Korea is a world leader in guitar manufacturing, with huge production plants that make instruments on behalf of brands such as Chapman, Gretsch, Guild, and PRS to name a few. Yet despite the huge role Korea plays in the worldwide production of guitars, we seldom hear about any of Korea’s own domestic brands which include:
Top Korean Acoustic Guitar Brands
There are two main reasons for this, as nearly all of Korea’s exported instruments are manufactured for other bigger foreign brands there is little incentive for any domestic Korean brand to try and push to an international audience. So as a result they tend to stay focused on the Korean market exclusively.
Between the language barrier and lack of Western guitar media coverage, we seldom get to hear about them. Which is a shame as there are some incredible guitars out there!
So today we hope to give you a little bit more insight into Korean acoustic guitar brands and try our best to shed a bit more light onto this small, yet often underappreciated, area of guitar brands.
Like many other Korean musical instrument companies, Samick primarily does its business through OEM manufacturing on behalf of other companies. Producing budget-friendly instruments for the likes of Squier, Epiphone, and Washburn to name a few.
But not many people know that Samick actually manufactures their own domestic instruments under the company name Samick Guitar Works.
And their lineup is not something to be scoffed at either. Samick Guitar Works offers a huge range of acoustic and classical guitars that could easily stand alongside many of the heavy hitters of the industry.
Samick Music Corp
Before we can properly understand the significance of Samick guitar works and their heritage, we first need to talk about the parent company, Samick Music Corp.
Founded in 1964, Samick started out as a piano manufacturer and quickly expanded with the production of its own guitar range.
As time passed, and particularly in 1992 once they opened a new production facility in Indonesia, they started to lean far more into producing instruments on behalf of both other western brands, as well as their own subsidiary brands which include the likes of Greg Bennet guitars and Silvertone.
So while these days they are primarily known as an OEM manufacturer, they do in fact have their own line of guitars which are produced at that same Indonesian facility.
Although often overshadowed by the instruments they produce for other companies, the fact is Samick instruments are made by the same people, subjected to the same meticulous QC, and are every bit as good as their foreign counterparts in both quality and sound.
We can think of Samicks own line of guitars as 2 separate categories, the first is their ‘Greg Bennet Design’ instruments. Greg Bennet is a world-renowned guitar designer and marketing veteran who helped Samick create an entire line of musical instruments. These span across all ranges of acoustic guitar, from beginner models to pro which can be used by the most demanding of working musicians.
Greg Bennett D-5
Hopefully, the name is already a giveaway for what kind of instrument this is modeled off. Featuring a dreadnought-shaped body with an Engelmann Spruce top and a Sapele back and sides.
It has an Indian Rosewood neck with Samick’s own special ‘Snow Flake’ inlays. As this is a pro model it comes pre-fitted with a Fishman Clearwave 60 preamp that has a convenient tuner already built into it. Needless to say, this is the cream of the crop in Samick’s line and will serve even the most demanding guitarists’ needs perfectly.
In addition to the Greg Bennet models, we also have Samicks’ own line of guitars. Which once again range from high-level pro series instruments with beautiful flamed maple tops, to the simplest of budget-friendly instruments designed for the student.
Notable instruments include the DS-100SM which is designed specifically for beginners and students on a budget. Which has a short scale 17 fret neck making it great for kids and learners.
It features a solid spruce top with a mahogany back and sides, no frills here just solid construction at an affordable price!
In a very similar fashion to Samick, Peerless guitars started out as a subsidiary of Fujigen (the Japanese musical instrument behemoth) and were set up in the 1970s in Busan, South Korea where they would operate OEM production for bigger brands including the likes of Fender, Epiphone, and Gibson.
However, as time passed and their notoriety grew in export they started to produce their own domestic Korean guitars under the brand name ‘Peerless’.
While considered a smaller boutique company, you will often see these guys at the NAMM show in Anaheim or Musikmesse in Germany with a range of exquisite acoustic and archtop guitars on display for your enjoyment.
These are seen as extremely premium instruments that, unlike the more mass-produced instruments for their EOM manufacturing companies, put a massive emphasis on quality, craftsmanship, and the most premium of materials.
They primarily specialize in acoustics and archtop instruments, but also have a select range of ‘special’ guitars and even a custom shop, but don’t expect these to come cheap as even their cheaper models begin at $1500 USD.
As there is not a big emphasis on their western marketing, information about this brand is woefully lacking. But essentially their acoustics can be divided up into 3 categories, summer, elegance, and special.
One of their most popular models is the PD-82 which you might consider as your standard dreadnought style acoustic.
It features an all-mahogany body with an ebony fingerboard, snowflake abalone inlays, and a bone nut. Most strikingly it has a triple maple and abalone headstock binding which looks incredibly ornate.
Almost all of their instruments come with custom-fitted hardshell cases and a Fishman sonitone pickup as standard.
