• 02 Apr 2016
  • Italy’s upmarket makers of musical instruments thrive on a mix of craftsmanship and innovation

  • Competition on price is out of the question in a country where labor isn’t cheap, and where taxes and bureaucracy are as burdensome as they are in Italy. Nevertheless, Italian-made musical instruments are highly prized abroad, thanks to niche segments with very high added value, combining tradition and innovation.

    Tradition, for example, is at home in Cremona, a town that’s synonymous with handmade string instruments all over the world. There are no less than 160 boutique lutemaking workshops on record, many of which united into the Stradivari Consortium , which maintains the great master’s legacy.

    One of these is Stefano Trabucchi’s, with some sixteen instruments produced per year and a turnover of €100,000. How much of this from overseas? “100%,” he replies without hesitation. There is no such thing as a recession for excellence, “on the contrary, the weaker Euro in international transactions actually adds to our instruments’ appeal.”

    The past is just as present in Castelfidardo, near Ancona, home to highly reputed harmonicas like those made by the Zero Sette Bugari Armando group. The latter crafts 1,200 items a year in a single building with thirty live-in artisans and has a turnover of €4 million. “The sound makes all the difference, – points out the group’s CEO, Alessio Gerundini – the result of the material we use and our workers’ know-how: a legacy that goes back to the post-WWII period.” This doesn’t mean there’s no innovation: a recent partnership with Japan-based Roland, for example, has led to the birth of Bugari Evo powered by Roland, marking the debut of the famed Marche-based brand in the electronic harmonica segment.

    A balance of tradition and innovation is also true of the Fazioli brand, headquartered in the environs of Sacile, near Pordenone: a name that has managed to acquire a considerable reputation for grand pianos on the international markets. It all began with an intuition of Paolo Fazioli’s, head of the company, who decided to convert the family’s furniture manufacturing company into a wholly different business in 1981. Today, the firm employs fifty people and produces 150 pianos a year, for a turnover of approximately €10 million. “Exports – says Paolo Fazioli – make up 95% of our business.” Strangely enough, one of the premier importers of Fazioli pianos is Germany, a nation that made the history of this instrument both in terms of piano players and piano makers.

    An Italian company that chose to boost innovation is Proel, HQ’d in Sant’Omero (Teramo), 124 employees and a €35 million turnover, specializing in audio systems for show business. The group headed by Fabrizio Sorbi recently acquired the former Roland Europe plant in Acquaviva Picena (Ascoli), which had discontinued production. Today, it manufactures a digital piano called Dexibell Vivo, whose “True to Life” technology combines sampling and 24 bit/48 kilohertz physical modeling with original algorithms. “Initial feedback from the US market – says Sorbi – is enthusiastic. This groundbreaking new category has a great future.”

    Italian creativity not only applies to musical instruments but to showbusiness technologies, too. In Seriate (province of Bergamo), for instance, there’s a company called Clay Paky SpA, with 130 employees and a turnover of €64 million, which manufactures stage lights: one of three top companies worldwide in its sector, with a client portfolio ranging from the Bolshoi Theater to the Rolling Stones. Its all-Italian story started in 1976, Saturday-Night-Fever time, when discos were the main business. “One of our spotlights today – confides marketing director Davide Barbetta – can cost as much as an economy car.”