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This article was originally published in issue #52
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Since 1958, Rotosound has been a market leader in string making all across the globe.
Often noted for their bass guitar strings, Rotosound produces many varieties of guitar strings that provide a huge range of tonal options for both electric and acoustic players alike. With the brand approaching its 60th year in business, Guitar Interactive takes a trip to their Sevenoaks factory to get a closer look at how Rotosound make their products with the help of CEO Jason How.
Incredibly, the Zither has a lot to do with Rotosound's inception. In the mid-1950s company founder James How, an engineer by profession was learning to play the rare instrument. Out of sheer frustration at not being able to get new strings easily he built a string winding machine of his own, utilising nylon sewing yarn and electrical fuse wire, to create various gauges of strings. Word got out, and within a few short years the orders were flying in, and Rotosound (originally named Orchestral and Jazz Strings Company) was born.
During the 1960s, How broadened the brand's range of products with the inclusion of electric bass and guitar strings. This quickly attracted some of the biggest names in popular music including; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who and later Jimi Hendrix. Not only was this a fantastic endorsement of Rotosound's quality but it provided How the opportunity of working in collaboration with these top artists to ensure they received products that specially met their requirements. This decade would also see the brand open its showroom in London's Denmark Street and develop their (highly sought after to this day) hand-built fuzz pedal.
Although music tastes would change during the mid-1970's, the decade in which punk took over the UK music scene, Rotosound found favour with several of the genres leading acts, with The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks and The Jam among their endorsers. At that same time, Rotosound was also finding a new audience across in the US which meant the company's production facility was now running all hours of the day to meet the growing demand.
Over the next two decades, Rotosound would continue to develop and experiment with new and innovative options for musicians including pressurewound and black anodised bass strings as well as, new lines of guitar strings including the Roto range (made from nickel) which has since become the brand's most successful of their guitar strings.
James How sadly passed away is 1994, with his two sons, Jason and Martyn, taking over the company, along with Kathy How (production) and John Doughty (managing director).
Jason began designing, refurbishing and building a new set of manufacturing machines towards the end of the 1990s to allow the brand to continue to keep their labour within the UK. Amazingly these still produce around 90 percent of the Rotosound's strings today and have resulted in an increase in production and exports worldwide.
Today, Rotosound continues to push the boundaries with regards to constant innovation and improvement of their products and with that in mind, a host of new string lines have recently been introduced. Among these are the black and clear-coated Nexus range, the more traditional British Steels and the Pure Nickels. With these and other new additions, a growing roster of high-profile players are continuing to flock to the brand, including Guthrie Govan.
So, from its beginnings as a small, family-run business to its worldwide reach and reputation as one of the most well-respected brands on the string market, Rotosound's approach to string manufacturing has always been based on the same traditional approach to craftsmanship. James and Jason How's understanding of not only the market, but also how to hand-build virtually every machine that produces their range of products set's them apart from the rest and with the firm remaining true to its production sensibilities, the high regard with which the brand is held by music professionals the world over looks set to continue for generations to come.