Experiences as hobby e-guitarist during exchange studies

Flying gear to Korea

Due to limited luggage I decided to bring only electronics and in particular my Kemper Head with me on my flight to Korea. Retrospectively seen this wasn’t a good idea as the Kemper is quite big and fills over 60 % of the space of my suit case, and it’s also risky to transport valuable electronics as check-in luggage. Also, as the stay was only for four months, it would have been sufficient to use apps like Garage Band and the iRig adaptor to play along. So better check small and smart alternatives first.

If you decide to bring valuable gear (let’s say worth more than 430 €) back to Germany, you should definitely take the invoice with you as it can help you to determine a current value for the product. If it is below the 430 € line, you don’t have to pay duties.

The papers are also useful at other arrivals. When I arrived on the stopover at the Tokyo Narita Airport, I had to open my luggage and I had to explain to the employees that the Kemper is a guitar amp I brought to Korea for personal use. They took it with them, scanned it and gave it back to me; however, I had the feeling they were not happy with the procedure, so it’s likely that I had luck that there were no further complications. I hadn’t checked the visa entry requirements for Japan in advance; thus, I recommend to check these for every airport you’ll arive. Interestingly, at the Seoul Incheon Airport I wasn’t checked a second time; maybe there’s at least a cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo regarding checking imports.

Getting guitar

Short after my arrival I bought a used ESP LTD EC-407 Black Satin for playing while my stay in Korea.

The guitar runs currently for 1.049 € in Germany while I got it for a total of 600.000 WON (about 500 to 550 €).

During my entire search for an adequate instrument I first checked the assortment of the Nakwon Music Arcade (images see next chapter), but I wasn’t happy with the offers and the pricings. I concluded that it should be much cheaper to buy used but valuable stuff and checked out craigslist.com again. Unfortunately, the prices weren’t much better and the variety very low. However, I came in contact with a seller who offered a ESP LTD EC-1000VB Duncan for 680.000 WON (current price: 870 $). Although the price was high I was interested due to its look and specifications as well as my price range.

While in contact we made two appointments: on the first, we would meet and I would buy the guitar, but this coudn’t be realized as I ran out of cash. On the second appointment the seller didn’t want to sell the guitar any longer, but helped me to search for a substitute on mule.co.kr where I found the ad for my guitar. The site is completely in Korean, but with Google Translate it’s possible to search on the site in a reasonable way.

Another obstacle occured as most of the advertisers share only their phone number, not an e-mail-address. Luckily, my pre-paid card is still valid and I was able to call the seller. While his English was not good, we agreed upon communicating further via e-mail and made an appointment for next day. The seller came to Seoul, too, although he lives in Incheon, and I was able to test the guitar before paying in cash. He granted a discount of 50.000 WON and filled out a purchase agreement which could be useful on the way home again.

To summarize:

  • Like always, a very good alternative to buying new stuff is looking for used one in good condition.
  • Craigslist.com is in English and each offer can be reached by e-mail, but has only limited variety in instruments.
  • While there exist several other private trading platforms, mule.co.kr is a good starting point and with Google Translate for non-Koreans usable. However, phone calls are usually required.
  • If the seller isn’t good at speaking english, a switch to written form is useful.
  • It seems to be common that payment is done with cash. If possible, an arrangement for personal testing should be conducted.
  • I’ve read somewhere that Koreans might give a discount by themselves and experienced it two times until now. If not initiated by them, bargaining could help to lower the price for the good.
  • Don’t forget to get a receipe over your purchase.

As a round off, Gmarket, the Korean branch for Ebay, has business and consumer vendors and could be another good source.

Getting case

To get used stuff is one way, another one is to buy new products. The focal point for music gear in Seoul is the Nakwon Music Hall.

Only few minutes of walk away there’s a park you can check out right before you enter the hall.

Entry to the park near to the Nakwon Music Hall.
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Unlike a building of one seller, the Nakwon Music Hall is a mall with many vendors offering small sets of products.

By Thomas Galvez, via flickr.com

Many more impressions can be found with a Google image search.

One major disadvantage is the small product range as many vendors offer similar products (e. g. none of them had seven-string guitars) and the pricing which is mostly at the same level like I know it from Germany. I inferred for myself to not make any huge investments there.

Anyway, I’ve been to the Hall two times (first to seek for the guitar, afterwards for some supplies like a guitar stand and strap that I eventually bought for moderate prices). For the guitar case, I thought it’d be too time-consuming to work through mule.co.kr again and gave Nakwon another try. First, I measured my guitar to make sure to be able to get the right case. Second, I checked usual prices for a fitting case (e. g. 150 € for this one). Third, I went to Nakwon, but as I walked through the shops I found no vendor that offered a hard case at all. I then asked one where to get a hard case for a Les Paul-shaped guitar like mine and he brought me to another seller who had another office with lots of hard cases two floors above. Based on my measures we chose a semi hollow case which I paid 80.000 WON for. Luckily, when I arrived home the guitar fit in perfect so I might have now a better and cheaper case then when I would have bought one in Germany.

Finding musicians

While my prior intention was to join the Korea University U&I music club, I changed my mind after my arrival in Seoul as it was said to be very hard foreigners to participate. I then looked out on craigslist.com for musicians and got in contact with another guitarist, but unfortunately didn’t hear from him any further despite he promised to contact me once he finds an opportunity to jam together. As the semester proceeded, I found less time to search for other musicians and at the end I wasn’t succesful in playing with others. While I failed my personal goal here, I also had to admit that I underestimated the workload for the studies which have a higher priority for me, and so in the end the circumstances might not have been the best to find other musicians. Unfortunately, I can’t give any further recommendations than trying to reach out for as much musicians as possible on craigslist.com.

Bringing gear back to Germany

At the end of semester had to think about what to do with my setup. As I got the guitar quite cheap and I wanted to use it in the next months I decided to bring it to Germany. The case of exporting the guitar is described here.


Picture of guitar – The ESP Guitar Company, via espguitars.com