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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #1
Up until now, Chines saxophone manufacture has relied on a vast amount of hand making in the process.

It seems from this article that might all change as China gears up for a more mechanised approach to production.

It has been obvious from posts on SOTW that many/most of us who have been watching with interest the blossoming of the Chines saxophone industry, that over the last couple of years the average quality does seem to be rising well above the old stereotype Chinese POS lampstand.

One thing I had always assumed is that workers in China would start to want better pay and conditions, which obviously can only be a good thing, and so the cost of instruments from there was bound to rise sooner or later (irrespective of any state subsidies which cannot go on indefinitely).

What caught my eye in that article was this:

"I don't think this is a one-off. Foxconn is often seen as a bellwether of global manufacturing in China," said Alistair Thornton of IHS Global Insight, suggesting other companies would follow suit. "Workers can command higher wages and are less willing to settle for lower ones. You can no longer just double your workforce to double your output."

Wages in the region have risen by around a third over the past year, experts estimate, as the proportion of young workers shrinks and their expectations rise.
I welcome the day when the workforce there (and elsewhere) is brought closer in line with the west, partly so the people get a better deal with a decent quality of life and partly so there is a more equal footing (for all of us) regarding world trade.

This doesn't look so good though:

Manufacturers are seeking to improve productivity, or shift production inland or overseas, as Foxconn has already done, with huge new plants in Chengdu, Chongqing and Zhengzhou and one site in Vietnam. "As labour costs rise, companies will have to invest more in automated facilities. But we shouldn't get carried away; there is still a lot of cheap labour out there," said Tom Miller, of Beijing-based economic consultancy GK-Dragonomics.
What's better I wonder, pay more for saxophones and be happy that they remian relatively handmade or keep prices down and get robot built instruments?
 

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Re: Chines saxophone manufacture: less handmade in the future.

What's better I wonder, pay more for saxophones and be happy that they remian relatively handmade or keep prices down and get robot built instruments?
If the U.S. is any example in this regard, what you can count on is the quality will deteriorate as this works itself out.
 

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Get em while they're cheap!!

or cheaper than they might be in the nearish future...

Yeah, they'll go on strike, we'll witness another T-Square and prices will rise for the soon to be defunct handmade chinese saxophone manufacturers' formerly handmade products while "automated systems", or less handbuilt instruments will remain a bit cheaper for the time being.

China's on the cusp of a multi-bubble burst in their own economy right now.

Harv
 

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There's often a misconception that "hand-made" equals "better". But that is not necessarily the case. 'Hand-made" often means very little use of tolerances and every unit produced is unique in some respects. This means an extremely high level of variability which can be seen in both the Selmer Mark VI and the $200 "Selmar" from China. And even with the high commitment to quality that Selmer had in the days of the Mark VI, the variability remained.

With high-quality modern production equipment, variability can be greatly reduced. So with this kind of equipment, if a manufacturer has a good design and good materials, they should be able to consistently product a good produce. And that's what Yamaha does with both motorcycles and saxophones. Maybe the Chinese won't be far behind.
 

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I strongly agree with Enviroguy's comments. The robotic manufacturing of 20-30 years ago made up for stamped quality with quantity. Today's computer controlled processes turn out stuff to much more exacting tolerances, and the quality is definitely there. It allows high quality at reduced prices.

The ultimate solution to losing jobs to off-shoring is that the quality of living, and wages, in the developing countries will eventually equal the west. How long this takes is anybody's guess, and the wild card is the loss of jobs to the said computer controlled machines. Seeing and hearing so much angst over US jobs going to Mexico over the decades made it real interesting a few years ago to read a news story about workers in Mexico City rioting over their jobs going to China.

Strictly from a playing perspective, and in terms of feeding band programs and youth/newbie interest, I can't help but believe quality instruments at affordable prices are a good thing, regardless of source.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #7
There's often a misconception that "hand-made" equals "better".
I totally agree. I noticed recently also that some people are quite surprised to find that most of the cheap Chinese instruments involve a great deal of handmaking in the process. I was talking to Martin of Woodwind and Brass Ltd (the Buahaus walstein importer) at the frankfurt Musikmesse. He mentioned that while visiting the factory who make his Chinese instruments, he asked about CNC machines, they replied that they couldn't afford one at the moment, but that they can afford human labour.

The secret to keeping quality up at an affordable price is to be efficient about using skilled workers only for skilled jobs, and semi skilled workers for semi skilled jobs. ie you can teach somebody to make a very good accurate Eb mechanism, so that's what that person is good at. But they aren't an instrument maker. OTOH, if you got somebody who has learnt to shape a bell by hand beating it to make the Eb key, then that is inefficient. Only large outfits with a plentiful supply of labour can work like that, ask any sole trader mouthpiece manufacturer. They have to combine some very very skilled parts of their work with less skilled jobs.
 

