J. D'Addario & Company, Inc. History
Farmingdale, New York 11735
Telephone: (631) 439-3300
Fax: (631) 439-3333
Sales: $62.40 million (2001)
NAIC: 339992 Musical Instrument Manufacturing
We receive letters each week regarding the correct pronunciation of the D'Addario name. Some years back, we even ran an ad that illustrated an easy way to pronounce the D'Addario name. The name is pronounced phonetically as follows: Da-Dairy-O. A simple way to pronounce the most difficult name in musical accessories!
- The D'Addario family begins making strings for musical instruments.
- Charles and Rocco D'Addario move to New York City.
- John D'Addario forms Archaic Strings, a manufacturer of strings for electric guitars.
- C. D'Addario & Co. and Archaic Strings are merged, forming Darco Music Strings.
- Darco Music Strings is sold to C.F. Martin & Co.
- John D'Addario and his two sons, John, Jr., and Jim, start J. D'Addario & Co.
- Kaplan Musical String Company is acquired.
- The Vandoren-Paris line of reeds and mouthpieces is acquired.
- Evans Drumhead Company is acquired.
- Planet Waves, a line of guitar straps, is acquired.
J. D'Addario & Company, Inc. is the largest maker of strings for musical instruments in the world. J. D'Addario also designs and manufacturers a collection of music-related accessories, including guitar straps and accessories, marketed under the Planet Waves brand name, and drum heads through its ownership of Evans Drumhead Company. A vertically integrated enterprise, the company designs and builds its own automated manufacturing equipment, operates its own printing press, and maintains a large research and development department. J. D'Addario's products are marketed in the United States through 20 wholesale distributors and roughly 5,400 retail music stores. The company exports its products through 120 distributors in more than 100 countries. The company is owned and managed by the D'Addario family.
The legacy behind the world's largest string maker goes back to 1680, when the D'Addario family first began making musical instrument string. The D'Addarios lived in a small village named Salle, in the province of Pescara, which was a hotbed of string manufacture. Dating back to the era of Stradivarius and Amati, Salle served as the home for scores of string producers, who chose the area because the local sheep herds provided a bountiful supply of gut. The D'Addario family thrived in Salle for centuries, hand-winding string for lutes, harps, guitars, and other musical instruments.
In 1905, a massive earthquake delivered a devastating blow to the community of string makers in Salle. Two D'Addario family members, Charles and Rocco, left the ruins of Salle and boarded a ship that took them to New York City, where they intended to use the D'Addario trade of string-making to survive. The brothers established modest production operations in a garage behind their home in Astoria, New York City, and traveled by subway to lower Manhattan, where slaughterhouses provided their new supply of sheep gut.
Within a decade, C. D'Addario & Co. was firmly established as a commercial enterprise. The company enjoyed a steady supply of business, selling handmade strings to violin makers and distributors. Reportedly, the only obstacle keeping the company's growth in check was Charles D'Addario's desire to keep the business small. According to accounts, Charles D'Addario was fiercely devoted to his family and unwilling to sacrifice time with his wife and children for the sake of C. D'Addario & Co.'s growth. It was a personality trait that his son, John D'Addario, born in 1916, did not inherit.
A New Generation in the 1930s
John D'Addario proved to a pivotal force in the development of the D'Addario family business. In the 1930s, he played double bass for a dance band popular in New York City, serving as its front man. It was during this period, before John D'Addario reached his mid-twenties, that he convinced his father to begin manufacturing guitar strings. Charles D'Addario collaborated with a well-known guitar maker, John D'Angelico, to develop the first rational system of gauging guitar strings. Having felt success with his first attempt at innovation, Charles D'Addario began experimenting with other novel ideas. After World War II, he began working with synthetic materials, hoping to replace the traditional gut core used in strings for classical guitar strings, concert harps, and ukuleles. D'Addario's exploration of synthetic materials led to two positive results: it proved to be lucrative, and it made the C. D'Addario & Co. name part of U.S. pop culture in the 1950s.
In the course of his investigation into the potential of plastics, Charles D'Addario was introduced to Mario Maccafieri and his company, Mastro Plastics. Maccafieri had developed a plastic ukulele that millions of Americans saw on Arthur Godfrey's television program. The exposure Maccafieri's ukulele received on Godfrey's show triggered widespread interest in the plastic instrument. During a ten-year period, Maccafieri sold nearly seven million plastic ukuleles. D'Addario, who had collaborated with Maccafieri before the ukulele craze was ignited, sold nearly 28 million ukulele strings to Mastro Plastics, giving his company an unexpected surge in business.
