Factory Tour

Shuguang was originally established on Dec 26, 1965. It started as a numbered factory (# 770) providing supplies to the Chinese military – of course, vacuum tubes. At that time all factories supplying to military were numbered by the government and usually the factory did not have a sign at the address and was heavily guarded by military personnel. After 1980s when China opened up to the rest of the world, many of those factories were finally allowed to use their official name and no longer have military guards but reguar security guards.

Shuguang, in English it means “dawn”, indicates the new start of the Red China. ( if I ever the term of ‘red China’ 20 years ago in China, I probably will get myself into some serious trouble. but nowadays nobody cares – everyone in China seems to be too busy in making a good living so politics is barely a central piece for average person’s life.) Shuguang was one of the very few electronics manufacturer in China at that time and probably the only one that has survived 50 years of ups and downs.

Shuguang is located just north of Guangdong province (if you don’t know where Guangdong is, it is at the very southern tip of mainland China. The city Shuguang is located in is also the birth city of Chairman Mao Zedong so the way people do business there is more conservative than the Chinese reform pioneers in Guangdong. Shuguang is a group company, including 5 plants, 14 subsidiaries, 3 joint-ventures, 5 property holding companies plus a hospital, school, and of course kindergarden as well. The group employs over 6,000 employees and currently is still state owned. However, today’s state-owned-entities (SOE) are quite different from what they were 25 years ago – now management is westernized but still comes with a blend of central control and political influence. Shuguang manufacturered vacuum tubes only up to 1983. After then, as the tube demand dropped substantially, the group started joint venture with LG to manufacturer color TV tubes etc. and later ventrued into real estate development and other business. Of course in the 1990s when high end audio regains its life worldwide, demand for audio tubes have bring many production back online again.

Satistics shows that by 2005, Shuguang had deveoped over 120 types of vacuums tubes and manufacturered over 70 million tubes over 40 years. Their 300B tube production accounts for nearly 80% of the worldwide output. Shuguang main entrance: you will notice the LG logo for their joint-venture subsidiary. The guards are in uniforms but not military ones. The overhead red banner is about fire safety campaign in the city. (Red banners are widely used in China for all sorts of campaigns, celebrations, events. Black banner is very bad luck there – only used on funeral.)

Soldering production line: (at one time, all Chinese factory workers wear white uniforms – same with nurses and waitresses. I guess the clothing company had the largest economy of scale in the world then. Most delicate work is done by women for their detail oriented skills – it is a common scene in audio manufacturing in China)  Workers are inspecting the tube forming process:

Installing parts inside the tube:

Gold coating on the grid:  Quality control during the manufacturing process:  Vacuuming process: (this particular piece of equipment is developed by Shuguang themselves – greatly improved quality compared to the equipment used in 1950s) Testing / burnt-in:

EL-34 inspection before packaging:  Tube inspection before packaging: Smaller tubes have to be inspected under microscope: 

Although Shuguang tubes have been sold all over the world, as many other Chinese factories, they typically don’t assign an official distributor for each overseas market. Pricing of Shuguang generic tubes is reasonable overall but varies from site to site – a better managed distribution model will definitely help Shuguang to build this 50 years old brand and gain more international recognition. Many online Shuguang tube sellers claim they are “factory direct” – whether they are indeed and whether the products are the screened leftovers from export batches are really unknown to any buyers unless the tubes are retested before resale.

(credits: some of the above pictures of Shuguang tube factory are from Chinese websites with original source unidentified.  Credit to those who contributed to let the world know about Shuguang through their eyes.)

The new Psvane (Pavane) tubes are made by a separate entity called Psvane Audio. The people behind Psvane are originally from Shuguang but now run their company independently. 

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