I recently had a great time in Shanghai where I attended the Music China 2013 trade fair. To say the event was huge is an understatement!
I took the opportunity to test out lots of euphoniums along with some other instruments and also got to do some sight seeing with my friends from Singapore who also introduced me to lots of superb Chinese food!
The biggest eye opener for me was the current state of play with Chinese made instruments and parts. People often speak of Chinese instruments but I have never had the opportunity to experience it. Over recent years I have noticed lots of new looking instruments appearing and as with many people have been curious, because if you could find an instrument that matches a top brands quality but be very cheap then it would certainly be desirable. Also, parents of students often ask me about what instrument to buy so finding a suitable budget instrument for younger students that will last and be of a decent quality is also important. Sadly from my experience of trying euphoniums at the International Tuba and Euphonium conference last year and now from this trip to Shanghai it is very clear to see that this will never happen. The Chinese instruments seem to fit one purpose....be cheap, poor quality, not nice to play or hold but look aesthetically pleasing!
There were quite a few euphoniums that were identical in every way, just with very slight cosmetic differences or a different stamp. There were also lots that just didn't work in so many ways from impossible playing or holding positions to drastically bad tuning. I have seen cheap Chinese made euphoniums in Singapore and have always felt very sorry for the students playing on them, some lasting barely a year before looking like they have just been found on the bottom of the ocean. The same could be said of virtually every instrument I played at the trade fair.
The only real top flight euphonium that was available to test in Shanghai was a Besson Prestige and it stood a million miles above anything else claiming to be a profession model at the Fair. To be honest it even stood miles apart from the Sovereign model next to it which I felt just wouldn't allow for the sound that the Sovereign model would have back in its day. Yes there is a large price difference between the best and the worst around but the best is worth every penny and will save the need for another new instrument after a few years. It was a shame there were not more top euphoniums at the event. There was the top model Miraphone locked behind a glass case which you couldn't play and the Geneva trade stand was strangely empty for the whole weekend. It would have been great for Sterling or Wilson or Adams to have been there so that people could test out instruments with some quality rather than the Chinese poor copies. Even Yamaha didn't have instruments to try unless I couldn't locate them in the cavernous halls of the Expo Centre but perhaps Yamaha are just riding on knowing that for many Asian countries it is the easiest option and most widely available already.
It was also very interesting to talk to owners or staff of the Chinese companies, many of whom seemed to know nothing about their own instruments. It makes me wonder how many of these supposedly professional euphoniums have ever actually been played by a euphonium player?! Some very interesting ideas and designs, I will give them that but it is all insignificant from the moment you blow a note! Then there were the people who were adamant that their instrument was in fact not made in China and genuinely was better than everything else. I tried to be honest, without seeming rude with anyone who asked my opinion but sadly of course my opinion means nothing to them and many people will probably buy some of these poor instruments. One guy even insisted that the euphonium which I had just tried (which had no valve felts on it and a trigger that would require a bionic and freakishly long thumb to operate) was in fact made from scratch entirely in Germany and sent to China for him to sell. There were lots of British quality there though such as Denis Wick and even John Packer who don't try to hide any facts about their instruments and probably offered the best quality to be found in the whole trade fair in the form of their John Packer Sterling range.
So if you are in the market for a new euphonium or any instrument, take a bit longer, save your money and buy something with real quality because you will not regret it!
Other than brass I also took time to test out some drum kits, electronic drum kits and guitars. The drum hall was so loud but really fun and most of the top guitar brands had small live stages with performances during the event. The brass and wind halls had little performances but mainly based around saxophonists. There were also a few older generation 'famous' rock stars performing which was pretty cool and the mainly Chinese visitors would go crazy for any loud and fast guitars! There were so many interesting products and people to get talking too that it was hard to prize myself away to go and do a bit of sightseeing. There are definitely some interesting sights, sounds and smells (stinky tofu being one) and Shanghai is an exciting city to visit. I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to go and thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read this article. Here are some pics of the supposedly professional standard instruments along with descriptions (click to open) and even a mark out of 10 grading for the instruments I tried, just for a bit of fun! I didn't take photos of the Besson instruments but out of interest I would have given the Prestige 10/10 and the Sovereign 8/10.