Although Charles D'Addario experienced the financial rewards of delving into areas apart from his company's involvement in strings for classical instruments, he did display a more conservative side to his personality. John D'Addario, who had convinced his father to begin making guitar strings in the 1930s, was unable to persuade his father to make steel guitar strings during the 1950s. Not to be deterred, John D'Addario struck out on his own after he learned his father was unwilling to make an investment in steel guitar strings. In 1954, he formed a separate company, Archaic Strings, and almost immediately was rewarded for his resolve. Less than a year after Archaic Strings' formation, the U.S. was introduced to Elvis Presley, touching off a another nationwide craze that benefited the D'Addario name. Electric guitar sales across the country mushroomed, giving Archaic Strings a massive boost to its business.
As demonstrated in his determination to exploit the budding interest in rock-and-roll, John D'Addario was driven by ambition. Not long after the explosive growth of guitar sales in the country confirmed the value of forming Archaic Strings, John D'Addario was given the chance to impart his more ambitious nature onto his father's company. In 1962, Charles D'Addario retired and ceded control of the company to his son. John D'Addario promptly merged C. D'Addario & Co. with his eight-year-old Archaic Strings to form Darco Music Strings, Inc.
In the wake of D'Addario's move to consolidate the family's string-making operations, the Beatles landed on U.S. shores and ignited the greatest surge of growth in the history of the music industry. The fortunes to be made in the industry attracted massive conglomerates, ushering in an era of mergers and acquisitions that made for several incongruous corporate marriages. Broadcaster CBS acquired Fender Musical Instruments, energy behemoth Gulf & Western purchased Unicord Music, and retailer Sears acquired the U.S. rights to Vox amplifiers. There were numerous other corporate combinations made during the mid- to late 1960s, including John D'Addario's Darco Music Strings. In 1969, he sold the family business to the accomplished guitar-making company, C.F. Martin & Co., Inc., ending nearly three centuries of his family's independence in the string-making business.
A New Beginning in the 1970s
John D'Addario continued his involvement with Darco Music Strings after its merger with C.F. Martin, but the union between the two companies was troubled from the start. The merger had been consummated before C.F. Martin's proposed initial public offering (IPO), but the guitar maker quickly fell victim to anemic market conditions. Industry-wide, sales plunged during the first half of the 1970s, which scotched C.F. Martin's plans to convert to public ownership. Ultimately, the relationship between John D'Addario and C.F. Martin management soured, prompting D'Addario to resign as Darco Music String's leader in 1974.
D'Addario decided to start anew after the failed pairing with C.F. Martin. He enlisted the help of his two sons, John, Jr., and Jim, and formed J. D'Addario & Company, Inc., a start-up company with nine generations of experience behind it. The new version of the D'Addario family business began with fewer than 20 employees housed in a 10,000-square-foot facility located in Lindenhurst, New York. The company quickly shed any resemblance to a fledgling enterprise by registering remarkable growth. By 1979, bigger quarters were needed to accommodate the company, leading to the relocation of headquarters to a 25,000-square-foot facility in Farmingdale, New York. In 1981, the company revisited the days of Charles and Rocco in Astoria by acquiring Kaplan Musical String Company, a venerable manufacturer of gut violin strings. In 1986, J. D'Addario delved into its first non-string related business, acquiring the Vandoren-Paris line of reeds and mouthpieces for woodwind instruments.
Against the backdrop of acquisitions, growth, and diversification, leadership of the company gradually was passed from father to sons. John D'Addario retired from active management of his company in 1983, yet remained chairman well into the 1990s. John, Jr., and Jim, however, began playing influential roles at J. D'Addario before their father's retirement.
Innovation in the 1980s
During the 1980s, J. D'Addario dramatically advanced string manufacturing technology by drawing upon much the same formula that fueled Charles D'Addario's innovative work during the first half of the 20th century. The company's engineers precisely identified which attributes would create a superior product and then designed automated machinery to produce the product. The approach gradually led the company toward vertically integrating its operations to handling every step of the production process. Toward this end, the company excelled thanks largely to the spirit of innovation and self-reliance instilled by the younger D'Addario generation, John, Jr., and Jim.
The commitment to continually improve upon existing manufacturing processes resided in Jim D'Addario perhaps more than in John D'Addario, Jr. "My nature is inquisitive," Jim D'Addario remarked in a August 31, 2001 interview with LI Business News. "I visit factories, see what they're doing and think I can do it better." Shortly after J. D'Addario was formed, Jim D'Addario hired engineers to modify manufacturing equipment to deliver the product specifications he desired. The retrofit cost $18,000 per machine, prompting him to take matters into his own hands and begin to vertically integrate the company's manufacturing operations. He hired engineers to design and build D'Addario's own proprietary machinery, which reduced the capital outlay to a remarkable $4,000 per machine.
The financial and quality-control rewards gained by taking command over all aspects of production led to the establishment of a full machine shop capable of designing manufacturing machinery and products. By using its research and development department and its machine shop, J. D'Addario dramatically advanced string-manufacturing technology during the 1980s. Imprecise hand-wound methods were replaced with automated, microprocessor-controlled winding machines that improved both efficiency and quality. Evidence of the benefits of the J. D'Addario approach was clearly shown in the company's growth during the 1980s: manufacturing output nearly doubled during the decade, but thanks to the efficiency of the J. D'Addario-designed machinery, the number of factory employees increased only modestly.
