Friday, September 24, 2010

I bought a guitar.

And what a guitar! But more on that anon. If you want a guitar in Seoul, the place you must go is Nakwon Arcade. This bizarre structure is located right on top of Jongno sam-ga station exit 5, at the southern end of Insa-dong. It's probably high in the ranking of largest musical instrument stores on Earth. Classical guitars are not well represented, as is customary in guitar stores round the world, but there are plenty of high-end electrics and acoustics. Let's tell this story with some visual aids:

This is the view from the subway exit.  The Arcade is like 5 stories high and the street runs under it.  Weird.  The building has around 40 years of history behind it.  It's always been a center of Seoul's music community.  I'm told that in the '80s it contained a dance hall and was a very hip place to be.

If you turn around, you will see Insa-dong, an artsy neighborhood I did not explore at this time.

This is the other end of the Arcade.

The street that runs under it is busy and tree-lined.

This guy was fucking up the paint on his car then fixing it with some kind of magic paste he sells to passersby.

Inside the Arcade are hundreds of tiny stores with stock overflowing into the hall.

It's a labyrinth and it goes on forever.

You will see pianos.

And keyboards.

You will see guitars.

Several guitars.

Many guitars.


Jacksons.  Better shred than dead...

Lots of guitars.

And basses.

Also, there are amps.  I didn't take a picture of the endless rows of Marshall stacks because looking at them made my power chord hand too itchy.


Guitars are the most plentiful but not only instruments for sale.
Okay, let's get some narrative in here.  I spent three hours in there and played dozens of classicals.  Incidentally, one store sells Parkers and when I saw them I nearly fainted.  Anyway, dozens of classicals were played (and tuned, every last damn one of them was out of tune) by me.  All were uninspiring at best.  After three hours I hadn't been touched by anything and was struggling to choose the least of all evils.

Finally I decided to give up and buy a rather blah guitar that struck the best balance of cheapness and quality.  I needed more cash to accomplish this, so I exited the building to reorient myself and find the Nakwon Arcade ATM room.  As I stepped out, I saw this sign on the side of a building a block away:

The Arcade is surrounded by other music stores because there are just too many instruments for any one structure to contain.  I'd been through every one of them I'd seen but this one had escaped my notice because it's only visible from a second-floor exit on one side of the Arcade.  "Acoustic Guitar HOUSE" sounded like it was worth checking out.  No space wasted on electrics and Martin = quality.  They don't make any classicals worth a damn, but it's not "Martin Guitar HOUSE".  The HOUSE might stock classicals, right?

Yes, they had several, including a few built by Korean luthiers.  Most of these were in the $900-$1800 range--much more than I wanted to spend--so I was directed to a selection of cheaper guitars.  I fell in love with one of them from the first note and my sudden affection wasn't a product of fatigue and lowered expectations:  this was a really good guitar, not just the best one I'd played all day.  In the interest of fairness I tried all the other classicals anyway but nothing could compete.  So I bought it:

Spruce on rosewood.  Neat and tidy.  Rosette is factory-made (I considered using it in my last guitar, actually).

This set me back, at today's exchange rate, $391, an unbelievably paltry sum.  In the States this is at least $2500 worth of guitar.  I don't know who Kim Je Man is but I feel like I should.  After my eleventh-hour victory over the Nakwon Arcade I went home, joined a gym and lifted until I was too dizzy and stupid to go on. I'm quite pleased with today.

(Yes, that was a cat on the roof.)

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