Due to the retail apocalypse and a variety of other reasons, musical instrument shopping can be a daunting task. However, we still believe when looking for an instrument it is best to go to the store and get a feel for it before making a transaction. Luckily there are still old neighborhoods in Beijing that are very much alive with the sound of music. Xinjiekou and Gulou Dongdajie are two prime examples. Here’s a little bit about what you can expect from a visit to these sections of old Beijing, along with a bit of their respective musical histories.
Dating back to the Qing Dynasty, Chaqu Opera was very popular among the royal families, and many of these families were located near Xinjiekou. For example, Prince Kung’s Mansion which is also in the area is brimming with tourists wanting a look into that bygone era. The legendary Beijing Opera singer Mei Lanfang’s house is also located nearby. The essence of this musical heritage still remains today.
From the south end of Xinjiekou to the north of Ping’anli, the entire street is lined with shops selling modern instruments as well as traditional instruments from China and around the world. Each shop is packed with musical instrument selections, with the shopkeeper often playing to pass the time, and you’re welcome to test any of them.
The choice inside the shops is really wide — traditional Chinese music instruments include erhu, pipa, flutes, guzheng, as well as western musical instruments such as pianos, violins, trumpets, saxophones, and drums. Additionally, many of the music shops also provide training classes (primarily in Mandarin) and repairs.
As many of the stores are selling similar items, make sure to compare prices based on quality, and also don’t forget that there is always some room for bargaining if your language skills are up for the test.
Above all, Xinjiekou is a place that maintains some of the traditional aspects of Beijing in spite of recent renovation projects going on to clean up and modernize this old neighborhood.
How to get there
Take subway Line 6 or Line 4 to the Ping’anli station, then walk, or taxi there by asking for Xinjiekou Nandajie.
If you don’t find what you are looking for, try checking out Gulou Dongdajie, which is the popular tourist destination nearby the Drum and Bell Towers.
The selections in Gulou Dongdajie are certainly not as wide as Xinjiekou, but it might be a better place if you’re looking for rock instruments, partly thanks to the numerous livehouses in the neighborhood. Shops in this area are mostly selling electric and acoustic guitars, drum kits, keyboards, as well as the necessary accompanying gear such as amplifiers, speakers, and other accessories.
The prices are usually higher than ordering from the internet, but you get to test the instruments before making your investment. Plus there’s just a pretty cool rock ‘n’ roll focused vibe if you wish for that to be a part of your process of finding an instrument. Just make sure to have a general idea of the going retail price which should help you negotiate a good price.
How to get there
Take subway Line 2 to Guloudajie stop or take subway Line 8 to the Shichahai stop.
This article appeared on p14 of beijingkids June 2018 issue
Photos: Huang Chenkuang