Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Right Strings For Your Classical Guitar with Philippe Bertaud

Hey Folks!

That is like the question I get all the time:- Philippe, what strings do you put on your guitar?and, I know when I look in your eyes that you guys had… and maybe still have if you did not read this article yet, the same issue(s) I had. Finding the right strings! Honestly, if you get into a store and look at the brands, you really start feeling woozy, and then you start to try one set, and another, and another… and arrive on my blog – or come to one of my clinic – and anxiously ask me about strings.

Because I tried them all, and there is not a week that I do not receive a set from a string company. Some are okay… the first days of their life but, like the butterflies, they do not last a long time. Others – let’s be honest – most of the brands have intonation issues… you have to run to the store to buy other 1st or 3rd strings (no kidding! I live in Texas and the time I get to the store it’s pitch dark, that’s how far it is!!!) and you realize you have to go back to the store because the new ones you get still have intonation problems… Other sets have they basses dead in 2 or 3 days… or break.Seriously: do you want me to break in string during a show? I tour and play a lot and want to have reliable strings! And y’all know I bang the guitar and take all the guts out of the poor thing.

You never see me re-tuning the guitar when I perform (if you saw me, it’s because I was about to play open tuning… or it was when I did not have Alhambra Guitar… just buy the right stuffs guys) It’s not because I’m deaf … neither because I’m blond… it’s because the strings I use stay in tune, never break, last forever… are cheap and American. Read that well coming from a Frenchy: they are MADE IN ZE USA! Okay… Should I share more about the spirit? You want me to tell you I fence my Texas ranch with those strings?

So, what is the mystery? Well, I went to Africa to meet a wizard in Zambia and he gave me the answer… are you ready?

The basses are round and rich because they use the best wire, the highest quality. Not the cheap one that will rust in no time. Also for the "EXP" basses, they put the coating ON the wire, not just on the strings. See? Have you tried the other ones? The ones that have been made the "fast way"? Just the coating sprayed on the whole string... and what happenend after that? It's peeling off!!! Not only it looks nasty, like if your guitar contracted leprosy - or you which is worst! - and because of the peeling-off-fast-spayed-coating... your strings buzzes. Hey, you know what I'm talking about.

But not the strings I use... Did you hear my guitar buzzing? Peeling? Strings shredding away? Mais non!

I go great basses strings! The "Must", the "Best". They got the sustain you are looking for and the harmonic support.
What am I talking about?
- Go to the end of the concert hall next time you attend a classical guitar recital… you barely hear the basses. They are weak. But not the one I use!

And the trebles... no intonation issues. Why? Because they want to be so perfect they measure each string two hundred times.
How many times? 200 – TWO HUNDRED TIMES, dos cientos, zwei hundert, δύο εκατό!!! 200 times!
Those guys are so crazy about precision, they measure EACH string 200 times. It’s not only for fun .. or because they have time to kill… It’s because they have a vision:- They want to make the best products ever because they take pride into what they do.- One dissatisfied player will be talking to 8 people about how the strings caused them problems and they will talk to others who will talk to others… and so forth.

First, to measure the strings with such precision, they thought about hiring a bunch of elves, fairies and dwarves from the "Enchanted Forest" but, over the past 30 years, guitar strings have benefited from a wealth of engineering and manufacturing improvements and the brand I use are now made by utilizing automated computer-controlled winding machines. The result has been unprecedented quality and value for the guitarists. The trebles are sorted by a sophisticated computer-controlled laser machine which performs diameter/tension measurements and quality checks to insure precise intonation. They want to make you satisfied… And they are.

What do I play?The only real strings for pro… D’Addario.

I use the Pro-Arte and also, on my spruce top guitar the Composites to give my guitar a warm "touch".

D’Addario Composite wound strings exclusively feature Zyex(R) multi-filament stranded core material, which delivers gut-like tone with extremely long life and consistency. The trebles come with two 3rd strings, one from the regular Pro Arte line (clear nylon) and one made from composite polymer (coffee colored) which has a brighter tone (the 1st and 2nd are also from the regular Pro Arte line).




Tuesday, October 20, 2009

EXP Strings

Fresh strings. They feel great, they play great, they sound great...eventually. As much as I love a new set of wires for my guitars, it does take a bit of break-in time to get them sounding the way I want...bright, but not too bright, fat but not dull. A regular set of non-coated strings need a few hours or days (depending on your willingness to stretch and play them) before they settle in to a tone that lasts a good while until they gradually wear out.

That's the way it has always been, and most folks are fine with that. I stretch strings and play guitars to break them in every day for a living, no problem. But ever since the EXP strings became available, I have been skipping the break-in period on my own acoustics and using the EXP sets as soon as they are strung up and tuned. The coating serves two purposes for me: 1) It offers protection against corrosion and fret wear and 2)It starts out sounding like a broken-in set and stays there for a long, long time.

This is especially true in a recording situation. The coated strings seems to minimize the squeaky hand position shifts that are emphasized on a new set of regular strings. The overt brightness is gone, letting you string your guitar and put a mic in front of it immediately. Not to say the coated strings are duller or less responsive...more like a precision EQ that notches out the harsher sounds and lets the chime ring through.

I've found that guitars with EXP strings are easier to record and give you more mic options, since the super top end is not as present. Even a bright mic like a C-414 can be used without rolling any EQ off. The best part is that I can leave a set on for weeks at a time and they still sound great. Check out the EXP coated strings from D'Addario...you just might find the tone you've been searching for...yours.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Strings & Pedalboards with Bryan Beller of DETHKLOK!!!

