Jonathan S Lee

Industry Profile: Jonathan Lee

By Australian Guitar magazine

Chief Designer - WALDEN GUITARS

Greatest career achievement to date?
Creating our Madera line of eco-friendly, certified 100 per cent FSC-Pure instruments. After over 10 years of pressuring suppliers for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified woods we’re finally seeing FSC certified forests and mills. Remember that the spruce soundboards used on all guitars – from the cheapest plywood instrument to the hand made masterpieces – all come from old growth forests. Mahogany and Brazilian Rosewood is listed on CITES (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species).

What was your first job in music?
The band getting paid for a gig; just about covered beer and gas expenses.

What makes your products stand out from the rest?
Walden guitars are among the most responsible and ethically made instruments made in Asia. We work five days a week, eight hour days, pay higher salaries, offer health and retirement insurance, and have never missed payroll. We have innovative design elements such as graphite and glass fiber reinforced bolt-on necks. For the price you would be hard pressed to find a better instrument.

Many people still believe guitars made in China are inferior products, what do you say to them?
My first reaction is to tell them to look at their iPhone/other mobile device and check out where it’s made; look at the clothes you’re wearing. Inferior is not about where something is made – it’s all about the knowledge and methodology behind the operation, how it was made, who made it. Yes, labor is more affordable – this means we can offer affordability in a great sounding instrument.

How does your factory differ from other well-known brands producing in China?
Walden owns its own factory. Most other brands job out their manufacturing to OEM shops – the Nike sneaker model. Owning our own factory allows us to make the guitar we want; to control the design, methodology, quality, etc. We are the only acoustic guitar factory in Asia with an FSC Chain-of- custody certification. We are the only Asian musical instrument manufacturer who is a member of TFT, The Forest Trust, which assists us with tracing our wood supply chain for legality.

What are the main challenges faced with running a successful guitar factory?
The biggest challenge is building a good sounding, stable, and legitimate instrument at the prices demanded by consumers. There are big costs associated with purchasing authentic woods, drying and curing them, building in traditional ways, investing in humidity control and other environmental factors that result in stable instruments.

Your guitars are manufactured on a large scale for the global market. How does this differ from custom shop luthier operators?
We use many of the same machines a small Luthier may use such as table saws, band saws, jointers, etc. We also have other specialized machines such as a fingerboard fret slotting machine, where a solo builder may do the same operation using a fixture on his/her table saw.

Favorite guitarist?
There are simply too many. From Chet Atkins to Dimebag, Hendrix to Jorma, Vernon to Tarrega. Gilmour, Garcia… the list goes on and on.

Advice for those who want to get into the music products industry?
Do it for love. Not money.

What’s the most recent guitar-related product that’s excited you?
Acoustic MIDI. I love the idea of walking around Burningman playing acoustic guitar, with some backpack mounted speaker system outputting drum and bass and samples. Oh yeah, and the songwriting and composing opportunities are just mind boggling.

Most recent musical instrument or accessory purchase?
A set of D’Addario guitar strings tension balanced for DADGAD tuning.

What are some of the standout products your company is involved with?
Any of our 4000 series Madera line instruments – in particular I favor the Grand Auditorium CG4041-Cert and the Dreadnought CD4041-Cert that are made entirely of Central American mahogany (solid top, back and sides). We released these in 2011 and they are simply awesome instruments.

Which musical figure, alive or dead, would you most like to meet?
Antonio de Torres, the father of modern classical guitar building.

If you could only listen to five albums for the rest of your life, what would they be?
How about just giving me an internet connection, a laptop and a set of speakers and I’ll just surf internet radio. That would be fine.