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What strikes me about this article is this interesting piece of data:

China Daily reported last year that wages as a proportion of GDP fell every year between 1983 and 2005.

China is not getting out of the cheap labour business any time soon. What is happening is that industries which rely on cheap labour--eg musical instrument factories--are going to move westward to where the really cheap labour still is. Where there is no labour shortage, wages will remain as grossly low as they they have always been.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #9
China is not getting out of the cheap labour business any time soon. What is happening is that industries which rely on cheap labour--eg musical instrument factories--are going to move westward to where the really cheap labour still is.
I'm sure that may be true. And if they outsource to, say, Somalia, people may be raised up a rung from actual widespread starvation to just bog standard abject poverty. Sadly though I think it will be along time before there is any kind of approach towards global equality. (oops is this getting political, I didn't mean that to sound like socialism)

I don't think the article said much different: basically the Chinese producers are using whatever means to get round rising labour costs, be it more robotics or more outsourcing less developed nations.
 

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China is not getting out of the cheap labour business any time soon. What is happening is that industries which rely on cheap labour--eg musical instrument factories--are going to move westward to where the really cheap labour still is. Where there is no labour shortage, wages will remain as grossly low as they they have always been.
In the US, this was called the "Gilded Age". The owners of factories kept wages low and in turn they kept all most all the profits amassing huge amounts of wealth. But times changed here. And times will change in China too. It's just the natural cycle of things.
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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Discussion Starter #11
And times will change in China too.
We live in hope.

I think that was the main point of the thread.

Times will change in China, the good but cheap instruments they make there (cue all the snide comments about the crap ones, yawn, yawn) will become more expensive. It's possibly a pattern that has been observed and remarked on re: Japan.

If so, the horns start to cost more and the people there get a better deal. Or will it still just be the rich who get richer? (oops, I really did want to keep this thread unpolitical)
 

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Getting an instrument that looks good is easy to do. The instrument can get to 85% and appear to look like an instrument. Every once in a while one of them can play well. But that last 15% is going to cost, whether it be in skilled labor, or expensive CNC machinery. Add layers of profit, distribution and middle men and the price goes up even more.

You really do get what you pay for. If you want something that plays well, holds up and you can get parts years later, there is a cost.

All that being said, I believe the more high tech CNC machinery and better materials are involved, the better the quality will get. Also the higher the price, but that is worth it if you can duplicate the results and get support for years. Going for more unskilled labor without machinery may get a low price, but will also get low quality and no ability to duplicate results.

- anchorsax
 

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But times changed here. And times will change in China too. It's just the natural cycle of things.
But this is precisely the problem that most informed commentators have identified as the ticking timebomb that is modern China. Positive social change does not just "happen"; it requires institutions which make it possible for advocates of positive change to make a difference--workers organizations, free press, democracy etc. Post-war Japan embraced them, Korea embraced them, and Taiwan would like to further embrace them; contemporary China does not have them.
 

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There's often a misconception that "hand-made" equals "better". But that is not necessarily the case. 'Hand-made" often means very little use of tolerances and every unit produced is unique in some respects. This means an extremely high level of variability which can be seen in both the Selmer Mark VI and the $200 "Selmar" from China. And even with the high commitment to quality that Selmer had in the days of the Mark VI, the variability remained.

With high-quality modern production equipment, variability can be greatly reduced. So with this kind of equipment, if a manufacturer has a good design and good materials, they should be able to consistently product a good produce. And that's what Yamaha does with both motorcycles and saxophones. Maybe the Chinese won't be far behind.
That's right, you don't want variability on most products, but the wonderful hand-made variability of the golden years of Selmer gave us some very good saxes, with a few not so good and a few great ones. I believe for musical instruments hand-made is good. The more automation/machine-building is involved, the more mundane the instruments will become. Variability within a line means more players can find the different nuances they look for. Anyone that goes into musical instrument manufacture and tries to make it like making refrigerators will fail at the artist level. I can say that with certainty.
 

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That's right, you don't want variability on most products, but the wonderful hand-made variability of the golden years of Selmer gave us some very good saxes, with a few not so good and a few great ones. I believe for musical instruments hand-made is good. The more automation/machine-building is involved, the more mundane the instruments will become. Variability within a line means more players can find the different nuances they look for. Anyone that goes into musical instrument manufacture and tries to make it like making refrigerators will fail at the artist level. I can say that with certainty.
You can surely say it with certainty but I certainly won't swallow it whole.

