The home for guitars and amplifiers in Phnom Penh is Madison Music Centre and Pich Narith aka Mr. Heng, its well-known owner in music circles, talks shop with Sonny Inbaraj Krishnan.
Good Times2: How did you start this business?
Pich Narith: As you know people call me Mr Heng. Truly my first shop was from my father-in-law. That shop was started in 1992 – and it was known as the Thea Heng Guitar Shop. I took over from him in 2008, almost nine years ago.
In 2010, I opened Madison to diversify from Thea Heng Guitar Shop.
Good Times2: How did you become interested in guitars?
Pich Narith: When we started in 2010, the guitar market in Cambodia was still small. But now the guitar market is getting better. Since a couple of years ago, we have been selling high-brand guitars – more and more Cambodians are buying these guitars because their living standards are getting better.
So now, we’re carrying brands like Walden, from Canada, Cort from South Korea, Ibanez from Japan, Fender etc.
Cort guitars seem to be selling well in Cambodia because they have models in a wide price range. In Cambodia, we’re giving a two-year warranty for Cort guitars.
Walden guitars too are doing well and they are medium to high-priced.
Good Times2: Can you tell us about your line of Marshall guitar amplifiers?
Pich Narith: We started selling Marshall amps about five years ago. These amps are made in China, Vietnam and the UK, but most of the Marshall amps that are available in Madison are imported from China and Vietnam. The mid-priced Marshall amps are made in China and Vietnam, while the high-end ones are made in the UK.
Right now our best selling amps are from Peavy, the reason is that they have a wide price range that suits guitarists at every level – whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or semi-professional or professional.
Good Times2: How do you purchase your orders? Do you go directly to the factories in China, for instance?
Pich Narith: For example when I deal with Cort in South Korea, I talk directly with the main factory there. We also get guitars directly from some of the brand factories in Indonesia. But it’s always easier to deal with the Chinese factories. They normally fully pack the containers with guitars and offer good prices for Cambodia.
Good Times2: Can you tell us about your own Cambodian brand guitar?
Pich Narith: Yes we have our own brand called Thea Heng guitars. Previously it was made in Cambodia, but due to the poor workmanship we had to outsource it to China. Thea Heng guitars are good starter guitars for beginners at a very affordable price of $80 and they can last for about 10 years, if you look after them well.
Good Times2: What kind of guitars do Cambodians like to buy?
Pich Narith: Most guitar players like quality but price is also important. For electric guitars they go for medium priced ones, around $200. Of course Cambodians also can afford higher end electric guitars costing between $600 and $800. But I also like to point out Cambodian players like electric guitars that are 24 frets. Why 24 frets? It’s due to the Khmer music scale. Anything less than 24 frets, let’s say 22 frets, makes it very difficult for them to play lead notes in Cambodian songs.
Good Times2: Do you yourself play the guitar?
Pich Narith: Yes I do and I wish I had more time to indulge in it.
Good Times2: How do you see the future of guitar players in the country?
Pich Narith: In the past five years, I’ve seen tremendous improvement in guitar skills among Cambodians. But we still need proper music schools in the country – one where students can take international exams and get qualifications that are recognized globally. The music schools also should have proper practice rooms with good sound-proofing and humidity control to protect the equipment from moisture.
There’re also lots of cross-fertilisation happening between Cambodian and foreign guitarists in bands in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Both kinds of guitarists are learning from each other. I’m very optimistic that things will move forward in leaps and bounds.
Good Times2: Has Madison supported bands in Cambodia?
Pich Narith: Sure we have. If a band comes in the store and requests help, we will provide rental equipment at a nominal fee and also provide free practice space. We’re trying to promote all-women bands. If there is a chance to help in fundraising through music, we really appreciate the opportunity to be involved.
Good Times2: What is your vision for 2018?
Pich Narith: We are planning to open a music school. However, we first need land and a building. Right now I’m speaking to a few South Korean philanthropists who are very keen on this idea. I’ve also approached a few music schools in the UK to help us develop a music curriculum. That’s our top priority for 2018.