As you can see many of these Korean factories that produce guitars en masse for overseas customers are all too happy to flex their design and production skills to produce a top-shelf acoustic guitar that could easily hold its own against any other bigger brand name.
Yet another brand that we usually associate with producing guitars on contract for larger Western brands. The most notable of which are certain Ibanez models as well as the tremendously popular PRS SE line.
But Cort is also not above producing guitars for smaller companies either, with Irish-based guitar manufacturer Avalon Guitars more than doubling their income after contracting Cort to help them out by manufacturing a budget guitar line for them.
They also produce their own line of instruments which, unlike Peerless, are more geared towards being budget-friendly and beginner instruments.
Or at least that’s the publics’ general perception of them, as when you delve a bit deeper into their line you’ll soon realize they make an incredibly diverse range of acoustic guitars that are shockingly affordable for the level of quality on offer.
In particular, their ‘The Black Tree’ acoustic guitar uses a master-grade flamed black top, back, and sides accompanied by a walnut-reinforced mahogany neck. Even the binding is made from an unfinished flamed maple which is something you’ll only see on the most premium of instruments.
Not something you’d expect if you grew up with those $200 Cort starter guitars, right?
Their acoustic guitar line is substantial, to say the least. With nearly 100 unique models ranging across all different price ranges from beginner to pro. But what makes Cort stand out from the crowd is that unlike many other guitars made domestically for the Korean public, Cort makes a big effort in exporting their acoustics overseas to where you’ll very commonly run across them in large retail stores.
This is the first company on the list that doesn’t primarily function as an OEM manufacturer on behalf of other bigger brands, and as such are one of the few dedicated Korean guitar manufacturers out there.
Originally founded in 1972 by HyunKwon Park, along with three of his friends they began building classical guitars in the basement of his home. At first, they only focussed on the local Korean market, but after gaining some good traction due to being fantastic high-quality instruments it wasn’t long before they were able to begin exporting their instruments overseas.
Fast forward nearly 60 years and they are now producing over 50 thousand guitars per year, with the UK being their single biggest market, which is no small feat!
They primarily focus on acoustic guitars offering almost every wood and body type you could want.
Notable models include the T035 series which features an Engelmann Spruce Top with a rosewood back and sides and an Indian rosewood fingerboard.
They have Crafter’s own unique snowdrop inlays and come fitted with a proprietary electronics system and an L.R. Baggs pickup.
Roxy is one of the lesser-known Korean guitar brands, but you will sometimes hear whispers about them on guitar forums from people who’ve had chance encounters with them.
They have essentially zero overseas presence and have not made much effort to keep their social media pages and official website up to date either. This suggests they are firmly planted in Korea and are very happy dealing with the Korean market.
However, as a company, they seem to be doing well. They have a broad range of acoustic guitars and a number of signature production guitar models created in collaboration with some well-known Korean players.
You’ll have a hard time getting your hands on one of these instruments unless you are in Korea, but appear well worth a second look if you get the chance to try one out.
Shine guitars are another lesser-known brand that you might stumble upon by accident when one pops up for sale or appears used at your local guitar store.
They are an in-house brand and part of Sein Musical Instrument Co. which was established in 1991.
Sein Musical Instruments primarily produce instruments for other companies, but they also have their own line of guitars called Shine.
Shine doesn’t make an effort to get too crazy and innovative in its designs. In fact, if you look closely every model they offer is easily pinned back to its American counterpart, and you’ll notice ‘equivalencies’ of instruments such as the 355, the SG, or the Martin D.
But that’s exactly where their strength and appeal lie, they offer exceptionally well-made and affordable replicas (or ‘in the style of) instruments that go through that same high-quality Sein QA as all of their other guitar models.
Finally, we’d like to take a break from the gigantic guitar companies that ship instruments to every corner of the Earth to mention a wonderful and small company based in Korea called Corona guitars.
While all their instrument designs have very clear nods to other more established brands, what they offer is that care and meticulous craftsmanship you’ll only find from a smaller company that makes handmade guitars.
While their acoustic range is quite small they are of exceptional quality and for the few English reviews, you’ll find they’re always very well-praised.
Notable models include the CF-100 which has an orchestra-sized body. It features a Sitka spruce top with Sapele back and sides. The neck is mahogany with a rosewood fretboard giving about as even of a tonal balance as you could aim for.
While we commonly know Korea for producing large volumes of instruments in massive factories on behalf of other companies, you don’t need to look far to see that Korea’s own brands of acoustic guitars are right up there with the best of them.
Whether it’s a huge factory that’s decided to release some of its own branded guitars or a small shop making handmade boutique instruments that will never be shipped outside of Korea, you will often find exceptional tone and reliability.
We hope this article has helped shed a bit of light on this underrated area of guitar production, and if you ever find yourself in Korea you should definitely make an effort to check out some of these domestic brands for yourself! You won’t be disappointed.