In October 2013, my colleague and I were invited to South Korea to visit the Crafter factory who make guitars. We were shown every step of the guitar making process in their recently built factory just outside Seoul. Crafter have moved their workshops a few times due to expansion but have never left the Yang-ju area as they value their highly skilled and loyal staff, some of whom have been with the company for over 30 years. As we walked through each production room we were welcomed and greeted with a bow and “annyeonghaseyo” which is Korean for hello.
The first rooms we went through were dedicated to the creation of the fingerboards. The rosewood slats are stacked in drying rooms and store rooms which lead to an area for cutting and shaping. The CNC cutting machine room was also part of the same area with four fingerboards being cut simultaneously with the ‘Tree of Life’ design, one of the very first designs that still remains a very popular guitar model. The fingerboards are trimmed and CNC machined in these areas and then the boards are given to home workers to add the inlays. Only the dot position marks are added within the workshops.
The next rooms contained the body shaping workshops where the binding, moulding and bracing were made. These rooms also had drying rooms attached where the woods for guitar tops are dried for a minimum of 3 years. Each piece was stacked and air ventilated so that no moisture can remain in the woods. The solid tops and backs are glued together under pressure and then cut to shape with grooves for the inlays and underside bracing. The guitar shape begins to take form in clamps where the tops are added after they have been decorated with inlays. Once the tops, backs and sides are glued together they are cut so that the binding can be attached.
In the binding room, there was a line of ladies attaching the decorative binding to the edges of the guitars which are held in place with tape. In another room, two more ladies were creating the inlays with black and white ribbons, abalone, mother of pearl and wood pieces to create each guitar design. Their attention to detail and speed was incredible to watch. We worked our way across the top floor of the workshops and then moved downstairs to see the necks of the guitars being built.
The downstairs area of the workshops contained most of the heavier machinery for the cutting and shaping of the necks. One machine would carve a piece of wood into the curved neck, headstock and neck joint whilst the machine next to it created a smooth groove on the heel with two weights gently moving back and forth in a lathe movement. The neck would go from two glued pieces of wood into a recognisable guitar neck shape within minutes. Every neck was grain tested with a varnish before moving to the next stage of headstock shaping and the addition of tension rods. Once these necks were shaped, the fingerboards were glued to them in a vice and then sanded, ready to be attached to their matching guitar body.
Along the lines of production there were rooms for creating the bridges, headstock detailing, sanding and corridors of stored wood waiting to be turned into guitars. Quality control was also frequent along the production process with humidity controlled rooms and regular checks on each guitar by hand and eye.
The final build processed involved attaching the neck to the guitar body and then an extended period of sanding and varnishing before the guitar has its frets, bridge, saddle, nut and electronics added. The last items to be added to the guitars are the strings and pins before final sound checks and another round of QC. Only when the final checks have been signed off does the guitar go to be packaged and shipped.
The photos above are a small selection of the photos I took of the Crafter factory but my full gallery can be found on Flickr.