As is often the case, great adventures are sometimes the result of an idea from a complete stranger. In this case I had a trip planned to Korea for a wedding in my wife’s family when I happened to come across a post about someone buying a guitar while on a trip to Korea. I thought to myself what an excellent idea.

So the first thing I did is a web search for Korean guitar manufactures. Now realize I had little idea as to what guitars were made in Korea. What I found were 2 main Korean manufactures, Samick and Cort. I continued to do some web research on both these companies and came up with some very interesting information about Samick. What I really can’t figure out is how can a company that produces more than half the guitars made not be a household name with guitar players? The answer lies in the fact that they are mostly an OEM company and most of the guitars they make have a name other than Samick on them. So why would I want to buy a Samick guitar? Why not just get one of the many number of branded guitars they make?

Here is what I have developed as my reasoning. Samick as an OEM manufacturer makes guitars to spec. This means that they make them as good as the company they make them for want them to be. The big US companies have product lines that fall into specific target categories. An example of my thinking would be that Gibson does not want an Epiphone Les Paul to be as good as a Gibson. Make sense so far?

So I dig into the current Samick product line and discover their little known Signature Series line of guitars (it’s not even on their english web site). I found a few reviews of them, all favorable. Samick has teamed up with guitar designer Greg Bennett to produce this line of guitars. They just really are not doing the job promoting these.

Until recently I had not bought a new guitar in over 20 years. This year, due to an accident with my trusty Yamaha acoustic, I was forced to go out and purchase a new guitar. This was a long and painful shopping experience due to not being able to find anything I liked that I could actually afford. What I ended up with is a 3 year old Gibson that I found leftover in a small guitar shop. This also demonstrated how difficult it can be to find a great affordable guitar. Buying a guitar is a very personal thing. After you consider the fit and feel of a guitar there is also the very subjective sound issue. Buying this new guitar also demonstrated something else very important. This is how a great axe can really improve your playing. My new Gibson made me really hear things differently. This experience left me wanting to stretch out beyond my 25-year-old semi-hollow body. Yup, I was ready to expand my horizons.

So I decide to make Samick the focus of my guitar quest while on my trip to Korea. I sent a request for a tour of the manufacturing facility via email. Talk about bold. That’s me, fearless. I’m not about to let anything get in my way of a great adventure. Actually, I was quite surprised when I received a favorable reply. The only thing they asked for was what company I represented and to know the purpose of my request. Seemed fair enough. I told them what company I worked for but that my request was strictly personal interest in how guitars were made. They informed me that the company was scheduled to be on vacation for the first 2 weeks of my trip but I could contact them after. This left a one-week window to make this all happen. At this point I still did not have a definite commitment. All I had going to Korea was a name and phone number.

So finally the last week of my trip arrives and I have my wife call Samick to try to arrange a tour. It seems my contact forgot all about my email. I would have too after coming back from vacation. I’m sure it seemed odd to them that someone would travel half way around the world and want to visit a factory. Perhaps they just don’t fully understand diehard guitar players. While my wife is on the phone she hears my contact talking to the plant manager and overhears him say OK but to get me in and out in a hurry. Well I knew once I got there I might be able to sell them with my charm. Humility is not one of my strong points. So all is set, I have an appointment for 2:00 on the last day I’m scheduled to be in Korea.

So finally the day arrives and we head out by subway to go from Seoul to Inchon. We catch a taxi from the subway station and soon pull up to this huge facility. We start at one corner of this large industrial block and just drive down what seems like forever until we get to the main gate. We go over to the guard station and announce our arrival and a security guard escorts us into a waiting area. After a couple of minutes we were greeted buy the head of International Operations. He takes us up to the plant office and I’m introduced to plant manager. The typical customary exchange of business cards takes place and a reply comes back “your from that company” (I work for a well known audio manufacturer) I’m then lead into the buyer’s lounge where product samples are kept along with a few nicely chosen amps (Fender, Marshalls…). We begin discussions about who I am and how I came to be interested in Samick. I also discussed the web community and how I am sharing this experience with my fellow web citizens. I told them of my shopping experiences in Korea and how much I liked the Greg Bennett line I had found in a few places in Seoul. I also asked why it was so difficult to find these. They replied that this line is for export and that the only way local dealers get them is as overstock. All guitars are made to order at the Inchon plant. Sometimes an order is canceled and becomes overstock. That is how the guitars I found ended up in these shops. This is why this line was so hard for me to find in Korea. I had searched just about everywhere until I found 2 dealers fairly close together that had an excellent selection of these. We continued to talk at great length and I must say my wife did an excellent job at expressing my thoughts, questions and ideas with my Korean hosts. She also really turned on the charm and gave them my resume, verbally if you will and in great detail. This really opened the door for the red carpet treatment I was about to receive. My host was very candid in answering my questions about the company. I was quite surprised at the openness. We talked about their plans for Samick, as it’s own brand and how it was developing. I also asked about the failed talks with Gibson to buy them out. Yes, I’m that bold.

Well finally we had enough talk and my host escorts me to the factory floor. We start at finish goods and final set-up areas. From there I am lead through the entire process from beginning to end on both the acoustic and electric lines. This was a huge place with so many guitars being crafted it was mind-boggling. Still it was not as amazing as what they were about to tell me. They said that this plant was only a quarter of the size of the Indonesia plant. They told me that the Indonesia plant produces 40,000 guitars a month. I can only imagine the scale of such an operation.

During my visit I saw all sorts of recognizable brand names on the factory floor but only the up scale models. This prompted me to surmise that the more difficult and pricey models are built in the plant in Korea. At least that would make sense to me based on what I saw. What I saw were craftsmen performing painstakingly detailed work with great pride. I watched over the shoulders of workers performing all the detail work on so many different guitars. I must tell you that I will never be able to pick up a guitar and take for granted how much effort goes into the building of a fine axe.

What was of great interest to me was the Greg Bennett line of guitars. I asked many questions as how it was being received and what was in the works. They told me they are putting a lot of resources into developing this line and that it will be the focus of the 2002 line. There is already a pretty extensive line up of models but if they continue to develop models like the ones I got to check out during my trip to Korea, all I can say is, look out guy’s. The Greg Bennett line is one of the great values in guitars out there. Samick with their own line is able to produce the kind of guitars they really want to, without the restrictions of producing to OEM specs. This guys, is simply an excellent line of guitars. Don’t take my word for it. If you can find a dealer with the Signature series you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Well I’m just about at the end of my tour. We have returned to the lounge and my hosts make a very generous offer. They offered to let me buy anything they had in the overstock department. They explained that they could not offer me anything from final, as these are made to order. Well I had been looking for one model during my search and was unable to find it. I pointed to it in the brochure, told him my color preference and the assistant plant manager went to look to see if they had it. He came back with the bad news that it was not available.

Later my wife and I talked about the offer on the subway back and how cool it would have been if I could have gotten the guitar I had been looking for. Well as my wife tried to console me, she pointed out that I had purchased a great Samick L5 copy in Seoul. It is a wonderful guitar. I can’t pick it up without thinking of all the great memories of my adventure of a lifetime.