Travel

7 great places to see musical instruments being made

From Steinway pianos in Queens to Kamaka ukuleles in Honolulu, get to the source of these iconic musicmakers.Friday, 16 August 2019

By Robert Reid
Workers move large piano pieces at the Steinway and Sons factory in Queens, New York.

David Byrne of Talking Heads fame has written that songs and sounds are built with their environments in mind. To hear it in its birthplace is equally as rewarding as, say, drinking a celebrated whisky from its distiller. We’ve tracked down some birthplaces of famous instruments whose makers open their doors to musically minded travelers. From Steinway pianos to C.F. Martin guitars, these musical places offer factory tours or exhibits.

See how pianos are made from start to finish

A German immigrant named Steinweg, who was a bugler at the Battle of Waterloo, started making pianos in New York in 1853. The family-run company was eventually sold off in 1972, but you can still see their namesake pianos created at the Long Island City Steinway & Sons factory in Queens, New York.

Visitors to the Steinway & Sons factory might be able to watch an employee work on regulating a piano’s dampers, which stop, or damp, a piano string’s sound.

Learn how a pipe organ is built

Based in Lawrence, Kansas, Reuter Organ Company’s tours show how the pipe organ, with its links to ancient Greece, is built with pressurised pipes in consoles so large you can walk into them. Reuter, turning 100 in September 2019, used to build organs for many silent movie houses.

Tour the Moog synthesizer factory

Moog is to synthesizers what Xerox is to photocopiers. That’s because in the ’70s the Asheville, North Carolina, company turned oversized, analogue synths, which had been around since the early 1900s, into something compact and simple, ridding musicians of the need for messy patch chords or programming skills. They offer free factory tours, and their website has fun, arty videos too.

Visit one of the world’s oldest guitar factories

In Nazareth, Pennsylvania, the German-American C.F. Martin & Co has been producing acoustic guitars since the Andrew Jackson administration in 1833, making it one of the world’s oldest guitar factories. Tours recount how the company spurred the modern evolution of the guitar and show the 300 steps it still takes to handcraft one.

Discover a traditional ukulele factory

Newly created Kamaka ukuleles can be seen during a tour of the family-run factory in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kamaka Ukulele has been making Hawaiian ukuleles—an instrument adapted from Portuguese machete guitars—since 1916. The family-run factory operates in Honolulu.

Marvel at a massive harmonica collection

The German Harmonica & Accordion Museum in Torossingen, Germany, is the place to get deep on the harmonica, with its bilingual exhibits at the site of the famed Hohner harmonica factory, which first opened in 1857.

Journey to the fabled city of violins

Cremona, Italy, is the city of violins. It was here, in the 17th and 18th centuries, that Antonio Stradivari (and his descendants) made the world’s most fabled violins. You’re not likely to own a Stradivarius, but you can see some at the Museo del Violin, which houses a “sound bank” to record and preserve each of the violins’ distinct personality and sound.

Robert Reid is an editor at large for Traveler (US). He writes about travel and music on Tinkertown. Follow him on Twitter.
A version of this story was originally published in the August/September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveler (US).
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