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Re: I NEED A STRING EXPERT
2/21/2001 3:47 PM
Jeremy Ledford (14378) wrote:
1. Ben, whats the history of GHS who founded the company, when, how many employees do you have and do you operate multiple facilities or is everything based in Battle Creek?
GHS began manufacturing guitar strings in 1964. The name of the company is the initials of the original founders. Gould, Holcomb and Solko. The company was purchased in 1975 by labor attorney/entrepreneur Robert McFee. Robert McFee is the Chairman of the Board of the still family owned company. Russell McFee serves as President, Shirley McFee as Director of International Sales and Constance McFee as Director of Marketing. The company, based in Battle Creek, Michigan employs over 100 very talented people. All of the manufacturing of strings is done in Battle Creek. There are several sales office around the United States.
2. String formulas must contribute some significant differences in tone, but most players would confess to being out of touch with string technology. Can you describe each specific formulation currently manufactured by GHS and the industry in general in terms that players can relate to in regard to tone and string life?
When referring to string "formulas" there are many factors to consider. The basic factors are raw material type and quality, wrap to core ratios, tensile strength, and even the freshness of the finished product.
Most string companies have their unique formulae when it pertains to the size ratio of the wrap and core wires. This ratio will give subtle differences in the way a string feels, how long it sustains and its durability. Typically, a heavier core wire will provide for longer sustain, higher volume and better durability. However, if a core wire is too heavy you sacrifice playability - it is harder on the fingers. When you add the dimension of the core wire to the dimension of the outer wrap you come up with the string "gauge". As an example, a .48 string may have a .18 core wire with a .15 wrap wire or a .14 core wire and a .17 wrap wire. Usually there are variances to these numbers due to tension in the winding process and "draws" the wrap wire down on the core. For players general knowledge - if it feels good, sounds good and is durable - it is the string for you.
The tension needed to bring a string to pitch is one of the most important factors to consider. This will relate to how easy or hard a string is to play. If the tension is too low, longevity suffers, if it is too high - playability suffers. The balance is very important. Personal preference is the key factor, but if certain guidelines are not followed - quality declines.
What are the unique design and/or manufacturing techniques used by GHS that distinguish your strings from others, and how do these unique manufacturing techniques favorably affect tone, string life, feel and the way the string flexes and returns to pitch consistently when pulled and stretched? Are there any specific features that are exclusively unique to GHS?
GHS builds all of the machinery necessary to manufacture strings in house. It is important to know how a machine is going to react to the different materials used in the winding process. It is also important to be able to regulate the winding speeds and tensions. A machine run at speeds that are too high or too low will harm quality. The machines built at GHS are computer controlled for accuracy. There still is a great deal of human control when winding a string - the operator can determine very quickly if there is a problem with the process. Computer controlled machines have highly increased the quality of string products - however, the human touch is still necessary to maintain quality. Our strings certainly are not hand-made in the truest sense, but the machinery is of the finest in the world and were created to surpass the old methods of hand-winding.
Another important factor is the quality of the material being used. If poor materials are used - you will get a poor product - Garbage in - garbage out. We inspect raw materials when they arrive and reject any metal that does not meet our high standards. After that - every string is inspected after each step in the manufacturing process. The final inspection is done through heavy magnification. The tensile strength is an important factor when speaking about raw material. Each spool of wire is tested for the appropriate tensile strength. The material is not allowed to be too soft or too hard. If the wire is not strong enough - it is rejected. If the material is corroded in any way it is rejected. If the wire is not true in gauge size - it is rejected. Rejection of all but the best material helps maintain a top quality product.
All of the factors that are important to guitar players around the world are affected by these manufacturing decisions. Once GHS has developed a formula that works - it is tested by both professional and amateur players. With favorable results - a new product is born. The products that players all know and love are never changed unless it is widely recommended by consumers. Our Boomers for example are still manufactured to the same specifications they have been since their inception. Consistency is one factor that musicians rely upon. When players buy a set of strings they want it to meet or exceed their expectations. They also expect that the next time they put on a set it will be the same as the last. Attention to detail at the manufacturing level assures consistency.
3. Aside from the obvious differences, are there any advantages to using heavier gauge strings in regard to tone? We admit to being somewhat biased toward big wire for bigger sound.
I would hesitate to say that heavier gauge strings have an advantage for tone. It really is a matter of personal preference and musical style. Obviously, you have more mass available to the pick-up with a heavier gauge string, therefore a bigger fuller sound. However, there are pros and cons to lighter gauge strings as well. A lighter set is a bit easier on the fingers and gives you greater ability to bend. Heavier gauge strings are certainly the trend today with so many artists tuning down. We tend to use heavier gauge core wires for many of our sets. This typically will provide greater sustain and will help the string last longer.
4. How do you maintain and monitor quality control and consistency? Are bad batches a fact of life in string manufacturing? How can a player tell if he or she has a bad set?
We have quality control measures in place at every step of the manufacturing process. The core wires and plain strings are inspected for spotty wire and for tensile strength. The wrap wires are all inspected on the spool for tarnish and inconsistencies. If we discover bad wire - we generally reject the entire spool. At GHS we consider ourselves to be "Quality Paranoid". All finished product is inspected by hand before being coiled. All of the machine operators are trained to watch for wire inconsistencies. With an experienced staff - many quality issues are dealt with long before the packaging process. I would not say that "bad batches" are typically a problem. Generally, if there is a bad set, it is due to a defect in the raw material that could not be detected. As much as we hate for this to happen - it does from time to time. There are a few ways to know if you have a bad string. Many times the string will break in an unusual spot or one of the strings in the set won't resonate like the others. When we are presented with the defective product we typically will make a replacement. Occasionally, there is a problem with the guitar itself that causes the player to first think that there may be a defect in the strings. At times there will be a sharp metal burr on the bridge or saddle that cause the string to break prematurely. But, as you put it - bad strings are a fact of life when dealing with the types of raw material we are. Our desire is to have a 100% defect free final product. We are continually developing new testing methods to insure this. Our best resource is the feedback we get from players. We truly value input, both positive and constructive.
