Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Question of Balance and Tension

D'Addario is debuting our new Balanced Tension strings at the Winter NAMM show. I thought it would be useful to get some background on how we came up with these sets.

Somewhere back in the 1950's, guitar players realized that if you bought a set of strings, threw away the low E, used the A as an E, the A as a D, and so...and added a banjo string for your high could get a light gauge set that allowed you to bend the unwound G string easily. String makers eventually put together sets that reflected the demand from the musicians and today's commonly-gauged sets have been around for several decades.

Most of these gauges were selected by feel or trial and error, and most of us learned to play on these pre-packaged sets. Over the years, some custom variations appeared by combing light tops and heavy bottoms, half-gauges and other hybrid approaches.

As the #1 manufacturer of guitar strings in the world, D'Addario is often approached by builders and luthiers asking what we recommend for strings on their new instruments. A decade ago we came up with a Tension Guide that helps determine which strings to used based on scale length, the mass of the string materials, and pitch (tuning).

If you graph the tensions on a set of EXL110 strings, you can see that some strings are higher and some lower. We tried to flatten out that roller-coaster of a graph by reducing or adding string gauges until the total set had a very similar feel across all of the strings.

When you first try a set of BT strings, it may take a little getting used to, as we have all adjusted our technique to compensate for the unbalanced tension sets we learned to play on. After a few minutes playing them, many players have noted that the whole set feels like it is a gauge lighter than it actually is. The expected tension differences are no longer as evident from string to string and the general feel is a bit softer, even when some of the gauges may have increased in diameter.

I notice a difference in the amount of effort needed to bend the B string versus the G string. We all have muscle memory that we use to keep us in tune while bending and the BT sets definitely seem to affect that in a positive manner.

I suspect to see some improvement in tremolo systems returning back to pitch as an added benefit, especially Bigsby or vintage Fender styles. The balanced tension across all six strings should help distribute the pull on these spring-loaded devices more evenly.

The Guitar Center guys stopped by the booth to check out the Balanced Tension strings, and here is a video we did for them. Check out the new packaging as well:

NAMM Show Update

Well, the show is now in full swing. After Thursday night's Artist Appreciation Party at the Hilton, we all went back to work telling the world about our new Balanced Tension sets and American Stage cables.

Here's some great pics of the concert:

Thursday, January 24, 2013


The yearly migration of cold Easterners and Northerners to Anaheim, California for the Winter NAMM show is in full flight.

The D'Addario team spent the day getting the booth ready for Thursday's opening.

The Anaheim Convention Center

Keith Carlock image above the Evans displays

American Stage cable now in Straight-to-Right Angle and Right Angle to Right Angle

Balanced Tension EXL110 packaging!

Monday, January 7, 2013

D’Addario string sets now coiled in pairs. Why?

Over the last five years we have implemented Toyota’s Lean manufacturing systems at D’Addario. Lean is a culture of continuous improvement that was perfected by the Toyota company and is utilized by hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world. It has helped us improve our quality, improve our customer service and control our manufacturing costs.

In fact the Lean transformation has been so effective in teaching us world class manufacturing principles that we have been able to apply the disciplines we have learned to every area of our business; from the harvesting of cane in France and Argentina for our Rico Reeds, to developing new products, to the assembly of Planet Waves Pro-Winders in New York.  An example of the success of “Lean” at D’Addario is the fact that we have been able to re-shore 50% of our Planet Waves products that were previously being imported from Asia.

In our string production area we have made countless manufacturing improvements. You may not be aware, but D’Addario produces nearly 800,000 strings a day at our Farmingdale New York headquarters. We are proud that even though our volume exceeds our nearest competitor by a factor of two or three times, our quality control and manufacturing consistency has continued to improve and is the benchmark for the industry. We are also proud that all our strings, drumheads, reeds, drumsticks and many of our accessories are Made in the USA. In fact 95% of the products we design and produce are American made.

Recently I visited the Woodstock Luthiers Festival where 98% of the guitars on display were strung with D’Addario strings. When talking to each luthier they all told a common story. When they set out to build their guitars they use D’Addario strings exclusively, because of the quality of their sound and their consistency set after set. D’Addario strings are the reliable reference they use as they build and ultimately set up their instruments.

Part of the DNA of the D’Addario family and company is that “We are the most difficult people to please, not our customers ”. We also have a deep respect for our planet and try our best to minimize our impact on our environment.

In the late 1980’s we began to develop and pioneer the environmental packaging we use today. It was a major breakthrough as it eliminated the individual envelopes that were required to identify each of the six strings in a set. It created other issues in production that led to the creation of a conveyor system where operators coiling strings for each note in the set would drop their string on the conveyor as it kept indexing. The conveyor would then deliver complete six string sets to the end of the line where they were bagged in a corrosion barrier bag and then inserted in a recycled paper outer envelope. Two pieces of packaging replaced eight; a 75% reduction in packaging material being discarded.

This system eliminated the need to cut down tens of thousands of tress and also improved productivity. It also resulted in a significant price decrease in the early 1990’s and has helped us to hold future price increases on our string sets to a minimum.

It is our culture to respond to every single comment, question or suggestion we receive from our end users, in a timely and respectful manner. We also carefully monitor any quality concerns regarding our products and take them very, very seriously. After all it is our culture to maintain the reputation as the highest quality producer of music strings and accessories.

While we only receive a handful of complaints each week historically the most common complaint has been the occasional incomplete set. A user may open a package and find he is missing a string. On our packaging conveyors it was difficult for the person packaging the sets at the end of the line to identify if all six strings were present.

We tested sophisticated check weighing systems to flag incomplete or incorrect sets, but none could detect the many combinations of errors that could occur during the process. About two years ago, someone had the revelation that if we coiled the strings in pairs it would be much easier for the operators at the end of the lines to detect if they had a complete set. Visually it is easier to see three neatly coiled pairs of strings than six randomly mixed individually coiled strings.

We set up one line to package sets this way for over a year. Tens of thousands of sets were put into the market place and we found that this new system virtually eliminated the issue of incomplete sets.

While have seen a handful of complaints from customers in regards to the new coiling system, we trust that the reassurance that all 6 strings will be in the package when you need them will outweigh the negatives.

I would also like to point out that D’Addario offers a complete range of single strings that are neatly packaged in individual envelopes; electric singles here & acoustic singles here.

I hope the information above helps you understand the reasons why your favorite string sets are now coiled in pairs and not individually. If you have any questions on this topic or any other please direct them to or comment on this blog and we will for sure get back to you.

Thanks for listening.

Yours Truly,

Jim D’Addario

 New winding
Old winding