Pearl Musical Instrument Company Business Information, Profile, and History
Pearl: The best reason to play drums.
History of Pearl Musical Instrument Company
Pearl Musical Instrument Company, based in Yachiyo, Japan, is a global manufacturer and exporter best known for its drum kits used by popular rock, country, and jazz musicians. The company also produces drums and equipment used by marching bands and pipe and drum units. Pearl serves the concert market, offering drums under its own name and a variety of instruments, parts, and accessories under the Adams Concert label, including timpani, marimbas, xylophones, bell and glockenspiels, chimes, and vibraphones. The Pearl Percussion label offers such instruments as congas, bongos, djembes, timbales, cowbells, as well as stands and replacement heads. Also found under the Pearl Percussion label are a wide variety of "effects" items for hand use or additions to drum sets, including tambourines, the liso shaker, ganziero, maracas, metal guiro, new clave blocks, a variety of bells, and the charrasquita. In addition the company sells jackets, shirts, t-shirts, and hats promoting the Pearl logo. A private company, with little published financial information available, Pearl exports to more than 60 companies. It maintains a United States subsidiary, Pearl Corporation, in Nashville.
Pearl rose from the ashes of World War II, and was founded in Tokyo in 1946 by Katsumi Yanagisawa. With just two employees working out of a 300-square-foot shed, he began making music stands. The United States' occupation forces had brought their culture to the country, engendering a love of baseball and jazz in Japan. Love for the latter, as well as an increasing emphasis on music education in the schools, fueled demand for music stands and instruments. Because there were virtually no drums being produced domestically, despite a high demand for them, Yanagisawa expanded beyond his successful music stand business in 1950 and began producing handmade snare drums and bass drums, which he copied from American designs. He also redesigned his music stands to accommodate cymbals. He now called his company Pearl Industry, Ltd., which he soon changed to Pearl Musical Instrument Company. He enjoyed immediate success in the percussion field, and by 1953 he was producing complete drum sets, as well as cymbals, marching drums, Latin percussion instruments, and timpani. In 1957 Yanagisawa was joined by his eldest son, Mitsou, an engineer, who played a major role in the creation of an export division. Pearl now began to export its products through agents and trading companies.
The rise of rock and roll in the United States in the 1950s, a phenomenon that swept the world, led to the creation of small rock bands anchored by drum sets. To grab a share of this immense market, Pearl opened a new 15,000-square-foot factory in Chiba, Japan. In that same year the company began exporting to the U.S. market under the label of original equipment manufacturers. All told, Pearl drums were sold under more than 30 names, including Apollo, Crest, Revere, Lyra, Roxy, Coronet, and Majestic. The inexpensive kits were responsible for attracting a large number of young customers who wanted to take up the drums and join rock bands.
In 1965 Mitsuo Yanagisawa succeeded his father as Pearl's chief executive officer and chairman. The company now turned away from producing low-profit, inexpensive drum sets for others, electing instead to grow the Pearl brand. His long-range plan was to produce instruments that could rival the quality of market leaders Ludwig, Slingerland, and Gretsch. He also sought to improve productivity by installing the latest machinery in the Chiba factory. In addition he assembled a global sales and service network, which was then able to support the 1966 launch of the "President Series," Pearl's first professional-level drum kits, which were developed with the help of jazz artists Art Blakey and J.C. Heard (who was also signed as an endorser). With the President drums Pearl became the first Japanese drum brand to crack the U.S. and United Kingdom markets. Private label manufacturing was now a thing of the past and to keep up with rising demand, Pearl opened a second factory in Chiba in 1968. It was also in 1968 that the company expanded beyond percussion instruments, introducing a line of flutes that ranged from student models to professional instruments fashioned out of gold and silver.