Hey there. I just came around to thinking that, since I’m about to go out on tour with the most brutal metal band ever not to actually exist – that being Dethklok, of course - this would be a good a time as any to write a blog post about some of the D’addario and Planet Waves stuff I’m using to pull it off.

When it comes to strings, first and foremost I’m a ProSteels guy. I just really dig D’addario’s brightest stainless steel strings, always have. My gauges are pretty standard: 45-65-85-105, and a 130 tapered-core B for my main axe, a Mike Lull Custom 5-string. But my job on tour with Dethklok isn’t to make me sound good, it’s to make William Murderface sound good. Let me explain.

If you’re hip to the show Metalocalypse (that’s the actual name of the show on Cartoon Network from which Dethklok was spawned), you’ll notice that ol’ Murderface plays a 5-string Thunderbird-style bass. So Mike Lull made me one of their T-Basses, and unlike the original that inspired it, it plays and sounds like a dream – which is key for pulling off those fast, low, chunky DethRiffs. Only problem is, there’s no 5-string model. So I’m playing a 4-string masquerading as a 5-string, and I’m accomplishing that by tuning the whole thing down a major third to C-F-Bb-Eb. (I actually look at it as a 5-string tuned up a half-step and missing the top string, believe it or not.) And for strings, I’m using 65-85-105-130 Pro Steels, with the 130 being a non-taper core in this case. I’m been practicing on it, and it’s, well, brutal. Check it out:

So that’s the instrument/strings end of the deal. But there’s also what’s going on with my pedalboard. I’ve been using the same trusty wood-and-velcro board for the past 10 years, and it’s served me well. However, there’s nothing like a major tour to expose the weaknesses in any gear you have, and this board of mine has been long in the tooth for the last two years at least. Time to upgrade.

I went out and got a Pedaltrain top-of-the-line board frame and started arranging pedals on it. For years I’ve seen techs do this while I instructed them how I wanted it, but once I got my hands on the Planet Waves cable kits (and the ability to make my own custom-length cables without having to solder anything), I began harboring secret fantasies of being able to do it myself. This was my chance. I sat down a few nights ago and got to work.

And just 48 hours later, behold:

Seriously, I can’t tell you how much fun it was to sit there, measure and cut the cables exactly the way I wanted them, test them out and hear them work, and then install them onto the board. (Pedaltrains are built so that you can run the cables under the boards, which keeps the cables clean and out of sight. Trust me, there’s a lot of cables under that board.) Call me a gear geek, but I really got off on it. In the end of the day, it was empowering to be able to do it all myself, exactly the way I wanted, and especially to be able to make the final few changes on my own once I saw it all together.

Dethklok will be touring this fall on a four-band all-metal bill, with High On Fire, Converge, and the mighty Mastodon (!). It’s an amazing show – we play the music live, while at the same time our drummer Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, Death, Dark Angel) is playing to a click that’s sync’d up to a huge video screen of the cartoon characters banging their heads in animation custom-made for the tour. You can check out the dates on my MySpace profile page at www.myspace.com/bryanbeller, and I’ll be posting on Twitter throughout the tour (@bryanbeller). The 4-string T-Bass and the new pedalboard will be along for the ride.

Also, I should mention that Steve Vai has a new DVD called Where The Wild Things Are coming out on September 29, compiled from his String Theories tour I was on back in 2007. The Pro Steels on my main axe got quite the workout on that tour (as did the Half-Rounds I used on my Mike Lull 5-string fretless, same gauges: 45-65-85-105-130) and I was very pleased to know that Steve dug the recorded sound of them, because he only spent two years mixing and editing that footage and the fewer hassles he had the better. J If you want to check out a 7-minute YouTube trailer of the DVD, just click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgObLPOUPVA .

That’s it for now. Thanks to everyone at D’Addario and Planet Waves for the killer products, and for letting me post here, and hope to see you out on the road this fall!

Yours ,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The String Incident

So, you’ve never changed strings on a certain instrument. Let’s say it is bouzouki.
It is the same principle as a mandolin and you have changed the strings on many mandolins for world renowned players. The bouzouki has eight strings, four pairs tuned G/D/A/E, same loop end strings as a mandolin, just a longer scale. The bottom two strings tune to the same note, (G/D), the first one in a lower register, that’s the only difference. The top two (A/E) are tuned in unison, just like a mandolin. The bridge is exactly like a mandolin’s. No problem.

So what if you’re working on one of the most popular television shows and the band is performing live. And the artist is extremely well known and even started her career on that same very popular television show. You can do this. You are a professional.

You talk to the techs on the set; they let you use their work station. They’ve even got some strings for you to use, although they’re not D’Addarios. You take one set of each string off at a time because it has a floating bridge. You even save the old strings in case something happens, play it safe. Everything goes smooth. Tuning each set of strings as you put them on. You stretch the strings when done. Play a few chords, sounds about right. Feeling good, you set the instrument on the riser and tune the rest of the instruments, electric guitars and bass.

Two hours go by. The call time has been pushed back. The eleven forty five rehearsal and blocking now turns into a one thirty call. You check the tuning on all instruments. You notice that the intervals on the bottom strings of the bouzouki are drastically different. The G strings sounds good, but the lower D string is two octaves below the high string. That can not be right, the two strings need to be matching. You got time, so you decide to tune the D string up’ like a mandolin. It feels tight, but a mandolin is very taut, so you keep turning. The freaking non D’Addario string breaks! Mind racing you remember you saved the old strings. You just threw them in the garbage when you knew you had it down. You head back to the tuning station as your tuner crashes to the ground because you forgot to unplug it.

