fewer instruments with less advanced techniques still make most of the instruments they manufacture from start to finish in-house. 

We saw some pretty nice copies.  Unfortunately, because of the gaps in their knowledge about the saxophone or other instruments, many were lacking in certain key fabrication nuances, resulting in an instrument that was less than usable. 

Many of the Chinese factories seem to be primarily interested in increasing their customer base and growing their business. The strong desire to improve was more apparent at some operations than others. I imagine that the same could be said for US manufacturers. 

For all their strengths in manufacturing, the Chinese factories are aware that they lack a history with the musical instruments they are trying to build. The instruments are simply not ubiquitous in China like they are elsewhereI am curious to watch how China will deal with this issue long term.  

IMG_0043 Posts and braces being soldered on an Alto sax body in China.

The Taiwanese Style-

Taiwan, in stark contrast to China, seems to divide up the manufacturing between small specialized shops. The instruments are assembled at separate facilities which they call ‘factories’.  When someone in Taiwan (yeah even that big name you’re thinking of) says they have a factory in Taiwan, they have what Americans would call an ‘assembly facility’

There were two memorable manufacturing facilities in Taiwan that made only saxophone bells, bows, bodies, and necks.  Every Taiwanese-made horn seems to have originated at one of these two places. These hand-assembled saxophone copies were of high quality because of the level of attention and care each saxophone received. In yet more contrast to the Chinese style, many Taiwanese shops told us they had plenty of customers and were not interested in increasing their customers baseBy far the biggest difference between the two styles is the finishing work and knowledge of quality techniques that result in better saxophones.  Taiwan obviously having much more exposure to the fabrication of musical instruments and the nuance it requires.

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IMG_0031 Bell and bow production in Taiwan

Here at MusicMedic.com you may recall that we are having an alto made for us by a small family-owned factory run by a gentleman by the name of “Leo”.  Actually, I named him Leo. He didn’t have an English name before we met. While in China, we were excited that we had time to pay Leo a visit to check out our alto prototype and help guide Leo through the manufacturing process using our now nearly two decades of experience with saxophones.  We’ve seen them all in every condition imaginable.  With our depth of knowledge and Leo’s manufacturing skills, this horn will be incredible!  We are so anxious for you to experience it.

IMG_0035 Working on the Alto Prototype with Leo in his factory

We are in close and frequent contact with Leo.  We recently sent over modifications for the prototype and he and his workers absolutely nailed it.  All of the improvements we asked him to make were executed with precision.  He even added a couple of his own. Leo wants to make the best horn in China. Leo will make the best horn in China.  We are excited to be a part of his journey. We were so happy with the improvements to the prototype that we made our first order and look forward to being able to offer our customers a solid, great playing alto in the near future. If you want to reserve one at a lower price, email me and we’ll put one of these first flagship saxophones on hold for you! 

Matthew Wei -in Curts hat- with his family and MusicMedic

We also got to visit the factory of our good friend Matthew Wei at Weisenberger Saxophones. Matthew and his company are doing awesome things in Taiwan. Their instruments play beautifully and their facility is awesome. He showed us a great time!  We were pleased to see the saxophone that he assembled with us during his training course at the Sax ProShop on display. Thanks Matthew!

The MusicMedic.com Style. 

After this trip, Jeff and I returned to Wilmington, NC with a lot of new ideas; feeling very motivated to pursue our saxophone building project. We realized that we have a huge advantage building a saxophone. We are musicians, repairers, and actively engaged with the saxophone culture. We’ve played enough gigs, attended enough concerts and fixed enough horns to be ready to improve the saxophone from a players perspective with the technical knowledge we have accrued over the years repairing almost every make, model and year.

The factories in China and Taiwan make great copies.  Sometimes even making improvements to copies.  But, because they do not design from a players' perspective, they miss the mark in overall playability. We are going to try to help them with this while simultaneously creating our own saxophone of superior quality. It is a daunting task but I know the great people at MusicMedic.com are up for it! 

So right now, I’m developing concepts to test before going into production. It’s like working on a playground all day. Fun, Fun, Fun. We have a lot of new ideas for making and bending necks.  We continue to focus on body taper and improved key mechanism design. Come join us at this exciting time and we’ll all grow together!

Thanks to Jeff and to everyone who welcomed us to their factories, businesses, and homes: we had a wonderful time.

IMG_0040 Curt hits the high notes outside the SaxCafe, Taichung Taiwan.