7 must-see places to see the making of musical instruments

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David Byrne of Talking Heads fame wrote that songs and sounds are constructed with their surroundings in mind. Hearing it in its birthplace is just as gratifying as, say, drinking a famous whiskey from its distiller. We’ve tracked down a few birthplaces of famous instruments whose makers open their doors to musically-minded travellers. From Steinway pianos to CF Martin guitars, these musical venues offer factory visits or exhibitions.

See how pianos are made from start to finish

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

Learn how a pipe organ is built

Based in Lawrence, Kansas, Reuter Organ Society tours show how the pipe organ, with its links to ancient Greece, is built with pressure pipes in consoles so big you can step inside. Reuter, who turned 100 in September 2019, made organs for many silent movie theaters.

Visit the Moog Synthesizer Factory

Moog is to synthesizers what Xerox is to photocopiers. Indeed, in the 70s, the Asheville, North Carolina company transformed oversized analog 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 tours of the factory and their website also has fun and artistic videos.

Visit one of the oldest guitar factories in the world

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

Discover a traditional ukulele factory

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

Marvel at a huge collection of harmonicas

The German Harmonica and Accordion Museum in Torossingen, Germany is the perfect place to learn more about the harmonica, with its bilingual exhibits on the site of the famous Hohner harmonica factory, which opened in 1857.

Journey to the fabulous 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 most legendary violins in the world. It is unlikely that you own a Stradivarius, but you can see one at Violin Museumwhich houses a “sound bank” to record and preserve the distinct personality and sound of each violin.

Robert Reid is editor for Traveler. He writes about travel and music on Tinkertown. Follow him on Twitter.
A version of this story originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveler.


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