Hoshino Distributes Alhambra Spanish Classical Guitars
...one of Spain’s major suppliers of classical guitars, producing approximately 45,000 instruments per year and reaching markets in 60 nations worldwide. For Hoshino, this partnership represents something of a return to its roots in the world of guitars. In 1929, Hoshino began importing to Japan its first guitars, the Salvador Ibanez brand, made in Valencia, Spain. To meet growing demand for the instruments, in 1935 Hoshino established its own factory in Nagoya, Japan, dropping “Salvador,” but retaining “Ibanez,” which has become one of the world’s leading guitar brands. Alhambra’s home in the picturesque southeastern Alicante province town of Muro De Alcoy is less than 50 miles from Valencia.
Historically, the U.S. market for classical guitars has been relatively small, but for reasons beyond the obvious—the outstanding growth of the acoustic guitar category overall—Hoshino was drawn in by what it perceived as under-representation in the mid- to high-end range of classical instruments. The expedient response might have been to produce “Spanish-esque” guitars in an existing Ibanez plant or a low-cost factory in China, but Hoshino knew better. “The consumer of instruments in this category is sophisticated,” explains Hoshino USA Acoustic Guitar/Electronics Merchandiser Frank Facciolo. “There’s nothing like the real thing; the difference in sound and feel is night and day. I believe there’s a consumer base that knows this and seeks out authenticity.”
It was through visiting Alhambra’s factory in Spain that Facciolo knew he had found the “perfect partner,” most notably for its principals’ “eye for quality and passion to reinvest in their future.” In 2011 Alhambra CEO Juan Sanchis Reig, who joined Alhambra in 1972 at age 18, persuaded the company’s board to invest €2 million in state-of-the-industry tooling to ensure that its productivity and quality would remain competitive in the global market. The upgrades were completed last year.
Facciolo also cites “a true sense of family” at Alhambra, where many employees have worked for decades and the older generation has trained the younger generation to ensure stability for years to come. “The same cannot be said for all makers,” he says.
In general, while much of the music products industry has chased ever-lower production costs in Asia, Alhambra counters a host of competitive disadvantages—high labor costs, factories that close for the entire month of August for vacations, strict adherence to environmental and worker safety laws, and generous mandatory employee benefits unheard of in China—by adopting sophisticated automation and modern manufacturing processes. For example, CNC machines are used to shape neck blocks, drill headstocks for tuning machines, cut side braces for purfling, etc. To expedite materials procurement, production, and quality control, tops, necks, sides, braces, etc. are bar-coded, allowing the factory to identify not only when each instrument was made, but also which craftsman worked on each step of its production. Factory sawdust is collected, compressed into cylinders, and used for fuel to power the plant (and the surplus is sold to local bakeries to heat their ovens). These and other measures help Alhambra offset the inherent expenses of making complex, labor-intensive instruments.
One hundred twenty employees averaging more than 20 years’ tenure staff Alhambra’s 150,000-square-foot production facility. Lead Engineer Valerià Torregrosa, who was previously a sound engineer at Sony, oversees production. Two warehouses are used to store a broad range of tonewoods for a minimum of two years. The company uses primarily the varieties dictated by centuries of tradition: European spruce or Western cedar for tops; mahogany for sides and backs; Spanish cedar for the neck; Indian rosewood for fingerboard and rosettes; spruce and cedar for bracing; and cypress or North American cedar for flamenco guitars’ tops and sides.
Alhambra offers a wide range of instruments, including a classical line that is divided into four major lines—Student, Conservatory, Concert, and Professional. For the most affordable models, the tops are fed through a laser-guided planer to ensure uniform thickness. For more expensive models, expert luthiers fine-tune these specs to complement the rigidity and grain structure of each piece of wood. Polyurethane finish is used for Student and Conservatory models, nitrocellulose for Concert models, and French polish for Professional models. Every instrument, regardless of price, is subjected to numerous stages of quality control.
Alhambra’s sincere reverence for the art of Spanish classical guitar making can be seen in its Signature line instruments, which bear the names not of famous artist endorsers, but of the company’s top three master luthiers, who represent more than six decades of collective guitar making experience. In a small workshop within the factory, they “do things like the independent luthiers” and sign each guitar they produce. The company’s immense pride in its mission and methods are captured in collectible method book published last year in commemoration of Alhambra’s 50th anniversary and included with each of its three top-selling guitars.
According to Facciolo, Hoshino has developed a multifaceted strategy to help advance the Alhambra brand. First, he explains, its established dealer network serves the entire U.S. market and is known for providing excellent customer service for both the dealer and the end consumer. Second, Hoshino’s artist relations department will deliver excellent exposure to Alhambra guitars. And finally, Hoshino plans to be active in the classical guitar community “to help create deeper awareness of this great guitar brand and its availability in the U.S.”
Marketing considerations aside, Facciolo believes Alhambra’s prospects to be strong in the U.S. for a more elemental reason. “Ultimately,” he says, “it’s the joy I see in players’ faces when they play an Alhambra that tells us we’re on the right path.”
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