We're Back From China

My three sons and I just got back from our annual trip to China, and despite some serious jetlag, I am so excited about what we accomplished. We go for several reasons.  The first half of the trip, we visit our existing workshops (most of them are in Beijing) to make adjustments to our existing product lines, and make sure that they are meeting our standards.  We also work with them to develop new instruments, and hand pick completed instruments to add to our inventory.  The second half of our tip is spent in Shanghai, where we attend the world’s largest music tradeshow.  It’s a unique opportunity for us to find new makers to partner with.  We have found so many fabulous instruments and makers there over the past ten years.

It’s such an exciting time for me personally because I get to see not only how and where are instruments are made, but I also get to connect with the people who are making them.  I love to picture them in my mind when the new instruments arrive in the U.S.   One of my favorite people to visit is Mrs. Li.  She is in charge of varnish production at one of the main suppliers.  When I first started working with her 10 years ago she would get so flustered as I worked with her to improve her skills.  But the hard work sure paid off.  We’re great friends now, and she is making some of the some of the finest instruments on our shelves. 

We also paid a visit to one of our favorite makers.  A husband and wife team who make some of our best high end instruments.   I have worked with them for years, and every year we go back their work has improved by leaps and bounds.  We picked some fabulous cellos that Qi, the husband, personally made from start to finish.  They are some of the nicest cellos I have ever seen.  They are varnished and antiqued to perfection, with an old-world sound.  He is entering some of his instruments into the Violin Society of America Competition later this month.  We also ordered some beautiful violins and violas from them as well, that will arrive early next year. 

Our trip ends with a bang at the Shanghai show.  I’m like a kid at Christmas every morning when I walk into the convention hall.  There are thousands of instrument makers there.  I wander up and down the aisles visiting friends and makers we currently work with.  I’m also always on the lookout for great, new instruments to add to our inventory. 

This year we stumbled upon a booth, full of fabulous instruments.  My son and I looked them over, and they all had great workmanship, beautifully antiqued varnish, and a warm rich tone.  We talked to the owner for a while, and he said “So, would you be interested in any of our instruments?”  I replied, “I’ll take everything.”  The owner started laughing, and when I finally convinced him I was serious, he had a grin from ear to ear. 

These are the moments that I think about when I pick up an instrument in our shop.  They’re all personal to me and tell a story, or spark a fond memory.  They remind me of past trips, friends, old and new, the hard work, and attention to detail that our makers put into every instrument.  I can’t help but marvel over the improvements and growth I’ve seen from them over the past ten years. 

Below are some pictures from our trip.  Take a look, or better yet, come into the shop and see all the beautiful instruments in person.  Pictures just don’t do them justice!


Paul Bartel  

Stephen Heck