After digging out the matching string, which by the way, is a nickel wound .022 gauge, you realize that the last person to change strings used the single wrap method and there is barely enough string to wrap around the tuner peg. Being very careful you try to put it back on, only to have the string break right at the tuner. Just then the production manager comes up to tell you that the producers of the very popular television show have decided to record the rehearsal and use the play back for broadcast. I did tell you that is a live television show, not taped. The show order is very tight and there won’t be time to set up the band to play live. The singer will sing over the taped rehearsal. So, instead having five hours to find a string you have…….

Remember this is a .022 nickel wound loop end string. Of course the techs do not have one. You ask the player if he happens to have another set. Of course not. You find the production office and send a runner out to find the string. Did I mention this was in Los Angeles? Every one is very helpful, they make phone calls, find the nearest music store. Should be back in an hour, depending on traffic.

In the mean time you search through the strings at the tech station and find three .025 gauge nickel wound strings. You try to twist the ball end so you can loop the string through the clasps on the bridge. When you twist the string to get the ball out the string comes apart. You try twice just to make sure. You leave the instrument on the tuning station waiting for the runner to return. He calls on your cell to inform you that Sam Ash says bouzouki strings are special order only. They could have it in three days. You think ‘There has to be a Greek music store somewhere in the Los Angeles area?’ It’s called grasping for straws.

The producers call for the band. The player comes to check on the progress. He tells you need to put something on there because they are getting ready to RECORD! Oh, you know! After you place the risers and plug in the rest of the band you run back to the tuning station, looking around in desperation you spy a set of D’Addario strings, turning over the package you see there is a .022 phosphor bronze ball end string in the set. Quickly tear open the package, mind going a million miles an hour, trying to figure out how you are going to put the string on. Light bulb goes on; you put the end of the string through the ball thereby creating a loop. It holds; you start to tune, the player comes and grabs the instrument, you follow him back to the stage where they are now getting drum sounds. He is tuning, you notice that he is lowering the G string; a lot. You ask how he is tuning? Not looking at you he says, “It’s the same as a mandolin.” He is not smiling.

You answer, “I know, trust me, I know.” Then it hits you! You had the lower G string an octave too high, the D string was right. All you had to do was lower the G string. The string holds. They keep the third take for broadcast. The player relaxes, hands you the bouzouki, and actually smiles. Not sure how many times you have apologized, you say you are sorry again just to make sure he hears. In fact you would like to yell out to the hundred people there that you are sorry, but they wouldn’t know what the hell you are talking about, so you put the instrument back on the riser. The show goes on. First thing you do when all the gear is packed away is call your buddy at D’Addario and order a box of J97 bouzouki strings.
Let me count the ways in which I could have avoided the string incident;

  • First, since I had never changed strings on a bouzouki I could have asked the musician to help me. Or, at least, asked for advice.

  • Second, I should have listened more carefully to the intervals between strings before I took off each pair. Important detail. Even though it was principally the same as a mandolin, it was NOT a mandolin.

  • Third, once I got the strings on and tuned it I should have taken it to the musician to make sure it was correct. How obvious is that!

  • Fourth, because I had been sitting around being bored, waiting for the call time, I should have left it alone instead of trying to change something that I had done two hours earlier. Remember, I did not fool with it until after the first call time had passed.

If I had followed any one of the above, I would not be sitting here typing this story.
Was there anything I did right? I did not panic! Lesson(s) learned: Listen! Don’t take your eyes off the ball! Keep your head, and above all, ask for help when you are not 100 % sure. Also, for me, it finally settled the single wrap vs. a three wrap string method. I always like to wrap the strings three times around the peg to get nice stretching. I believe the string will hold a better tune. Lastly; always carry spare D’Addario strings no matter what the instrument is! Cheers!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Richard Gilewitz - New Zealand Clinic Tour

Richard Gilewitz here from the other side of the planet to talk about the great Planet Wave products and D'Addario Strings as I travel through the entire country of New Zealand for my 5th tour in 8 years.

Currently as of this writing I am midway through the tour and just about to finish up on the South Island. Not exactly looking forward to the 3 hour ferry ride to the North Island this weekend (although it is a beautiful trip) since I was apparently born without proper sea legs. Nothing a bag of chicken flavored potato chips and ginger beer won't cure!

Had a fantastic time during the first half of the trip, apparently no issues with jet lag (this time) and have had many opportunities to demo a multitude of great products.

Trevor Daley at MusicWorks in Invercargill (the furthest city south in the world - Antarctica is next spot down) did a bang up job promoting the concert/seminar event drawing a crowd of well over 110 folks and the hottest giveaway 'swag' items for the evening were the Planet Waves Humidifier, 3 phase guitar polishes, SOS tuners, and EXP D'Áddario Strings.

Several musicians in the audience also approached me after the event and appeared to be utterly fascinated with the circuit breaker cable as well as my stated 'string life' mentioned during my performance.

Trevor was also kind enough to change my strings on my Breedlove Signature 6 string model and was grateful for the use of my Planet Wave Peg Winder complete with the string cutting feature.

During my MusicWorks mini-GillaCamp 'hands on' workshop the following night in Gore, Trevor's friend, Peter Cairns was kind enough to host the event drawing 18 attendees for the evening. Until I pulled out my Planet Wave Multi Function Tuner/Metronome the group sounded like a bag of cats when playing together. Once I aligned their timing with the help of the metronome the room sounded like a symphony. Well, almost.

