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Samick founder

Samick founder Hyo Ick Lee

Samick was founded in 1958 by Hyo Ick Lee, with the goal of "enriching human life through music, the universal language". Originally, they were an importer for Baldwin Pianos to Korea. Within two years, they began building their own upright pianos, using imported parts. In 1965, Samick began production of acoustic guitars for the Korean market as well as for export to fulfill the demand for cheap Asian-made guitars that overwhelmed the market during this decade. By 1970, its production capabilities had developed sufficiently for it to launch its first grand pianos.

Samick factory

Samick's Incheon, South Korea automated production facility.

During this same period, the company began to step-up the quality of its guitar production. Samick formed a joint-venture with Texas-based IMC (International Music Company) to create the Hondo brand. The new company introduced modern American and Japanese production methods to the Korean market, while taking advantage of the low-wage level in Korea to offer inexpensive, entry-level guitars. Hondo initially produced a line of classical and folk guitars. In 1972, they began selling electric guitars, mostly copies of Teisco models. By 1976, the company’s electric guitars had gained a level of quality and the name was changed to "Hondo II" to reflect that. At this time, they also began introducing copies of classic American models like the Les Paul and Stratocaster (as well as banjos, mandolins, violins and autoharps). In 1976, over 22,000 of the Bi-Centennial banjos were sold. Shortly thereafter, Hondo became one of the largest selling entry level brands, being sold in 70 countries worldwide.[1] The company also made improvements to the finish quality on their products, introduced scalloped bracing on acoustics, and began using a higher quality brand of tuning machines. In 1978, a branch office was opened in Los Angeles, CA. Also in that year, they struck a deal with American pickup maker DiMarzio to include DiMarzios optional on Hondo's most popular models. In 1979, Samick had developed new automated production facilities that reduced the need for hand woodworking (allowing more consistency), increased production capacity and heightened quality standards. In 1979, Hondo sold nearly 800,000 instruments worldwide.

1980 was the beginning of a new era for Samick and Hondo, as they introduced the new Professional Series, made in Japan by Tokai and Matsumoku, and using what they'd learned from those manufacturers, introduced the Deluxe Series in 1981, made in Korea by Samick. These new instruments marked a substantial increase in quality.

By 1982 Samick opened a branch office in Germany to introduce their brand to the European market. That same year they established a full U.S. subsidiary known as Samick Music Corporation. Through this decade, Korea overtook Japan as the top producer of entry-level guitars and Samick was the contractor behind most of that shift. Around 1986, IMC diverted attention away from Hondo, and Samick began focusing on developing their own lineup. Thus began a significant expansion of their offerings in the US/International markets, as well as their unique lineup for the Japanese market. In 1987, Samick bought the Vantage brand name (formerly owned by Matsumoku). In 1988, Samick went public, listing shares on the Seoul stock exchange.[2]

In 1992, they opened a new factory in Indonesia to build budget models, as the standard of living was increasing in Korea and labor was becoming more expensive. Also in 1992, Samick bought half of Valley Arts Custom Pro Shop after their US facility was lost in a fire. They began producing Valley Arts inspired models in 1993. In 1995, the Indonesian factory began producing electric guitars, and nearly all Korean made models became part of the Artist Series in order to differentiate them (also, many Indonesian model names start with an "I" or an "L"). As a consequence of diversifying their interests too much (they had investments in furniture, computers, industrial equipment, even the fishing industry), and many of those ventures being unsuccessful, leaving them with a debt of nearly $10 million, they were forced into bankruptcy in 1996. Samick’s prominence as a musical instrument manufacturer was a key factor that saved the company from going under; by this time, Samick was actually the largest guitar manufacturer in the world, building nearly 50% of the world's guitars in 1994, according to advertisements. The company was able to rid themselves of non-profitable business ventures and most of its debt, to the point that they were able to begin reporting profits. In 2002, a consortium of Korean businessmen acquired Samick and retired all of its debt.[3]

However, as Korean wages continued to increase and workers were unionizing, the two big guitar manufacturers in Korea (Samick and Cort) fought these efforts, particularly Cort (who was involved in a controversy over working conditions, union busting and shutting down their Korean factory without any notice to workers[4]). All production was moved to the Indonesian factory by 2006. However, much like the history of Heritage Guitars, a group of workers bought the Korean factory from Samick and continued producing guitars under the name SPG and have had success building under contract for many big names, including Gretsch and D'Angelico to this day.

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