By the beginning of the 1990s, J. D'Addario ranked as the largest string maker in the world, commanding, according to company estimates, approximately 30 percent of the market. Annual sales exceeded $20 million and promised to rise higher after expansion projects slated for completion during the early years of the decade were completed. One such project, announced in early 1991, called for the construction of an 18,000-square-foot building to house its printing operation (J. D'Addario printed its own guitar string packages, catalogues, and stationery), research and development staff, and warehouse. The $2 million project augmented the company's nearby 42,000-square-foot engineering and manufacturing facility in Farmingdale. John D'Addario, Jr., in an April 1992 interview with Music Trades, remarked, "Our core guitar string business has been expanding steadily, and our Vandoren reed and mouthpiece business has more than doubled over the past few years. With this increased business, we simply ran out of space."
In the early 1980s, the company created a direct sales organization to help market its lines of guitar strings to retailers. By adding the Vandoren line of products to the merchandise that company representatives were able to present to retailers, the odds of reaching a sales agreement with a retailer improved. Consequently, after the successful incorporation of the Vandoren product line, the D'Addario brothers were on the prowl for additional product lines to add to the company's portfolio. In 1995, through the intervention of a European distributor, the brothers found their next acquisition target.
At the Frankfurt Fair in 1995, the D'Addario brothers were introduced to Bob Beals, owner of the Evans Drumhead Company. Founded by drummer Chick Evans in 1956, Evans Drumhead was the first company to sell a synthetic drumhead on the market. Beals, an early investor in Chick Evans' innovation, was ready to retire when he met the D'Addario brothers, who were ready to buy. A purchase agreement was reached within several months, and before the end of 1995 J. D'Addario acquired Evans Drumhead.
Once in control of the company, Jim D'Addario applied the D'Addario formula for success on Evans Drumhead. Working with a team of D'Addario engineers, Jim D'Addario spent two years concentrating on every aspect of the company's production process and making changes. By 1998, the improvements were noticeable. A host of new models had been introduced, the number of artist endorsers had swelled substantially, and a high-profile marketing campaign was underway. Production, housed in a new 47,000-square-foot factory in Farmingdale, had more than tripled from the pre-D'Addario era, reaching 4,000 drumheads per day.
The company's success with Evans Drumhead underscored the unique D'Addario ability to introduce sophisticated, innovative manufacturing and design techniques to the music industry. The turnaround effected at Evans Drumhead also encouraged the D'Addario brothers to venture further afield. In early 1998, they did so, acquiring guitar strap manufacturer Planet Waves. In typical D'Addario fashion, manufacturing processes were revamped and pioneering design innovations were introduced, including a rotary-buckle strap-locking device that enabled a Planet Wave guitar strap to fit on any guitar.
J. D'Addario's impressive rise from a small start-up firm to market champion was achieved largely because of the company's commitment to improving manufacturing processes. As it completed its first quarter-century of business and prepared for continued growth in the 21st century, the company's relentless drive for perfection promised to keep the J. D'Addario name at the top of its industry in the years ahead. "If you think it's already been done or perfected, you need to think again," Jim D'Addario told Music Trades in June 1999. "Dozens of products that people think are state-of-the-art are really ripe for change," he added. "The next few years are going to be ones of great innovation at our company."
Principal Subsidiaries: J. D'Addario & Co. (Canada) Ltd.
Principal Competitors: Dean Markley Strings, Inc.; Gibson Musical Instruments; C.F. Martin & Company, Inc.
- Bruinooge, Joel, "D'Addario Expanding, Adding Staff," LI Business News, January 7, 1991, p. 13.
- "D'Addario," Music Trades, November 1998, p. 136.
- "D'Addario Expands Japanese Presence; Pearl Now Distributing D'Addario," Music Trades, September 2001, p. 38.
- "D'Addario Opens New Manufacturing Facility," Music Trades, April 1992, p. 26.
- "D'Addario R&D in Overdrive," Music Trades, March 2001, p. 192.
- "D'Addario's New State-of-the-Art Plant," Music Trades, p. 142.
- "D'Addario, String Maker, Dead at 84," LI Business News, June 9, 2000, p. 16A.
- Genn, Adina, "Vertical Integration Keeps D'Addario in Tune," LI Business News, August 31, 2001, p. 31A.
- "Groundbreaking," LI Business News, December 3, 1990, p. 30.
- "Laser Technology Improves D'Addario Strings; Advance Lasers Eliminate Inconsistencies in all Nylon Strings," Music Trades, February 1990, p. 98.
- "The 'New' Evans Drumhead Company," Music Trades, November 1998, p. 80.
- "Re-Thinking the Guitar Strap," Music Trades, June 1999, p. 76.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 48. St. James Press, 2003.