Just a stone’s throw from Insa-dong, you can find a shopping complex that sells nearly every instrument you could possibly toot, strum or beat.
From traditional Korean instruments such as the janggu (hourglass-shaped drum) to Western instruments such as the saxophone or violin, you can find it all at Nakwon. Some stores even have rare instruments: harps, mandolins, tubas and ukuleles can be all found here. Guitars, both acoustic and electronic, are popular here among young customers, who are perhaps dreaming of future musical stardom. Stores also sell all of the microphones, amplifiers, cables and mixing boards you need to create a sound system for your own rock band.
It’s easy to get lost in Nakwon, which has multiple wings on multiple floors, each crammed with instrument boutiques that look pretty much identical. To keep your bearings, not that each store has a sign with a number and that the signs are color coded by wing. Check out the image below for an example:
The shopping complex is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and some stores even keep their doors open on Sunday, though you’ll certainly find a wider selection during the week or Saturday.
Aside from selling new instruments, customers can also peruse used instruments or get repairs made on their own old instruments. Repair shops in the complex have different specializations, so make sure to find the right person for the job.
The prices at Nakwon are lower than you’d find elsewhere in Korea. Keep in mind, though, that American and other non-Korean brands are still more expensive in Korea than in the United States. If you’re on a budget, we recommend a Korean knock-off. The difference in quality is negligible, and the difference in price is huge.
The prices are pretty ubiquitous throughout the complex, but may very slightly from store to store. Bring cash, because some vendors don’t accept credit cards and those who do will invariably offer a lower rate to customers who pay in cash. In our experience, the prices are slightly negotiable, so it’s not uncommon to attempt to haggle.
One member writes, “they originally offered [the guitar] for 250,000W (about $230) but quickly agreed to 230,000W when they realized I could pay in cash and, when I pressed them a bit more, they through in a free gigbag, tuner, and set of strings.”
Most vendors speak enough English to get by.
There are several ways to get to Nakwon Instrument Market, and all are within five to 10 minutes of the subway station.
The closest way is to go to Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 5, exit 5, and walk toward the SC First Bank.
The next way is Jongno 3-ga Station, line No. 1, exit 1. Walk toward Tapgol Park and turn right on the street just past the park, toward Insa-dong. Instead of turning left onto Insadong-gil, simply keep going until you see the building.
Finally, you can also go to Jonggak Station, line No. 1, exit 3, and walk straight. Turn left onto the street before Tapgol Park and walk straight again past Insadong-gil.
The Nakwon Instrument Market does have an official Web site, but it’s available only in Korean: http://www.enakwon.com.