Economic Watch: Chinese guitar-making industry rides on wave of Belt and Road Initiative
Russian guitarist Grigory Novikov not only plays Chinese-made guitars himself but also recommends them to others. He believes that even though the guitar is a Western musical instrument, Chinese-made guitars excel in terms of material selection, craftsmanship, sound quality and tone.
GUIYANG/MOSCOW, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- After more than 200 elaborate and lengthy manufacturing procedures, exquisitely crafted guitars come out as signature products of Zheng'an County in southwestern China's Guizhou Province.
These works of art are then distributed through the China-Europe freight trains, water transport and other means to the world.
Russian guitarist Grigory Novikov plays the guitar during a concert in Perm, Russia, April 2, 2021. (Xinhua)
In a music studio on the outskirts of Moscow, Russian guitarist Grigory Novikov is plucking a classical guitar from Zheng'an County, reveling in the beautiful melody of a Russian classic.
Novikov, 44, began learning classical guitar in his youth. Over the past nearly 30 years, he has played numerous guitars. Today, he has a special liking for this one from China.
"By chance, I acquired a guitar from Zheng'an County through a Chinese distributor, which deepened my understanding of Chinese guitar craftsmanship and music culture," he said.
Novikov not only plays Chinese-made guitars himself but also recommends them to others. He believes that even though guitar is a Western musical instrument, Chinese-made guitars excel in terms of material selection, craftsmanship, sound quality and tone.
One of his students, who has been learning from him online for many years, won an award in this year's competition for young guitar professionals, using a Chinese guitar that Novikov lent him.
A student of Russian guitarist Grigory Novikov plays a guitar produced by Natasha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co., Ltd. at a musical school in Perm, Russia, Aug. 23, 2022. (Xinhua)
The young man is so delighted with the guitar that he played it while recording videos, preparing for the competition and even in this year's virtual competition.
Back in Zheng'an, a county more than 6,000 km away from Moscow, the Guitar Culture Industry Park receives a steady stream of orders from around the world. It is home to over 120 guitar-related firms.
"I can't imagine that there was nothing here 10 years ago," said Zhu Meifang, director of the Zheng'an Ruixin Industrial Park Management Service Center.
Due to geographical and transportation constraints, Zheng'an County in the northern mountains of Guizhou Province used to one of the most impoverished counties in China.
It started making guitars in 2013 when China initiated the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond ancient Silk Road trade routes.
Ten years on, Zheng'an County has become a guitar manufacturing center in China, producing over 6 million guitars annually, accounting for about one-fifth of China's and one-seventh of the world's guitar production.
"We do OEM production for more than 100 global brands, producing over 400,000 guitars annually, 95 percent of which are for export," said Zheng Chuanjiu, founder of Zunyi Shenqu Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co., Ltd., the first guitar factory to settle in Zheng'an County in 2013.
A decade on, Shenqu has become a leading local enterprise, with its products exported to countries joining the "Belt and Road Initiative," such as Turkey, Russia, and Romania, with an annual output worth 400 million yuan (56 million U.S. dollars).
At a music instrument and equipment event held in Anaheim Convention Center in California on April 13, Hakan Kutlu, general manager of a Turkish company engaged in guitar sales, said they order over 10,000 guitars annually from Shenqu company.
"The reasons I order Chinese instruments are the good quality, high cost-effectiveness, and customer popularity," he said.
At the exhibition, another guitar company from Zheng'an, Natasha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co., Ltd., attracted the attention of guitar enthusiasts from various countries with its independently developed all-bamboo smart guitar.
Zhao Jianfeng, founder of Natasha, told reporters that traditional guitar manufacturing heavily relies on imported wood such as spruce and rosewood. They have invented an intelligent guitar made of bamboo, providing a richer playing experience through innovative technologies such as embedded sound cards and chips.
"Guitars originated in the West and have accumulated craftsmanship and brand deposits for hundreds of years. If Chinese independent brands want to stand firm in global competition, they must work on improving quality and highlighting their unique features," Zhao said.
In recent years, Zheng'an has focused on spawning independent brands and enhancing the core competitiveness of the guitar industry, and has obtained 288 guitar-related patents and 77 trademarks, and promoting more independent brands to go abroad.
In the master workshop of the Zheng'an Guitar Culture Industry Park, Zhang Weiyi, with his team, has created high-end guitars for global buyers.
Employees work on guitars in a workshop of Natasha Musical Instrument Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in Zheng'an County, southwest China's Guizhou Province, Sept. 2, 2023. (Xinhua/Luo Fei)
"From material selection to making various components like the headstock and soundboard, to painting and assembly, making a handmade guitar takes an average of over 100 days, sometimes even up to six months," Zhang said.
In addition to refining craftsmanship, Zhang also incorporates Chinese culture into guitar-making. He has integrated elements such as Miao silver ornaments into guitar designs, which have been well received by buyers worldwide.
Last year, his workshop produced a total of 172 guitars worth nearly 10 million yuan (1.4 million dollars).
"What is rooted in the nation will flourish in the world," Zhang believes. Guitars are not just musical instruments but also carriers of culture.
In addition to exporting guitars to the world, Zheng'an has also invited well-known guitar performers from countries like Sweden, Spain, and Brazil to promote the development of local guitar culture.
"The Belt and Road Initiative has provided Zheng'an with a broad platform for external exchanges," said Zhu Meifang.