Western Inroads: 1970-80
The 1970s offered Pearl an opportunity to make inroads in Western countries, which were thrown into recession by the 1973 Middle East oil crisis. Pearl, as well as other Japanese drum makers Tama and Yamaha, increased their research and development efforts to improve quality, especially in their professional drum sets. In 1972 Pearl introduced fiberglass and wood fiberglass shells, the start of a number of innovations Pearl brought to the industry. A year later Pearl introduced transparent drums featuring acrylic plastic seamless shells. Then, in 1978, the company introduced its Vari-Pitch Cannons, and in 1979 began selling its Syncussion electric drum system. Because of a general economic boom for Japan during the early 1970s, production costs in the country soared. As a result, a sister company was established in Taiwan and much of Pearl's manufacturing was transferred there starting in 1973. Over the years, another four Taiwanese factories were added, and the original Chiba facility would be dedicated to the production of products for the Japanese market.
Although Pearl was proving to be a force for innovation in the drum field, it had an easier time achieving success in the budget category. In 1984 the company introduced its Export Series drum set, which provided beginning drummers with everything they needed in one package. It would become one of the best-selling drum sets in the world. For the professional market Pearl introduced a number of products during the 1980s. One was the CZX Custom Series, one of the most expensive kits on the market. Handcrafted in Japan, it featured shells made entirely of maple, including an outside veneer of costly Italian Birdseye maple, one of the rarest woods on earth. Not actually maple but a phenomenon that occurs within several kinds of timber, Birdseye maple offered a distinctive pattern and was scratch resistant once finished. Also in the 1980s Pearl unveiled its Custom Class snare drums, which used steam-bent maple shells to produce a smooth, distinctive sound. The Championship FFX free-floating marching snare drum was introduced, featuring a free-floating lug design allowing the shells to better vibrate and produce a richer tone that projected farther than drums using a nonfloating design. The FFX also employed an aluminum edge ring and robust die cast hoops, capable of handling the tremendous tension needed for the Kevlar heads that were being used by drum corps. In addition, Pearl introduced a pair of Championship marching drum carriers, including a tight-fitting fiberglass vest. The 1980s also saw the introduction of the P-950 Super Pro Chain Drive pedal for the bass drum, which featured double chains for reliability and was easily removed, a boon for professionals who repeatedly set up and broke down their equipment.
For many years Pearl drums were distributed in the United States through a pair of distributors, Heater Music and Chicago Musical Instrument company. Norland Music bought the two companies, and, in 1979, Pearl bought the drum division and renamed it Pearl International. In 1989 the subsidiary purchased land close to the airport in Nashville, Tennessee, to build a new warehouse and office complex, which opened in 1990 and also served as Pearl's U.S. headquarters. Also in 1990, Pearl International changed its name to Pearl Corporation.
According to Music Trades in a 2002 profile of the company, "In the '80s and early-'90s, Pearl drew plenty of pop star power from endorsing drummers in band such as KISS, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers." But along the way, opined Music Trades, the company "made a couple of miscalculations in the way it has presented its wares." David Howe, Pearl's vice-president of sales and marketing, told the publication, "When the super-band era was over, we decided that maybe it wasn't important to focus so much on endorsers in our marketing, and we stopped using them as much in ads and catalogs." Pearl President Andy Ito added, "A drum is a round piece of wood. You have to put a personality with it, and endorsers are the best vehicle for doing that, making it cool or traditional or whatever. Some of our competitors were better at attaching a personality to their product." Pearl also neglected to continue to build its brand. "For a short period we overlooked the effect of consumers seeing the same drum logo every time they turned on MTV," Howe explained. "There's a lot of value in that. So we made a complete turnaround; everything we do now has an artist in it."