Hand tuning and adjusting can be a good thing- but the flip side is hit and miss horns with some great, some dogs, most just average.


Extra time per horn by truly skilled specialists tweaking this and that is surely preferable to "as it rolled off the automated line". But "as it rolled off the automated line" is frequently preferable to semi skilled assembly with made to fit parts where "meet the daily quota" is the mantra. The latter is a lot more common- including big name horns- than the former. The selling shop or purchaser's own tech provide the skilled craftsmanship- and they're almost certainly better off starting with a consistent base line such as that provided by good automation.

It is, of course, clearly quite possible to set up an automated line that produces crap both in design and in QC. Once set up to a standard it's more likely to stay set up to that standard- for good or for ill.

This from a man who sold off his Yamaha Custom Tenor years ago because I felt like I was playing an appliance.

-Addendum- http://rouses.net/trumpet/WorkingAtOlds62-72.html An interesting piece on working in a <trumpet> factory. Olds- a very highly regarded brand in the 50's- mid 60's. Only peripherally related but there it is...
 

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C G Conn Ltd. was a model of quality mass production at the time-back in the day. I reckon this is why Conn's are generally so consistent. That being said I doubt whether a robot could be programmed to fit pads,keys, felts etc.
 

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I don't think we will see robot produced saxophones for a long time, maybe forever. Here's why - not enough people play saxophone. Robots are expensive, probably a multi-million dollar investment for an automated factory. Who is going to spend that kind of money for tooling for making saxophones? Circuit boards, that's a no-brainer, but saxophones I doubt it.

This is not to say that cheaper tooling (like dies) won't make it in to the large instrument factories, but robot-assembled woodwinds are a very long way away. We need cheaper, smarter robots first.

Of course, soon after someone puts one in, the robots are likely to unionize... :D
 

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Does anybody seriously believe that saxophones are "made by hand?" Come on folks, the metals are "assembled" by hand. Every other part in a horn is made by machines - every one! The parts may or may not be within some defined tolerances but they're put together by humans, and that's where errors creep in. A stamping machine can produce and reproduce the same part hundreds, if not thousands of times with little variance. But the parts must go to an assembler. There isn't a machine here in the US or in China that can screw the rods and keys onto a sax body, nor is there a machine that can adjust an assembled horn.

"Hand made" is a misnomer. "Hand assembled and adjusted" is perhaps the more accurate description.
 

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There are a lot of procedures that can be done with a machine guided by hand, or checked by hand. It is entirely different when the same part is made on a CNC machine. Those machines can be expensive because they are custom made for a job. What can be different is just how accurate is the machine, and how much is by eye or comparing to a jig, and how much is CNC.

No doubt, the better the person doing the pad work, the better it will play. The better the tolerances are the better it can hold up with proper metals that have been worked correctly as to not get too soft or too brittle.

There may not be a machine that screws in rods, however, if the machining gives a lot of play, it won't hold up. Better machining allows for fewer errors. It won't matter how good a human touch is, if the metal was softened in the working process and wears too quickly.

So it isn't simply that parts are made by machine, it is how good is the machine? How consistant and how accurate over years of production. How good is the tool shop within the manufacturer to keep all of the tolerances right on? That is where ISO 90001 can come in.

- anchorsax
 

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There are a lot of procedures that can be done with a machine guided by hand, or checked by hand. It is entirely different when the same part is made on a CNC machine. Those machines can be expensive because they are custom made for a job. What can be different is just how accurate is the machine, and how much is by eye or comparing to a jig, and how much is CNC.

No doubt, the better the person doing the pad work, the better it will play. The better the tolerances are the better it can hold up with proper metals that have been worked correctly as to not get too soft or too brittle.

There may not be a machine that screws in rods, however, if the machining gives a lot of play, it won't hold up. Better machining allows for fewer errors. It won't matter how good a human touch is, if the metal was softened in the working process and wears too quickly.
So it isn't simply that parts are made by machine, it is how good is the machine? How consistant and how accurate over years of production. How good is the tool shop within the manufacturer to keep all of the tolerances right on? That is where ISO 90001 can come in.

- anchorsax
You make my point. Sorry, I don't mean to be contentious, but aside from assembling and adjusting, the components are made by machine. One could quibble forever about the design of the machine, the fact that it takes a human to turn it on (at this time), and so on. All I'm suggesting is that horns are not in any sense "hand made." Hand assembled? Sure thing. Hand adjusted? Yes indeed. Inspected by humans? Absolutely. Having said that, I'll give up on this particular point and continue to read.
 
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