Every few years The Music Zoo likes to pay a visit to our friends at D’Addario, the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instrument strings and also purveyors of more musical instrument and guitar accessories than you can likely think of. Drumsticks? ProMark! Drum heads? Evans! Saxophone and clarinet reeds? Rico! Yes, D’Addario offers plenty of products for all kinds of musicians, but we wanted to see some guitar strings. Hence, we drove to the company’s headquarters and string-making operation based in Farmingdale, Long Island—a straight shot from the Zoo on the Long Island Expressway here in New York.
There’s always something new happening at D’Addario, but this visit revealed some massive changes at a company which has always tried to do its production in-house. This includes printing the cardboard used for packaging strings and also building the machines that make the strings. That’s right; D’Addario has a machine shop and a staff of engineers that design almost all of its manufacturing equipment, from string winders to the machine that stamps graphics on guitar picks and solders the jacks onto cable for its Planet Waves brand (soon to be phased into the D’Addario brand).
One big new thing for D’Addario is the creation of a wire mill right across the street from the string plant. Previously, the company used a mill in Massachusetts for the process of taking raw, high-carbon steel and “drawing” it into a raw string, whereupon it was coated with tin to prevent corrosion. That process is now performed by D’Addario in-house. The company will also be creating its nylon guitar and instrument strings from raw, unstretched nylon—something not previously done.
As we toured D’Addario, the company impressed upon us its efficiency as a manufacturer and how it keeps its available supply lean; it never manufactures more needed beyond a three-month window. This methodology is known as Toyota Lean, or the Toyota Production System. It’s a management approach that eliminates waste by manufacturing only what is needed and getting the right things to the right place at the right time. The benefit of Toyota Lean is lower overhead a lower retail price to consumers, and it’s allowed D’Addario to grow tremendously while remaining local and doing everything here in the US. Significantly, the company employs locally and its considered a huge contributor to the Long Island economy. The benefit of Toyota Lean manufacturing was evident evident during our tour of the string manufacturing facility. It occupies what seemed like a football field-size floor of D’Addario’s main building, using many people in different “work cells.”
The “other” big new thing at D’Addario is its NYXL line of guitar strings. The company describes it as “The strongest electric guitar string ever made,” and one supremely resistant to breakage and corrosion. They’re what D’Addario considers to be its next generation of guitar string manufacturing using various proprietary processes that are largely enabled by the company having its own wire mill across the street.