Looking forward to sharing the great products DÁddario was so kind to send for the trip as I travel north ... and really looking forward to those Chicken Chips.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pro Guitar Tech Tom Spaulding - Scale Length and String Tone

Tom Spaulding is a Nashville based guitarist, producer/engineer, D’Addario AR rep, pro touring guitar tech. Has worked with artists ranging from Keith Urban & Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, to LeAnn Rimes & Lee Roy Parnell.

One of the interesting things about being a guitar tech is accommodating the different preferences of the various guitar players I work for. As a player myself, I have my own ideas about what sounds good, feels good, etc. Every guitar player I have tech'd for has different needs and methods to achieve their tone.

My string gauge choices are matched to my actual playing technique...I have a rather heavy right hand and tend to favor heavier gauges than some folks. As a kid, I grew up reading the Guitar Player magazine interviews and it seemed like everybody was playing .009 of .010 gauge electric strings. Country chicken-picker Albert Lee was playing .008's. Then along came Stevie Ray Vaughan and his legendary .013 E string...tuned down a half-step, of course. I think that revelation got players into trying heavier gauges and realizing that a properly tensioned set of .011s on a Gibson or .010's on a Fender felt just fine and the tonal increase was substantial.

The scale length of a guitar has a lot to do with the tone of your instrument. Gibson guitars typically have a 24 5/8ths" scale length, while most Fenders have a 25 1/2" scale (D’Addario calculates all string tensions at this scale) . The shorter scale of the Gibson helps define the sound of a typical Les Paul, round, warm lows and mids, a smooth top end. The Fender Strat or Tele has a twangy low end, punchier mids and a sparkly top end. While accentuated by body and neck material, the fundamentals, harmonics and partials created (and suppressed) with these scale lengths give us the foundation of the tone of the guitar. With these basic facts in mind, you can use different gauges of strings and different alloys to craft a tone from your instrument, played with your hands through your amp.

I have recently been stringing some guitars for Chris Rodriguez (Keith Urban) tour with D'Addario EPN115 Pure Nickel strings, .011 gauge. I use them on a Gibson Les Paul Junior (with stop bar tailpiece) and a Les Paul Deluxe. The softer feel and warmer tone of pure nickel offset the brightness of the P-90 in the Junior and the mini-humbuckers in the Deluxe. The solid mahogany SG gets EXL115 nickel wound stings...a bit brighter and a good match for the darker tone of mahogany. The Fender Tele (with B-Bender) gets a set of EXL115s as well, even though it is tuned up a half-step. The extra tension and heavier gauge help keep the mechanical bender in tune, in our experience. He has two Strats, one with a humbucker in the bridge that gets played with an E-bow a times, and an Eric Johnson signature model tuned to drop D. The humbucker Strat gets EXL115s, since using the E-bow entails the neck pickup with the tone rolled off. A thicker string with a brighter tone balances out the muffling effect of that, and gives the note more of a bowed sound...like a bit of rosin on a viola or cello. The EJ Strat gets EPN115 Pure Nickel strings, .011 gauge, because that's what it was built for. The maple neck and lightweight body, combined with vintage-style pickups has plenty of sparkle, the nickel keeps that from getting too harsh and biting.

Everybody's ears and hands are different and what works for me or my client's needs may not be the answer for you. Some players like to compensate different scale length guitars with different gauges of strings in order to even out the playing tension between them. For example… if you use 10s on a Fender scale guitar, you might try 10.5s or 11s on a Gibson scale. While this does not always perfectly balance the feel between the two guitars, it gets you in the ball park.

After a bit of experimentation, you can dial in a sound and feel that's right for your style, through your rig. Additionally, trying different alloys (Pure Nickel vs. Nickel Plated Steel vs. Stainless Steel, etc.) and matching bright strings to dark guitars and vice versa in combination with heavier/lighter gauges can open up your ears and get you closer to your perfect tone.

For further study, luthier Ralph Novak has an interesting article here: http://www.novaxguitars.com/Pages/Techarticle_frame.html
Here are some more D'Addario links on Scale length and String Tension:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

String Tension 101: Open tunings, scale length variety and more...

Hey everyone, for this week's blog I've chosen a subject that is one of the most requested and least understood... String Tension. Okay, okay... not the most exciting stuff, but is pretty cool if you're into drop/alternate tunings or want to explore trying different string gauges with different scale instruments, for example.

D'Addario has always openly shared string pitch/tension/alloy information with the public. In 1999 we published the first known String Tension Guide, which has grown to be the most popular download from the web site. We often get questions related to the tension guide and how it works. In some ways, it's very simple, but can get as complicated as you need with detailed scientific formulas to determining very specific results. To assist with sorting through the potentially intimidating information, I've written a String Tension 101 article, which helps describe the logic and explains how to effectively use the content contained in the guide. The link is attached above.

Also, while we are on the topic of strings, check out our most popular videos on proper stringing techniques hosted by master luthier and published author, John LeVan.

I hope this information is helpful and easy to understand, but if you have any questions, post away. We have acoustical engineers and string design experts on hand to answer your toughest questions. Enjoy! Brian

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jim D’Addario Anecdotes

Collaborate to Succeed Part 1 – John D’Angelico

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learn to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

In reading that statement, one could assume it came from a musician or athlete playing team sports. But in actuality, it was the naturalist Charles Darwin that penned the line.

For musicians, collaborating and improvising is a way of life. Many times when people look at the success of a musical group or an enterprise, they inaccurately assume that success is the result of the efforts of one or two individuals. The fact is even the most astute entrepreneur gets nowhere if he/she does not learn to collaborate and improvise. Finding the right partners to collaborate with is the key.

