50 years of Valencia

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50 years of Valencia

valencia guitar 50th anniversary
Words by Peter Hodgson

Celebrating the anniversary of the guitar manufacturer who has acquainted so many Australians with the instrument, almost two million to be precise!

When this writer was a little sprite back in the olden times, there was something of a pattern observable at the start of every school year: a procession of kids who got guitars for Christmas, rocking up with their new instruments for their first lesson with the wonderful teacher who came to our school once a week (hi Peter Cominos). As a young guitar nerd it was always fun to see who got what.

There were a lot of cheap and nasty nylon string guitars among that lot every year, but clearly Santa favoured many kids because they got Valencias. We envied the Valencia Kids. Their guitars seemed to sound fuller, look nicer and play easier and have a fancier sounding name than the Amenas and Kapoks that the rest of us had. 

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Valencia is an Australian brand established in Melbourne back in 1972 to provide quality student guitars that were easy to play. That’s 50 years and 1.7 million guitars sold into the Australian market alone – a market that’s notoriously competitive. When you’re buying a guitar for a young player to begin learning on, it’s important to spec it so it will encourage them to keep playing and developing, so you want a guitar that doesn’t fight you back, doesn’t sound like a shoebox with rubber bands stretched across it, and can handle the rigours of youthful exuberance. But Valencias aren’t kids’ guitars: they’re beginner guitars for anyone to get acquainted with the instrument. The whole charm of Valencia lies in the fact that when you pick one up, it doesn’t feel like a toy. It’s a living, breathing instrument designed for purpose.

This year Valencia celebrates their 50th anniversary – a huge milestone for any company, let alone one occupying a seat at the table in the hyper competitive international guitar industry. Those 50 years have seen Valencia grow, not only continuing their dominance on the domestic beginner guitar market, but having this success translate internationally, with the brand now distributed in 85 countries by 54 of the world’s leading distributors. The secret to their success? A dedication to the finer details of what makes a beginner guitar a pleasure to play and an innate understanding that accessibility and playability are the gateway to a lifetime of guitar playing. It all starts with the right instrument.

“We are very proud to celebrate Valencia’s 50th milestone and the contribution Valencia instruments have made in providing happiness, pleasure, and a quality musical experience to millions of people worldwide,” said Kevin Hague of Australasian Music Supplies (AMS).  

“We sincerely thank all personnel involved, all the great distributors, retailers, teachers, and musicians alike, who with their support and belief over the years have helped Valencia become one of the longest surviving student and beginner nylon classical guitars in the world. With our commitment and passion to help create the musicians of the future we look forward to delivering the legacy of the Valencia experience for many generations to come.”

The story of Valencia guitars really starts with Lou Toppano and Geoff ‘Dutchy’ Turner, who began sourcing classical guitars from suppliers in Taiwan and South Korea to sell in Toppano’s Music in Melbourne back in the early ‘70s. Word spread fast and within a few years there was enough demand from schools and colleges, which in turn led to an increase in distribution via Toppano Music’s wholesale operation.

By 1978, Hague had formed his own distribution company, AMS, while Toppano Music’s wholesale assets were purchased by Metcalf Wholesale. The two companies worked together in conjunction to distribute Valencia guitars nationwide before AMS acquired full ownership and distribution in 1984 and began a program of really refining the instruments: what woods sound best at this price point? What finishing techniques? What specs?  

This culture of continual improvement led to enormous growth as well as a few shifts to different manufacturing facilities such as Samick Musical Instruments in South Korea, although a fire at the Samick facility in 1987 necessitated the use of an additional Taiwanese factory where full production was finally moved to in 1989. Some manufacturing was moved to China in 1997 as that country’s facilities and quality control were gaining a good reputation, all while the distribution network continued to grow, particularly after a 1999 debut appearance at the Musikmesse trade show in Frankfurt.

Since 2015, Valencia guitars have been made in the company’s purpose-built manufacturing facility in Surabaya, Indonesia. Valencia is in control of the whole design and build process, which means they can move with the times and develop guitars that meet the needs of players as our standards of what makes a great student guitar evolves (case in point, the VC204H also reviewed by Mixdown). Contrary to common belief, there’s still a lot of non-robot craftsmanship that goes into guitar-building in 2022, and the company is dedicated to the conservation of resources, the preservation of natural habitats, and the prevention of pollution associated with guitar manufacturing. The factory also strictly conforms to local and international labour laws.

The Surabaya facility was expanded in 2019 dedicated to the exclusive production of Valencia guitars and the ubiquitous Mahalo ukuleles. The Valencia product range covers everything from the 100 Series, a full-featured guitar for beginners, through to the imminently available 700 Series, with all handcrafted models boasting innovative ToneFlow bracing, premium woods, and beautiful inlaid rosettes. Throughout the range you’ll find fun colours (the VC101PKS in Pink Sunburst is super adorable), sizes from 1/4 size to full, the option of standard non-cutaway or cutaway models that provide better upper-fret access, and various electronics options, some of which include built-in tuners so you can plug your guitar in for performances or recording. 

But it’s not just standard-style nylon classical guitars: check out the Valencia 430 Series Auditorium, a new take on the nylon string acoustic guitar concept which offers a curved-radius fingerboard for comfortable fretting, plus a larger body shape to deliver more volume and midrange. 

Guitars can be purchased in a simple branded box or in a pack with various goodies such as gig bags and tuners. Valencia also maintains a really helpful website with tips and info for beginner players, from naming the basic parts of the guitar to teaching you how to tune and care for the instrument. 

The impression you get from the website is one of a company that really lives by its philosophy: these aren’t cheap guitars for kids, they’re affordable quality guitars for learners to have the best educational and musical experiences possible. If you hit up the website you can see a factory tour of the facility in Indonesia, where you can see how modern the facility is, as well as how much handwork goes into the process.

Fifty years into the Valencia story and it is safe to say that they are showing no signs of slowing down, constantly refining their product line while remaining committed to that very same ethos that has held them in good stead over the last five decades-providing guitarists with excellent quality and value for money guitars, with great sound and exceptional ease of play. Here’s to the next 50 years!

For local enquiries about Valencia Guitars, reach out to Australasian Music Supplies.