The outdoor Bujeon Si-jang (Bujeon Market) is your typical Asian open-air food and produce area: a sprawling collection of fruit carts, meat carcasses, and all manner of colorful characters who pass their days laughing, haggling, and gutting fish. What one might not expect to find, however, is the biggest concentration of music shops in Busan. But there they are, on the outskirts of the market’s Byzantine alleyways, inside a large nondescript white warehouse.
While not the size of the Nakwon Arcade in Seoul, the Bujeon Musical Instruments Market is nevertheless a full on Shangri-la for Busan musicians. The hard-to-find spot is home to more than twenty-five smaller stores selling everything musically imaginable. Most shops offer repair services as well. There is even a luthier who makes quality acoustic guitars on-site (check out the M2 shop). Good deals abound, but expect to shell out some decent coin for the imported stuff.
A great shop to check out is Jo-eun Ak-g. (Phone: 051.809.8885) which is located roughly in the center of the complex. Look for the saxophones and trumpets on display and the ukulele hanging next to the store’s sign. They have been open for 10 years and offer a wide variety of musical instruments and amplifiers, along with repair and maintenance service from a friendly and knowledgeable staff.
General manager Jo Jong-Won, better known by his nickname “Jimi,” has been my guitar tech since 2007. He’s done some fantastic work for me over the years, including pickup replacement, bridge repair, fretwork, and intonation adjustments. We sat down for awhile and talked gear.
Where did you learn about guitar repair?
I was always interested in repairs and modifications and taught myself over the years, picking up information from friends and online. I used to practice on my own equipment so I had to buy a lot of cheap guitars and effects pedals, because I kept destroying them! Fortunately, that’s not a problem anymore. But I’m always studying and researching because there’s constantly new methods coming out. Everyone has their own preferences and playing style, so I try to focus on repair and set-up for the best playability. Playability is the most important thing.
Guitar repair whiz, Jimi Jo
As a guitar player yourself, what kind of equipment do you like to use?
I love Fender Stratocaster guitars. There are so many tone colors on one Strat. I can play hard or soft, and it follows my touch. It’s the best guitar in the world! As for amps, I like the Fender Twin Reverb and Deluxe Reverb.
Classic. How about effects?
I like to use a lot of pedals: Ibanez Tube Screamer, ProCo Rat, Boss DS-1 and DD-3…lots of effects. Actually, I think a great player doesn’t really need effects, but can use them as a tool. Guitarists should experiment with many effects to feel what fits their sound, the style of music they’re playing, the tone they’re looking for.
Can you recommend some good Korean-made guitars to our readers?
Swing makes quality instruments. Indie also makes a good Les Paul-type guitar. There are some lesser known brands like M2 and Bluebird that are really nice, too. In the past, a lot of guitars were made in Korea. Foreign companies like Gretsch, Fender, Washburn, Epiphone, and Ibanez all had factories here. But recently they’ve moved the factories to other countries because of lower labor costs. Even Cort and Samick, two popular Korean brands, have moved a lot of their factories to China and Indonesia. As a result, the quality in the overseas factories has improved a lot. Most people wouldn’t know the difference between an American-made guitar and the same guitar made in Indonesia. But the difference is in the details.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in buying a guitar?
There are lots of different woods that affect the tone, so find out what kind of wood was used. Rosewood, mahogany, spruce, maple and alder are all common. Also consider the guitar’s design and the skill of the maker. And the most important thing of course is to play and try out a lot of different guitars. If it’s an electric guitar ask to plug it into an amp and hear how the pickups sound. Think about the kind of music you want to play, and go with what feels right. But if you’re a beginner, you probably won’t know the difference, so just go with the one that looks the coolest!
How to get to the Busan Musical Instruments Market: From Bujeon subway station: take Exit 1 and walk straight until you’ve come to a dead-end at the Bujeon Train (not subway) Station. Turn left and walk about 3-5 minutes, Look left for a large white building with two ramps out front.
-Gino is an American guitarist now living in Busan. He plays with the bands Klickitat and Pajama Day, and he’d love to jam with YOU.