I learned a lot about collaboration and running a business when I joined my first band at age 13. The first thing that was abundantly clear to me was that we sounded much better as a group than we did individually - provided we all practiced our parts. Later on in my career as business challenges presented themselves, I would always look for collaboration partners, reaching out to someone with more experience to help with the specific challenges that we faced.

In 1905, my grandfather Charles D’Addario emigrated from Italy to New York. He brought with him the family trade of making strings, which dates back hundreds of years to 1680. By coincidence, the very same year a Czechoslovakian luthier named Ladislav Kaplan also moved his family from Europe to America. At the time, there was a shortage of quality musical instruments and strings. Both gentlemen bought the American dream and lived it.

Soon after arriving in America, Ladislav discovered that he was having trouble getting good strings for his violins, violas and cellos. A trained craftsman, he discovered he was also a very, very talented mechanical engineer. Soon after, he began making his own strings and before long the Kaplan brand of gut bowed strings was well established.

Charles and Ladislav were friendly competitors and exchanged raw materials and know-how on occasion. Accounting ledger books from 1922 show Charles and Ladislav frequently exchanging material for payment. In the true European family business model, the Kaplan family ran their little string business out of a garage in their backyard in Norwalk, CT from 1905 to 1981. The D’Addarios ran theirs in the basement of their Jackson Heights, NY home, a short walk from what would become LaGuardia airport.

In the 1930’s, John D’Addario, Sr. joined his dad, Charles, and his young inquisitive mind was immediately energized by the world of the guitar. The guitar was yet to be amplified and was for the most part used as an element of the rhythm section of the big bands that were popular during that era. Guitar makers like Maccaferri and D’Angelico worked hard to make their instruments project acoustically over entire bands or orchestras.

John, Sr. (my dad), befriended John D’Angelico towards the end of the 1930’s. Their collaboration would be a key to the success of D’Addario guitar strings some 35 years later. D’Angelico was looking for someone to improve on the quality of the acoustic guitar strings that were available at the time. Dad was lucky enough to enter the picture at the right time. The art of string making at that time was exactly that - an ‘art’. Most developments were by accident or by trial and error. The major string brands at the time, National Black Diamond and Gibson for instance, did not make a string with the low end output, sustain and the projection in the upper register to satisfy D’Angelico.

I had the good fortune to meet John D’Angelico on several occasions as child when my dad was delivering strings to his shop on Kenmare Street in Little Italy. I can tell you personally - D’Angelico had golden ears. My dad’s collaboration with him yielded the acoustic guitar specifications that we, by and large, still use today. In fact most successful competitive brands have emulated the very specifications that the collaboration between D’Addario and D’Angelico yielded. All the D’Angelico packaged strings made prior to John D’Angelico’s passing (1964) were made by our family. Similarity in the names and his respect for John D’Angelico were key reasons why Dad never used the D’Addario family name on his strings until we did so in 1974.

My dad often spoke fondly of how well they worked together. Dad would make a variety of samples, with different core sizes and whatever different alloys of brass, bronze and silver plated copper that he could get his hands on at the time. John would test them and together, using their ears and their minds, through trial and error, they advanced the art of guitar string-making. Their first epiphany was determining the optimum size ratios between the core wire and the wrap wire for each wound string on the guitar. Later, they realized that the 80-20 brass (referred to as bronze most of the time) needed to be softened prior to winding. Eventually, after many trials, they landed on some great-sounding string specifications.

D’Angelico made instruments for all kinds of different guitar players. Many times the guitarist would not be satisfied with the instrument he ordered when he came to pick it up. While D’Angelico could make adjustments in the set-up of the guitar to sometimes satisfy the particular want of each player, he quickly realized, with all these string samples lying around, that many times just changing the string tension would do the trick.

Prior to their collaboration, strings were sold in one gauge. They pioneered the idea of Light, Medium and Heavy string gauges. Later, as the electric guitar took hold, players would demand even lighter and lighter string gauges. Back then, most guitars were outfitted with pretty heavy gauge strings.

As the guitar string business grew and my grandfather’s retirement age was approaching, my dad began to lose interest in bowed string manufacturing and focused more and more of his attention on fretted instrument strings. In 1959, Charles retired and for a few years, my dad and his team continued to make bowed strings for various private labels and under their own names Puccini and La Rita. Around 1964, after the British invasion and the advent of the real guitar boom, D’Addario totally abandoned bowed string manufacturing and focused all their energy on fretted instrument strings.

Dad and his partners (two other gentlemen from the same town in Italy) sold their company to C. F. Martin & Company in 1969. In 1974, after a five-year employment engagement, a newly-formed company (our present entity) introduced fretted instrument strings for the first time, bearing the D’Addario family name. Joined by his two sons John D’Addario, Jr. (my brother) and me (Jim D’Addario), the D’Addario family began on the journey of establishing the D’Addario brand name utilizing many of the string innovations discovered through the collaboration of John D’Angelico.

More on collaboration to come. . . .
My next article will discuss the acquisition of Kaplan Music Strings in 1981 and the re-entry into the bowed string business through our collaboration with Dr. Norman Pickering.

Jim D’Addario

Monday, April 6, 2009

SXSW 2009 - “Thousands of Bands, Two Earholes!”

