Many people tell me that I have no right to criticize those in the music industry for profiting at the expense of cheap laborers in other countries. I'm told, "this is none of your business, focus on your work and leave China and India alone."
First, yes, I do have the right to criticize what is destroying most of our industry and I feel obligated to say something. I see what happens behind the scenes that most consumers are completely oblivious to because I'm given information that is unavailable to the general public. If you want 95% of all instruments to be inexpensive crude copies of skillfully crafted high end instruments, then this post is not for you.
Second, think about the people working in the factories producing these instruments. What is the goal of the factory owners (The People's Republic of China)? To make as many trumpet looking objects (or clarinets, tubas, keyboards, etc.) as possible in as little time as possible? Why? Because China's goal is to destroy the companies that supply high quality goods throughout the world in an effort to become the greatest super power. And they are doing this at the expense of the health, wellness, and happiness of their own people. Don't believe this their goal? Look it up. It's been happening for decades and as I write this today, Amazon, Walmart, and thousands of online retailers are aiding this agenda through their own efforts to profit from cheap imports. We choose to be blind to this problem because we like to have more "stuff" rather than higher quality.
Third, how does profiting from pre-made, branded imports serve the consumer if this tactic puts the high quality competitors out of business? What you are left with is just one option, the same inexpensive products that do not perform on the level necessary to meet our definition of value. If an object costs 1/10th the price, are you going to buy 10 of them over your lifetime to meet the expectations of one high quality competing product? Probably not. You're more likely to never achieve the satisfaction, reliability, durability, quality engineering, design, materials, etc. even if you purchased 100 of the cheaper products.
I posted some of this content on my Facebook page to get a feel for where my audience sits on this seemingly controversial subject. Honestly, I don't know how or why there is controversy. Would you want your son or daughter to find the cheapest low quality vehicle to take to his/her first year of college? We perceive quality for very good reasons and making these decisions can have a real impact on our lives. I'm not saying you need to buy a new BMW or Cadillac for your graduating senior, but sending them to school in the car with the lowest safety ratings is another story.
Here are a few questions that may evoke a response and make us think...
What we choose is what we become. I spent several years of my childhood living in a semi-truck and many more living in a low income trailer court on the outskirts of town. When I was a kid, my parents probably took me to McDonald's for my birthday more than once. I understand that many of us do not have the luxury to choose high quality options every time. Do we have the ability to choose quality over quantity where it really matters? Even on a budget?
Having made thousands of custom trumpets for individual clients, I have witnessed first hand the high percentage of low income trumpet players who choose the highest quality instrument. I have also noted a fair number of high income trumpet players purchasing the highest quality instruments. More (relatively) low income trumpet players buy custom Harrelson trumpets than any other income level. That really tells you something.
Do you know who usually asks questions, kicks the tires, but never buys a high end trumpet? The middle class! So many people are convinced that having 12 inexpensive trumpets is better than having one or two high end trumpets, yet they come back and kick the tires again and again.
I had a prospective client call me last year during the pandemic asking about a new Muse MMXX trumpet. This person had made hard inquiries on my instruments many times over the past 10+ years, but never made a purchase. He asked me if I would consider a trade towards the Muse. I asked him what he had in mind. He proceeded to tell me that over the past ten years, he has purchased a knock-off Harrelson from China, a knock-off Flumpet from China, and a knock-off Taylor, again from China, and many other inexpensive trumpets. He said, "I'm convinced none of these are as good as a Harrelson so I'd like to trade all of them for $8000 value", which is approximately what he had invested in them. In those ten years, he never spent $200 for a round trip ticket to visit our shop and try our trumpets.
The deal didn't work out and, as far as I know, he still does not have a Harrelson trumpet. Why should I pay for all of his poor purchase decisions by taking them in trade. Do you know how much a second hand knock-off of a Flumpet or Harrelson sells for on the used market? Around $600 on a good day.
The quality of knock-off trumpets is extremely low in comparison to the original products they attempt to copy. It's sad to see people promote them to their students in social media groups because the dimensions, solder, solder joints, materials, and workmanship are beyond questionable. They don't come anywhere close to matching a student line Yamaha trumpet. And for that matter, a 60-year-old Olds Ambassador is 20 times better than one of these trumpet objects. Do they look nice from the outside? Usually, but it truly is what is inside that counts.
I've posted the actual quote I received from the factory so everyone can see how easy it is to make $500 profit on them. There are many dealers having their company name (or some made up name) engraved on these and making huge profit margins at the expense of both the consumer and those working in factories. These factories are unsafe (in pretty much every way), provide very little pay for their effort, and do not care about their employees. Supporting cheap Chinese junk is exactly why it exists along with all the associated humanitarian problems.
My rant is far from over. I started this discussion with my friends and family when I was in 6th grade. This is when I first discovered the vast differences between cheap and great. I vowed to be an inventor and had over 50 inventions scratched into my notebook by the time I was 12 years old. I built Harrelson Trumpets out of my passion for great engineering innovations and I will continue my quest as this work is extremely satisfying.
If you need an inexpensive trumpet, think first about who made it and why? Was it made by someone who loves their work? If not, are you encouraging the opposite by supporting a company with different values than yourself? Would a second hand instrument made with great skill, care, and shared values be a better option? There are millions of high quality used trumpets (and other musical instruments) available on the market that will play easier, last longer, and bring more joy than a brand new knock-off import.
Try an Olds Ambassador or a Getzen. Kanstul made a great number of French Besson trumpets. There are so many great used options. Or have a repair tech improve, repair, upgrade a pro instrument that has seen better days.
The more we support something, the more it will exist in our lives. And to be clear, I have nothing against imports! There are so many great options available in this world and most of them come from outside of North America. I'm 100% invested in tools, machinery, and equipment made in other countries. It's all about choosing what aligns with our values regardless of the "normal sized" price tag. If you want to jump on every low priced item, you are racing to the bottom of the barrel and you will eventually win along with everyone who chooses quantity over quality.