5. Not every dealer carries individual strings to enable players to customize their individual string gauges. Are there any alternatives available for players who wish to customize their strings through GHS?
One of the best resources we offer is our Custom Shop. This allows any player to develop his own "Custom Set" if there isnt one available. All of the strings in our sets - plus hundreds of others - are available to be put in Custom Sets. We will package the individual strings as a set for any player that would like this. Any GHS dealer can order Custom Sets with their regular orders. We do thousands of these for players around the world. Even if the dealer doesn't carry the individual strings the player wants, we can generally have them sent to the store within a matter of a few days.
6. Can you tell us a little more about GHS Fast Fret? What is its composition and who developed the concept.
Fast Fret is essentially a form of a high quality furniture solvent derived from a mineral spirit compound. It is placed on an applicator that makes it ideal to use on the neck of a guitar. It's primary purpose is to clean and slightly lubricate the stings and neck.
7. How has string manufacturing technology and nickel, steel and bronze formulas evolved over the years? Would strings made in the 50s and 60s sound substantially different than those made today?
Many, many changes have taken place in the string industry over the years. Certainly the basic formulas have remained the same, however, with technology quality has improved. Early strings - the vintage sounds of the 50's and 60's were generally pure nickel with a relatively small steel core wire. There have been advances in the development of hexagon shaped core wire, computer aided string winders, and more magnetically active wrap wires. Some changes have not been string improvements. The EPA a few years ago generated legislation that eliminated some of the chemicals used in the bleaching process of bronze products. This has made it more difficult to obtain the best-looking wrap wires, but no real noticeable changes in musical quality. We feel that the benefit to the environment is worth the trade off for the best looking bronze.
8. OK, a basic question how are strings actually made? Are there shortcuts that can be taken to reduce cost (and consequently tone and durability)?
The basic process for making strings is relatively simple with the proper equipment and experienced operators. Any string manufacturer that is producing a high volume of product that also desires to maintain high quality has moved to computer aided winding machines that regulate the winding speed, winding direction, wire alteration and a host of other variables. A hand-wound string environment may not always produce the highest quality. Computer controlled manufacturing processes can regulate the variables to the finest degree possible.
As far as the basic process - a ball-end is first attached to the core wire. The Automatic Ball End (ABE) machines drop the ball into place and wrap the core wire around it and in our case - lock it in place with our "Lock-Twist" technology. The core wires are then transported to the string winders who use a lathe type machine that places the specific wrap wire over the core. These machines are pneumatically controlled. It is extremely important to have the proper tension drawn down on the wrap wire and across the core wire to produce a quality product. The wrap wire comes off spools and is wound at a regulated speed (not too high - not too slow). The final product is - in our case - inspected and hand-coiled and placed in corrosion resistant envelopes.
The main shortcuts that a manufacturer could take would be in the use of lower quality raw materials and in quality measures. A great deal of labor time is spent inspecting raw wire and finished goods. It is up to the manufacturer to take the time necessary to assure that the product that leaves the factory is of the highest quality. We also tend to reject a fair amount of raw material. This is a costly process that could be skipped.
9. Aside from simply listening, is there any way players can evaluate string quality visually when opening a new set or removing an old set? Telltale signs of a cheap or poorly made product, if you will.
The wire should be shiny and smooth from end to end. Consistency is important. Eric Johnson once noticed an intonation problem with the .018 gauge strings he was receiving from us. It was discovered that the wire size was slightly inconsistent from end to end. This was an extremely minor inconsistency in the wire, which an ear like Eric's was able to pick up. Poorly made product would have an inconsistent look to the wrapping or tarnish or spots. A spotty wire may not necessarily have an effect on the tone, however a badly tarnished string is a sign that is has been subjected to poor storage conditions. At GHS we ship our product in the United States directly to the dealers. We also do not require a minimum order, which allows our dealers to keep fresh product on hand.
10. This is highly subjective, but is there such a thing as a maximum tone rating for the number of hours a set of strings can be played before they begin to audibly lose their original brilliance and resonant qualities?
There really isn't a good measurement for this. There are so many variables involved that it makes it impossible to tell. Most players know for themselves how long a good set of strings will last them. Every person has different playing styles, body chemistry, instruments, and playing environments. I think everyone would agree though that there is nothing like the sound and feel of a fresh set of strings!
11. How does GHS test strings for quality?
Dave - Pretty well covered this questions - let me know if you need more.
12. Are there any new products on the horizon that you can tell us about?
We are about to release a new acoustic string called "Golden Bronzetm" This product uses a bronze plated core wire and bronze plated plain wires. The tone quality of this string is very bright with a great deal of sustain. It is great for guitars that are traditionally very deep sounding that the player wants to brighten up. It is also a very gentle string to the fingers. The bronze plating gives the strings a golden look - hence the name "Golden Bronzetm". This product will be available at dealers sometime in February, 2000.
We are always in the process of looking for product improvements and innovations. It may seem that everything that has been done to guitar strings has been done - but we'll keep looking!
Final note: Please don't ever hesitate to contact us at GHS for further information regarding string manufacturing. Our website is designed to be a tool for players and it has a section that allows anyone to contact our technical staff with questions. The only bad question is the one that isnt asked - so please allow us to be of service.
from a source i won't name but this might help