For those of you who have never been to the South by South West Music Festival in Austin, Texas. You need to know a few rules in advance:

#1- Bring earplugs
#2- Don’t plan on sleeping
#3-Wear comfortable foot wear
#4- Practice your drinking skills beforehand to build up your tolerance to various kinds of alcohol. I suggest maybe attending a couple of Frat Parties or Irish Funerals as basic training.

This was my 4th year in a row and 7th time all together attending SXSW, so I was partially prepared for the onslaught of music coming from all directions and crevices, including bathrooms, elevators, grocery stores and dirt lots. Luckily D’Addario, The Musebox, Swing House and The Roxy Theater had hijacked a venue, that became our home base for great performances all week! D’Addario Artists such as Justin Townes Earle, Del Castillo, Madi Diaz, War Tapes and Mandi Perkins all played inspired sets over the 4 days. All of this chaos took place while Hugh, Mike & Brian (The D’Addario Brass) manned a table on the patio, conveniently located between the bar and BBQ.

On Friday, the day of our official D’Addario Day Party, guitar players & drummers both amateur and pro lined up around the patio while the D’Addario crew handed out samples of our new products as well as giving advice and demonstrations about various items like our EXL electric strings, EJ & EXP acoustic strings, Dual Action Capos, Custom Pro Cables and Onyx drum heads. Drinks were served courtesy of Barefoot Wine and Dos Equis while the free hot dogs were all devoured within just a few hours. Austin’s own Collings Guitars held a raffle for a free guitar and had a few on hand to try out. Collings giveaway winner, Lori Allen (pictured below), is thrilled with her new guitar. "It's not just the strings you strap across your guitar, it's what guitar you strap across your strings...D'Addario Strings & Collings Guitars!!! A PERFECT combination at SXSW 2009!!!"

Artists from all over the world come to SXSW but one of the highlights of the week was a local band named, Del Castillo. They've got a frontman with a powerful voice and commanding presence, with enough big hooks to have a Rock Radio Smash. What makes them even more interesting is the twin guitar Flamenco stylings of brothers Rick and Mark Del Castillo. The speedy but tasteful harmony and dueling leads incited cheers from the packed house as the rhythm section kept the crowd dancing.

Other highlights of the week were new discoveries of emerging artists like solo vocalist/guitar player Lindsay Ell from Canada, Chelsea Davis (powerhouse drummer) for indie vets The Start, and vibey acoustic sets from Angie Mattson and Diane Birch. The grand finale was Saturday night. By 9:30pm, the room was well beyond capacity in anticipation of a very special performance by U.K. heroes, Echo and The Bunnymen. The Tender Box and The High Dials set the tone for the evening, opening with quality danceable indie pop as the sweltering crowd happily waited till way past midnight for the Brit pop pioneers. No one left disappointed as Echo and The B Men played a 90 plus minute set of classics like “Lips Like Sugar” and “Killing Moon” as well as a few new catchy numbers. If you wonder where Liam Gallagher of Oasis got his swagger and patter just look to Echo’s leader Ian McCulloch. I was even more impressed by the great guitar work and tone of his longtime mate Will Sergeant.

Even after catching 15 plus bands a day at our D’Addario home base I still found a few hours (note rule #2 above) to check out other shows like The New York Dolls and The Hold Steady at Rachel Rae’s shindig. I wandered into J Mascis and his blistering wah wah attack with Dinosaur Jr. while walking a couple miles (rule #3) to a abandoned super market at 2am to check out the secret show by Jane’s Addiction, featuring Planet Waves artist, Dave Navarro. I had always been impressed by drummer Stephen Perkins but now some 20 years later since I first saw Jane’s in a small San Francisco club, I was absolutely floored by what a monster he really is. Look for the reunited band to tour with Nine Inch Nails this summer.

All in all it was fun times and good music helped by our excellent sound courtesy of Dynacord, Soundcraft, Shure, Marshall, Korg,Ultimate Stands and Vox and of course cables by Planet Waves, Drum Heads by Evans and Strings by D’Addario. Now I must sleep, Coachella is 2 weeks away..
--Phil Jaurigui, D'Addario Artist Relations

*Photos courtesy of Lisa Melton

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Capacitance: What is it and how does it affect my tone?

The capacitance of something is a measurement of its ability to store a charge. Did you ever drag your feet and then touch someone in order to shock them…capacitance in action!!

A capacitor is a device that stores a charge consisting of two conductors separated by an insulator. What does such a device have to do with a guitar player? If you play electric guitar, everything!!

Let’s look at the construction of an instrument cable. A standard instrument cable in its most basic form is made up of a center conductor, some type of insulation, a shield (which is also used as a conductor) and the outer jacket. Hmm….a conductor, insulation and another conductor…Sound familiar?? Now that we realize that a guitar cable is basically a long capacitor, let’s look at how your tone gets affected.

When you start playing your guitar, a small electrical current flows between the two conductors of the cable. As the frequency increases, so does the current that flows through a capacitor. This is why high frequencies are affected more by cable capacitance then low frequencies.

Along with the source impedance, cable capacitance forms a low-pass filter between the instrument and amplifier, meaning it rolls-off or cuts high frequencies, much like your guitar’s tone control. The higher the capacitance is of the cable, the more high-end roll-off you will experience.

Capacitance in instrument cables is measured in picofarads (pF) as a full farad is too large compared to typical requirements in electronic devices. The picofarad is sometimes comically called a "puff" as well. Let’s say you have a cable that measure 45pF per foot and you use a 10ft cable to an effects pedal and then a 10 ft cable to your amplifier. Taking the pedal out of the equation you are looking at 900pF before your guitar signal hits your amplifier. Now lets take two cables that have a capacitance of only 33pF/ft. Using the same set-up you would have a total of 660pF before your guitar signal hits your Amplifier. See why it’s important to use quality, low-capacitance cables?

