At 7:30AM, the Limo picked me up, and drove me to JFK airport. After a short 15 hour direct flight, I arrived in Guangzhou China, were I was greeted by my friend Johnson, and his associate Neo.
We went directly to the factory, where I was introduced to the staff, and, got a tour of the facility. I was like a kid in the proverbial candy store! To see first hand how these fine instruments were crafted, was exciting. The staff could not have been more friendly, and welcoming, as were those working to build the instruments. Some were a bit surprised at how tall this very white American was!
Johnson on my left, and a few of the executive team, including the plant manager on the far right. It was HOT in August
All of the employees at the plant. All imitating the aNueNue logo man!
She wanted a picture with the tall American.
That evening, I was treated to an incredible dinner. Guangzhou is well known for its incredible food. I never had a bad meal, and, was introduced to so many new things. My wife was proud of me for trying all that I did. Johnson was such a good host, making sure I knew what I was eating, and assuring me it would be “good” as he would say.
An iPhone grab of one of my first dinners. It is typical to share the food, and, have it served on a rotating table or Lazy Susan as I grew up calling them. Although theirs are much bigger!
The image above is from another dinner later in the trip. And then below, an image (and video link) of the best meal I had. Johnson took me for a traditional Chinese breakfast. We drove away from the city, to a more rural area. This meal is made from rice milk that is made right at the restaurant. It is then steamed in an oven. You can have whatever you want added to what is essentially a freshly made flimsy rice noodle. Mine had egg, scallion, and meat. Then a soy based sauce on top of that. I could have eaten another, and, wish I had learned about this on day one! Click on the movie link (China Breakfast Small) below to see how this yummy meal is made.
Video Link – China Breakfast Small
After a sound sleep, I was anxious to get to work. The first opportunity that caught my eye, ended up being a personal favorite (image below). It shows the careful attention being paid to crafting one of he the most critical parts of a guitar. The bracing of the top. The trick is to make the top as thin as possible to create the best sound. This means the bracing needs to be strong enough to brace the top so it does not move, yet as minimal as possible, to get out of the way of the sound. Thus, the work to hand shave each of the braces is critical to the quality of the sound and the instrument .
When Johnson hired me, his vision was to have images that would show his “family” making instruments with great care. He wanted the buyer to be able to see just how much care went into the hand crafted instrument they were about to purchase. He also wanted his customers to see real people, making real instruments by hand. A tall order for a guy who is not a “people” photographer. With fear and trepidation, I embarked on my quest to create images that honored his vision.
The next series of images, show various stages of the manufacturing process for either a guitar, or ukulele. The process is pretty much the same for either instrument. You will notice, most of the work is done by hand, with careful attention to detail. I was impressed and wanted to stay and watch longer at each station, but, I had work to do! There was so much more to capture.
Lots of jigs and tools are used to check for and assure a perfect fit.
With heat, the sides of a ukulele are formed.
Installing the sides to the top of a guitar.
A pile of aNueNue guitar and ukulele bodies.
Using a router, and, then hand tools to prepare a ukulele for the edge binding. The specific model here is the UT-200 that I own.
Below the wood is carefully selected and paired to make the tops. In one image, you will see the general manager listening to the tone of the wood.
Hand carving the neck is a unique skill, and, another important part of the process. These three images are favorites as well.
Placing the frets on the fretboard of a guitar.
Spraying the finish and then hand buffing it.
Adding the inlay around the rosette of a ukulele. A very tedious job!
Installing the binding around the edge of a guitar.
Final inspection and tending to any minor touch up needed.
One last check before the instrument is packaged in its case, and, boxed for shipment. Each instrument is played to be sure all is well before it ships.
I spent just four days in China, and hope to return. I learned so much about the process of making these fine instruments. I learned a lot about photography, and, overcoming my fears, uncertainties and doubts (FUD which I speak about in one of my lectures) about my ability to meet Johnsons vision. Doing something outside of ones comfort zone can be overwhelming. I hope my images give you a sense of the care Johnson’s “family” takes, working to create these fine instruments.
In my next post, I will feature a new batch of images that tell more about the story. Stay tuned!