Making of pianos
"The most important thing is to transform the piano from a percussive instrument into a singing instrument. A singing tone is made up of shadows and colors and contrast."
– Vladimir Horowitz, legendary Russian pianist (1903-1989)
At the nation's only piano factory in Incheon, one has a rare opportunity to see the making of the most versatile instrument.
Not many people are aware just how complex and mechanical the inside of a piano is.
A single piano contains around 12,000 parts, including 88 keys and more than 230 strings.
It takes the hands of seasoned craftsmen to transform wood and iron into a quality instrument.
Sounds are produced by felt-tipped hammers hitting the strings after pressing the keys.
Because of this hammer action as well as the vibration of the strings, there has been debate among some experts about whether the piano is a percussion or stringed instrument.
For music lovers, it is simply one that sings and interprets some of the greatest music in the world.
By Do Je-hae
INCHEON — The western part of this port city of 2.76 million is an industrial complex, filled with factories for small- and medium-sized enterprises. It is where the only piano factory in the country is located.
Factories are usually unwelcoming to outside visitors because of the risk that they may interfere with production. But at the HDC Young Chang Music piano factory, visitors are a regular presence. The company is better known to the public simply as Young Chang Piano.
Visits are made possible through a free tour program the company began in 2007. It has been gaining popularity particularly with young children and students ever since.
When The Korea Times visited Tuesday, a group of around 30 children from ages 5 to 7 attending a local kindergarten were taking a tour under the guidance of Nam Yun-ho, the tour program manager.
“Some households have pianos and some don’t. Children are mostly amused by the sound of the piano and being able to play them,” Nam said.
In 2010, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) designated the piano factory as an “industrial tourist site.” Young Chang was the only musical instrument manufacturer to be given this title by the affiliated agency of the culture ministry.
“We don’t have the official numbers yet, but on a busy day we welcome more than 100 visitors. Normally, we see about 20 to 30 visitors per day. We have had homemakers or groups of amateur musicians, but mostly children,” said Seung Hyung-wook, a PR officer with the company.
“A key motivation for the tour program was a sense of cultural duty as one of the few manufacturers of musical instruments in Korea. By allowing public access to the factory, we wanted to help people become more interested in musical instruments and music,” Seung said.
The company is also hoping for a marketing effect, with an emphasis on being the only player in the field to manufacture locally.
“We are the only Korean company in the field that retains a local factory. All of the company’s grand pianos are made in Korea. Around 50 percent of the upright models are produced here,” Seung said. “Because piano factories are not high-tech, there were some reservations about showing the process to the public. But we wanted to ensure our customers that we use fine materials and that our instruments are Korean-made.”
The tour is around 60 to 90 minutes long and available on Tuesdays or Fridays and takes visitors through the largest piano exhibition hall in the country as well as a production site of the nation’s largest piano maker. It begins with a video about the making of the instrument.
On display in the exhibition hall are various upright and grand pianos of different sizes constructed throughout the years since the company’s establishment in 1956. The highlight of the hall is a concert-size grand. Visitors are allowed to play the pianos.
The program is more in demand during the summer vacation season. At these times, there is a possibility of a three or four month wait after initially applying to take the tour program.
Pursuit of craftsmanship
Stepping into the factory, one will see lines of finished pianos that await shipping. Some are being assembled and others are being tuned. Most of the factory workers have an average of 20 years experience in piano-making. All of the instruments are assembled by hand.
Lee Hee-wouk, who joined the factory almost 25 years ago, was working on a grand piano when approached for a comment.
Despite the sweltering heat, humidity and tuning racket, he was intensely focused on installing the dampers — one of the most difficult parts of assembling a piano.
“I feel most proud of our profession when people comment on our sound, when they compliment the clarity and refined tone of our pianos,” Lee said.
Unlike local competitors, Young Chang has the capacity to independently manufacture all parts of the piano.
Although a producer of several different instruments, the piano still remains the face of Young Chang. The firm also makes guitars, harmonicas, reed organs and stringed instruments among others.
Young Chang was founded in 1956. Hyundai Development Company, an engineering and construction firm, acquired it in 2006. The company also runs a large factory in Tianjin, China. In 2010, a selection of 20 Young Chang grand and upright pianos were installed at the David Koch Theater at New York’s Lincoln Center for rehearsals of the New York City Ballet Company and the New York City Opera.
Anyone interested in the manufacturing of pianos can apply for the free tour program at www.ycpiano.co.kr or by calling 032-570-1045.