Some manufacturers design cables with a sound in mind…say a “rock style” or “jazz style” cable. What they are doing is pre-equalizing the cable by the capacitance level to roll-off certain frequencies. While this may work for some players, the best cables should leave your signal untouched giving you the most control over your tone when it reaches your amp. Now when some people use a cable with low capacitance, they will say that the cable is very “bright” compared to their standard cable. That “brightness” is actually the high frequencies that their previous cable was rolling off or not effectively reproducing. You may also experience greater lows and added dynamics or “liveliness”. The advantage of this is that you can now lower the treble controls on your amplifier, which in turn will cut down on the “hiss” that the amp produces. You are now getting a truer reproduction of your instrument into your amplifier.

Planet Waves cables are specifically designed and manufactured to have very low capacitance (among the lowest available), so that the output of your instrument remains intact and unchanged, giving you full tonal control over your sound.

Rob Cunningham

The first 25 people to enter their information at the following link will receive a FREE 10 foot Planet Waves Custom Pro Instrument Cable!
Built for the discerning musician and the most demanding situations, Planet Waves offers built-to-last durability, while accurately transferring the subtle details of your tone through our exclusive In=Out technology. Custom Pro Series cables feature Amphenol gold plated plugs for unparalleled signal transfer and a patented "jaws" retention system premium strain relief and durability. Ultra-pure twisted pair, oxygen-free conductors ensure pure signal clarity and precise transmission of your instrument's true character. Additionally, two layers of impenetrable noise-rejecting shielding deliver the ultimate high-performance cables. For more information on the Custom Pro Cable, please visit http://store.daddario.com/category/146492/Custom_Pro_Series.
Please click here to enter!

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Chance to See the World

As I boarded my flight from JFK to Frankfurt last night to attend my 10th Frankfurt Music Messe, I couldn't help but reflect on the international travel I've done over the past 10 years. Compared to many, 10-years of international, or Frankfurt Music Messe attendance is not so much, but for me it is a bit of a milestone.

Over the past 10 years, I've had the chance to visit the following countries (listed somewhat geographically as to not tax my memory too much):

New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Taiwan, China, South Korean, Japan, Russia, India, U.A.E., U.K., Ireland, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay.

I've been slipped a "mickey" in Bangkok, Thailand; abandoned at the airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, and most recently I was in Siberia, Russia in November! I've also seen so many beautiful cities, met fantastic artists, outstanding businessmen, and great people! While the cultures of the world are fascinatingly different, the love and joy of music is universal.

As a young drummer (aspiring to be a percussionist) growing up in the corn field of Central Illinois (Sullivan, Illinois to be specific), I had aspirations of playing professionally and teaching at the university level. And, while that didn't work out as planned after graduating from Millikin University with a music business degree, and Northwestern with a masters in percussion, I couldn't have had a more wonderful and enriching professional life! After working for the Percussive Arts Society and Yamaha Corporation of America, my opportunity to do business internationally started in 1999 when I was at SABIAN. Since then with SABIAN, SKB, and now with D'Addario I continue to travel internationally.

As the wheels touched down last this morning, I couldn't help but reflect. There are more countries I'd love to travel too. What ones have I missed that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Anecdotes from Jim D'Addario #1

Jim D’AddarioAnecdotes
My second father Mario Maccaferri

They say timing is everything in life and surely for me I have been blessed with being in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion. As a child I loved to tinker. I had a work bench in our basement with my own tools where I tinkered with building amplifiers, speaker cabinets, amateur radios and countless other do-it-yourself projects.

Attracted to music more and more, first the piano and then later the guitar in the early 60’s, I got more and more interested my family’s string business. My grandfather and Dad worked out of a tiny shop in the basement of my grand parents’ home in Jackson Heights, NY. I loved to go there in the evenings or on Saturdays with my Dad. There was always an extra machine or tools to tinker with. I recall dreaming of building automatic machinery so that my Dad wouldn’t have to work so hard hand winding strings.

Many times on a Saturday I would tag along when Dad made deliveries to his customers. My favorite place to go to with him was Mastro Industries, Inc. in the Bronx. Mastro seem like a gigantic enterprise to me and in actuality it was; a full city block in size it was the brain child of luthier, guitarist and engineer Mario Maccaferri, famous to guitarists for his Selmer Django Reinhardt guitars.

Most of the trips I tagged along on to Mastro were to deliver ukulele strings for his plastic TV Pal ukuleles. Ukulele strings are monofilament nylon with a knot on one end. With the help of TV celebrity Arthur Godfrey’s endorsement Mario made and shipped nearly seven million TV Pal ukuleles from 1949 (the year I was born) into the 1960’s. At four strings a uke, that is 28 million strings, if anyone is counting.

Our entire family knotted ukulele strings while watching TV or in between homework and chores. You really weren’t allowed to just ‘sit’ around. On those delivery trips, Mario used to stop whatever he was doing to sit down for a cup of coffee with my Dad. On most visits he would take out a classical guitar and play something he was transcribing or practicing.

Early in his career Mario was one of the most successful touring classical guitarists in Europe. He had a sweetness of tone, a romantic flare for phrasing and musicality that was truly unique. I was always mesmerized when he played for us. But even more exciting to me was walking around his monstrous factory; seeing the huge molding and packaging machines, an office full of engineers and draftsmen designing products and molds, and hundreds of workers in constant motion.

