Jim D’Addario has been interested in strings ever since he received his first guitar, at age 13. “At that time, our family business was Darco Music Strings. My father, John, would bring home samples,” he recalls. “I loved testing and experimenting alongside him, and I was always pushing him to try new ideas.”
Trained to be a professional musician, D’Addario is also a gifted engineer, designer, and entrepreneur. He created custom machines to improve string manufacture at Darco, and eventually founded J. D’Addario & Company, Inc. with his brother and his father in 1973.
Today, the family name is synonymous with guitar and bowed strings, and it is the parent of musical accessory brands Evans (drumheads), Planet Waves (guitar accessories), and Rico (mouthpieces and reeds).
D’Addario points to his formal music education as a reason for his success. “Almost everyone in our product development and marketing department is a musician. Without that kind of background, it wouldn’t be possible to know what our customers are looking for. The musicians on staff help with input, testing, and general brainstorming,” explains D’Addario. When developing new products, he can also turn to a research and development department; consultants such as industry pioneers Ned Steinberger, Bob Gatzen, and Norman Pickering; and a Musicians’ Advisory Board, comprised of performing artists.
“Customer suggestions play into this process as well,” says D’Addario. “ When we see new trends, we try to address them with new product designs or revisions to current products.”
Beginning guitarists, notes D’Addario, should educate themselves about the different strings and alloys available and the ways the differences affect sound, tone, feel, and intonation. “String manufacturers use a variety of different materials, but the most popular materials can be found across all brands. Experimenting with different brands and gauges can bring out a completely different character in your instrument.”
Still as addicted to playing guitar as he was at 13, D’Addario plays just about every day. “I have guitars all over the house and a beautiful 1896 Steinway piano. My wife and I still enjoy playing and singing together, and occasionally we’ll play at a party.” That might include the Christmas party at the D’Addario headquarters in Farmingdale, New York. “Our company party is a lot of fun, with staff participating in the ‘house band’ for the night!”