Hand Percussions: 1990-2000
Another problem Pearl encountered involved its entry into hand percussion instruments after the 1993 acquisition of Afro Percussion, a company that was already well established in Europe. Pearl tried to market the products globally but quickly realized how difficult it was to gain entry into stores. Moreover, Pearl underestimated the need for product innovation in the hand percussion field. It was only after the company made a greater commitment to the category and began to distinguish itself from the competition, especially with the introduction of new accessory items, that it finally began to establish itself in hand percussions. Even in its core business, drum kits, Pearl had to overcome obstacles. In 1991 it launched its entry-level Forum Series drum sets but enjoyed only limited success. Realizing the kits were priced too high for the beginners' market, Pearl began making changes to bring the value in line with the price. After cutting some corners, Pearl upgraded the kit with better mounts and shells and eventually offered a set that became an industry standard for beginners.
Other developments in the 1990s included the introduction of the B-513 P 3x13 brass piccolo and the M-513P 3X13 maple piccolo snare drums, which would become the top-selling drums in the company's history. Pearl also introduced its Masters Series, a high-end drum set, the innovative PowerShifter Bass Drum Pedal, and in 1997 Pearl entered the pipe band market with the introduction of its first line of snare drums in this category. It was not a highly profitable niche, but the pipe band business played an important role in adding synergy to the company's product development efforts. Pearl also introduced the industry's first magnesium carrier for the drum corps market, the Symphonic snare drum, and became the exclusive worldwide distributor of Adams timpani and mallet instruments.
Also of importance in the company's growth during the 1990s was the creation of a proprietary sales force in 1992 to sell and service all Pearl Percussion products in the United States, a task previously handled by Gibson U.S.A. Because Pearl had grown so quickly in the previous decade, the Gibson sales representatives were unable to devote enough attention to the Pearl lines and provide the level of dealer service Pearl desired. Once the Gibson distribution agreement was terminated, Pearl was then able to institute tighter rules regarding dealer advertised prices, prohibiting them from advertising prices in excess of 35 percent to 40 percent off suggested list price, depending on the item. "We got tired of seeing the Pearl product footballed around in advertising," Bob Morrison, Pearl Corporation's director of marketing, told the press. By curbing this practice, Pearl was able to better protect the value of its brand.
Pearl continued to unveil new product lines and repacked others in the new century. After working with dealer focus groups, the company introduced the Ready-Set-Go drum kit in 2000, which packaged the Forum drum set with cymbals, a seat, sticks, and a video for young beginners at a price point parents found attractive. The company also upgraded its perennially popular Export line with the 2000 addition of its Integrated Suspension System, which allowed the tom shells to resonate fully and create a richer sound. The ready-to-play set was also reinvigorated with the addition of two new colors: "Mirror Chrome" and "Charcoal Metallic." For the higher end of the market, Pearl introduced the Masterworks Series, a made-to-order series that customers could customize by choosing a variety of woods and shell thicknesses. Also of note in the 2000s, Pearl incorporated a state-of-the-art warehouse management system in its Nashville location to combine accounting, credit, order entry, and warehouse functions, allowing the company to closely monitor productivity and inventory levels. In this way, Pearl was able to keep overhead costs in check, an important component in the company's efforts to maintain a balance between price and value. Offering the right amount of quality for the dollar had been a key factor in Pearl's rise to the top ranks of the drum industry and promised to remain just as important in the years to come.
Pearl Corporation (United States); Pearl Music Europe B.V. (Holland); Pearl Musical Instrument Co. of Taiwan; Pearl (UK) Ltd.
Drum Workshop, Inc.; Gibson Guitar Corporation; Yamaha Corporation.
- Key Dates
- 1946 Company founded in Tokyo by Katsumi Yanagisawa to make music stands.
- 1950 Yanagisawa begins making drums for domestic market.
- 1965 Mitsou Yanagisawa succeeds father as CEO and chairman.
- 1966 Pearl offers first professional drum set, the President Series.
- 1973 Taiwanese operations begin.
- 1989 U.S. subsidiary opens headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee.
- 1993 Afro Percussion acquired.
- 1997 Pearl enters drum corps market.
- 2000 Ready-Set-Go entry level drum set introduced.
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