If you are interested in learning more about Mario read some of the articles on the web like these:

From those early visits a bond was formed between Mario and me that would grow and grow as each year passed. As his business career ebbed and mine started to get traction he took a personal interest in what we were doing at D’Addario. He would take trips to visit to see what new machines or products I was working on and he would offer some of his expert advice.

He was an old school guy and did not get along with his son Marco in business. He was not an easy person to contradict, but for some reason I was able to get away with more than he accepted from his son. After his visits I could expect daily phone calls with new ideas about everything I showed him upon his previous visit. His mind was amazing. It was my first experience getting to know a true genius. Sometimes I didn’t take his advice and pushed back. He would continue to come back at me each day until I either tried what he suggested or convinced him that his approach was not feasible. I loved the dialog even though the two Italians disagreeing can be a little volatile at times.

Many times my wife Janet and I would take our three children to his home in Rye Beach for Maria’s homemade lasagna. Both Mario and Maria were originally from Bologna; I don’t have to tell you how delicious those dinners were. Our children still talk about them today.

On one occasion we were sitting around his dinner table and of course after dinner, out comes the guitar. Mario serenaded us with some beautiful classical pieces and then thrust the guitar into my hands insisting that I play something. A folk-pop-guitarist, with no classical technique whatsoever Janet and performed a folk song of the period finger picking like Bob Dylan or Peter Yarrow. I thought it sounded pretty good. When we finished, there was silence. He looked at me and said, “You should be shot.”

This was Mario’s way of saying, ‘how could you waste your talent and not learn how to play properly. It was a classic Mario moment. We all laughed.’

In 1980 Janet and I started running a concert series at NYC Merkin Concert Hall called Debuts and Premieres. The premise of the series, sponsored by our newly formed foundation, was to debut upcoming classical guitarists and to premiere new works for the classical guitar. Mario loved to come to these concerts and because we didn’t want him driving at night, we used to pick him and Maria up at their home. We met some of the greatest guitarists and composers during this period.

One particular concert, he got the date wrong and thought it was a week earlier than it really was. Dressed in his suit and tie pacing back and forth for an hour, we never showed up. He was depressed for a week, but his Italian pride wouldn’t allow him to call me to ask what happened. On Friday the following week I called him to confirm that I would pick him up Saturday at 6 PM for dinner and the concert. Maria later told me about his sulking for a week and how his face lit up when he realized we hadn’t stood him up the week before. Of course he couldn’t confess that HE got the date wrong – again classic Mario.

On another occasion we were having a dinner party at our home with a handful of the great guitarists that either played or were going to play on our concert series. Ben Verdery was there, as was Elliot Fisk, Alice Artzt, Jorge Morel and of course I invited Mario. After dinner the guitars came out and we were treated to some great performances. Elliot, Jorge and Alice played first, and then the guitar was passed to Mario. At age 83 he just finished transcribing the second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique for classical guitar. Written in Ab he transposed it up a half step to A for this transcription. Needless to say, there were a few clinkers in there but his tone was incomparable. Our mouths dropped. Out of respect, Ben refused to play after the master finished.

There is a wealth of information on Mario Maccaferri out there. I could write pages and pages of anecdotes and stories about him and our relationship. He was truly a master musician, a brilliant inventor, a talented luthier, a reed maker and plastic industry pioneer. To me he was a second father.

Jim D’Addario

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Humidifying Your Acoustic Guitar

Guitar Humidifying Tips A few minutes of care keeping your guitar properly humidified will help hold its set up and prevent costly repairs. Most repairs to guitars, particularly acoustic guitars, are due to the instrument being dried out. Ideally if you keep your guitar and your case humidified anywhere from 40-55 relative humidity (rh) you will avoid serious issues. If you have a standard vinyl covered wood case keeping the case and the guitar humidified will make maintaining a proper ‘rh’ for the instrument even easier. There are many humidification devices on the market, all of which will get the job done. Using a humidifier like our Planet Waves Item #GH that utilizes a sponge to store and release the moisture is the most common type and very effective. In the winter months where I live, the heat is on and the ‘rh’ in my home and office can be under 20%. This is absolutely disastrous for any wooden instrument. Bob Taylor taught me this trick, that will get your guitar up to the proper humidity level without the risk of over humidifying. It will also make it easier for you to maintain that level through the difficult seasons.

1. Remove the sponge from the Planet Waves GH humidifier and soak it in water (preferably distilled water). Shake off excess so there is no dripping.

2. Insert it in the GH and place the GH in between the 3rd and 4th strings on your guitar.

3. Every 24 hours (this is critical) check the sponge. If it is solid and dry start over with step #1. If is still supple and moist your guitar is in the ‘safe’ zone. Continuing to add water can actually do damage at this point. Over humidifying can be just as bad or worse than under humidifying so be careful to stop adding water if the sponge is not completely dry.

4. At this point check the guitar weekly. If you are keeping the guitar in its case and the sponge is dry and hard again, it is probably time for another 24 hour treatment. If the guitar was stabilized in the case it may not be necessary to wet the sponge immediately. You do have a week or so leeway. When you do wet it, check it after 24 hours. If dry again, wet it again, etc., until the proper ‘rh’ level is achieved and the sponge is not dry after 24 hours.
Just taking these simple steps will keep your guitar healthy and playing great. I have seen cracks close, necks straighten out and other serious issues simply go away after getting the humidity level back up to where it should be. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.

Jim D’Addario

Humidity Control For Your Guitar Article

See other articles on instrument care and great lessons at The Stage, D'Addario's Musician Hub: