You can walk the circumference of the miniature town of Salle in about ten minutes. You can jog diagonally across it in about five. This tiny village is located in a slight valley between Mt. Maiella to the east and Mt. Morrone to the south, in the Italian province of Pescara. Two hundred people still reside within the jagged blocks of this mountainous landscape without a restaurant. The only store in the area, a small bar where you’re welcome to pull up a folding chair in the perfect light and sip a cup of espresso with the proud locals who refuse to leave. They will describe to you, in their broken English, the ideal climate, relating a tale of hiking around the village in a snowstorm wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt. If you agree to stay for dinner, they’ll slow-roast the traditional pig in a large brick oven all day in your honor and, if you can manage not to observe the animal lying whole on its side, you’ll find the taste incomparable.
In the middle of the town is the church. It is in this church that countless generations have sought refuge and marked the milestones of their lives with their families. It is in this church that the oldest documents of the town still reside. One document marks the birth of a child; the baptismal form filled out by a Donato D’Addario in 1680, his occupation stated simply “cordaro” – the Italian word for “string maker.”
The trade of the town seemed to be one of two things–you were either a farmer of the rich countryside or you made strings. The D’Addario family was equal parts farmers and string makers. Both professions involved the use of the land and the animals of the region. The town boasted delicious fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and wine, not to mention fresh cheeses, proscuitto, sausages, bacon, lard, and salt pork. Before the introduction of synthetic substitutes, strings were made for lutes, guitars, harps, violins and other assorted musical instruments from sheep and hog gut. Creating fine strings from this material was a long, tedious process. It involved many different phases and the entire process took a week, Monday to Saturday, and began again every Monday morning with the dawn.
The D’Addario family toiled in this manner for many generations in this tiny village. It wasn’t until an earthquake in 1905 that they considered leaving. Salle had been severely handicapped by the natural disaster and many were fearful that they would not be able to rebuild their homes and town. It was at this time that brothers-in-law Rocco and Charles (or Carmine) D’Addario packed up their belongings and immigrated to Astoria, Queens, New York. Charles' father Giovanni, remained in Salle manufacturing the strings that Rocco and Charles would import in an effort to raise more capital for their politically- and financially- challenged hometown.
Charles and Rocco found Astoria offered them what little comfort was available for their homesick hearts. At the very least, they were surrounded by many other Sallese immigrants who had left the same town with similar hopes and dreams. They brought with them the foods and customs of Salle and the string making tradition that would ultimately find a home in the United States as well. Charles would soon be without the company of Rocco, however, who grew too homesick for Salle to remain in the States. When the two returned home for a visit, Charles would return with a wife, but without his business partner.
Charles enjoyed his new home more and more, and as his family grew, so did his business. In 1918, Charles would begin manufacturing his strings stateside in a tiny garage shop behind the family home on 14th Street in Astoria. As this was a family business, most of its members learned the trade and worked in the shop, completing whatever tasks were needed. Even the children were recruited to help during busy periods, doing such chores as labeling, packaging and sorting the strings. Charles personally marketed his strings to violinmakers and musicians, never hesitating to travel to make demonstrations. He was obsessed with the quality of his product and often sought the advice and opinions of the great musicians of the time.
A New Era
Beginning in 1936 and excluding only his time spent as an enlisted man in WWII, John D’Addario Sr., Charles and his wife, Anna’s, only son and youngest of five children, would work side-by-side with his father. At that time the company was renamed C. D’Addario & Son, and it would be John’s interest in alternative synthetic substitutes for the unreliable and messy animal gut that would mark another considerable milestone for the trade. The war had brought with it many technological advances, and it was Dupont™ that developed the first nylon monofilament for things like hair and toothbrushes, brooms., etc. In 1947, when Dupont™ shipped a sample to the D’Addario shop, Charles and John, Sr. immediately began working with it and found the diameter of the early nylon was perfect for treble harp strings.
As was his growing tradition, Charles consulted his friend, the world famous harpist Carlos Salzedo, for his opinion of the synthetic substitute. Mr. Salzedo was very encouraging and so the D’Addarios began developing ways to apply this new material to more and more instruments. John, Sr. was responsible for developing a method to polish the nylon, which would allow him to reduce the diameter, thus making the nylon useful for a greater variety of instruments, such as the lute and classical guitar. Most of the guitar strings that C. D’Addario & Son manufactured were made to order for musicians or private labels.
John, Sr. was very encouraged by the growing popularity of the guitar, which had been on a steady incline from the 1930s through the war with bands like The Glen Miller Orchestra and Tommy Dorsey. The guitar was being used in rhythm sections, a clear hint of things to come, things like Elvis Presley and The Beatles to be specific. John, Sr. was anxious to include this burgeoning instrument beyond the classical guitar strings that they made to order, but Charles was reluctant to expand the family business. In 1956, with his father’s blessing, John, Sr. entered into a partnership to produce steel strings and electric strings for the guitar and bass. The new company would be named Archaic Musical String Manufacturing Co. and would be run by John D’Addario, Sr., Albert Morante, and his brother-in-law, Gino Burelli.
For some time the two companies, C. D’Addario & Son and Archaic Musical String Mfg Co., would operate separately, with Archaic manufacturing strings for such companies as Gretsch, D’Angelico, Martin, and Guild, as well as C. D’Addario & Son. When Charles retired in 1962, John, Sr. decided to merge the two companies together under a new name, Darco Music Strings, Inc. By now, the guitar was the single most popular instrument in the country, and its impact on the changing world was unmistakable.
Darco and Beyond
Darco grew quickly due to innovations and breakthroughs led by John D’Addario, Sr. The company would lead the industry with the first automated equipment to wind strings, the first round wound electric bass strings, and many other innovations still in use today by manufacturers around the world.
The late 1960s brought another generation of D’Addarios into the family business, with John D’Addario, Jr. the first addition to the fold. John D’Addario Sr.’s five children were no strangers to the string business. Just like the generations before them, they too had helped even as children. All can recount stories of warm nights spent sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and watching The Honeymooners, helping to coil the strings and stuff them into marked envelopes.
As the years rolled by and John, Sr. watched his children grow, their interest in the family trade grew as well. Even as a teenager, John, Jr. had a keen interest in the business side of the company. He would watch and learn not only how to make strings, but also how to negotiate a deal with suppliers or retailers. He developed a business sense and sales skills that made him a welcome addition to the family business. His knack for developing beneficial business relationships, all while keeping an eye on the company's bottom line, helped ensure the company's financial stability.
John, Jr.'s younger brother, James, was an avid guitar player with a shaggy Beatles haircut and a pension for tinkering with all things electronic. It would come as no surprise that he would eventually be responsible for many of the engineering developments that would further automate and efficiently alter the manufacturing process. James joined Darco’s efforts in 1969, while he was still in college. He would work as a dealer and advertising coordinator for the company, while also running the new printing department. John, Jr. and James wanted the company to become as self-sufficient as possible, and eliminating the need for outside printing was a step in the right direction.
Under the ever-present guidance and experience of their father, John, Jr. and James would bring nothing but success to Darco. As the company grew more and more successful, the D'Addarios were eventually approached by premier guitar manufacturer C.F. Martin & Co., Inc. to pool resources and share development efforts. The two companies merged, and after a few profitable years together, the D’Addarios decided it was time for them to separate from Martin to develop their own product under the name that would endure until today, D’Addario & Company, Inc. After eight generations of string making, the first strings bearing the D’Addario brand name were introduced; the year was 1974.
A New Beginning: D’Addario & Company, Inc.
D’Addario's first factory was in Lynbrook, New York, and the initial staff consisted of only five employees. As always, it was a real family operation with John, Sr., John, Jr. and James leading the company's growth and business plans. James’ wife Janet helped to design packaging, heading up what would eventually become the company’s art department. The printing facility was still a strong support for the fledgling company, providing a steady source of income as the family developed their superior line of strings. The D’Addario reputation for service and quality served them well as they tapped into the market with their own products. Aggressive marketing strategies would help their product line gain popularity, and the staff of five quickly multiplied to fifteen.
John, Jr. and James were intent upon expanding the company's product line. John, Sr. was a little cautious about growth and recognized that it was probably a sign that he should retire, as his own father had, and let his capable sons take the reigns. It was around this time in the early 1980s that D’Addario would complement its successful fretted line with the acquisition of the Kaplan Musical String Company, a long-established manufacturer of classical instrument strings.
The brothers embarked on a rigorous program of research and development. They created a world-renowned line of products in the field, establishing D’Addario as a premier manufacturer of bowed instrument strings. D’Addario’s guitar and bass strings were already a great success. The brand was continually gaining in popularity and securing a sizeable share of the market.
In 1984, the company would relocate to a larger facility to handle the increased demand for their product, and the production staff ballooned to 150 employees. This would not be the last time the company would find itself busting at the seams of its factory space. Operations have expanded on several occasions since, with the largest expansion in 1994, when the company relocated to a new 110,000-square foot facility in Farmingdale. Today D’Addario & Company, Inc. occupies a total of 190,000-square feet at its Farmingdale headquarters, an additional 51,000-square feet at the Rico manufacturing facility in California, and employs more than 900 people, each one of them making an invaluable contribution to what has always been a family business. A distribution center in California handles shipments to the West, and satellite offices in Chicago and Los Angeles cater to musicians across the nation. D’Addario Canada is a third distribution center, providing D’Addario products to Canada, while satellite sales offices in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong and France help service the rest of D'Addario's global customer base.
The research and development arm of D’Addario is one of its strongest assets. Headed by James, the engineering department has accumulated many important manufacturing and product patents in the field. The company prides itself on identifying problems in their production and implementing solutions. This includes the work they’ve done on their newest product line additions, such as Evans Drumheads (1995) Planet Waves, an accessory line (1998), HQ Practice Products, drum silencing and silent practice products (2004) and Rico Reeds (2004).
Family, Success, and the Future
The theory of keeping as much “in house” as possible has served the D'Addario family well. The company owns a tremendous printing facility today, complete with color Heidelberg presses, that share the building across the street from the main factory in Farmingdale with Evans Drumheads. Most of the company's marketing, packaging artwork, and print ads are conceived and executed by its own marketing and creative staff, which has brought the company more cost-efficient and successful campaigns time and time again.
But D’Addario’s unbounded success is also due in part to its worldwide distribution and dealer networks. The company markets its products in the United States through wholesale distributors and over 5,400 retail music stores. In addition, the export markets are handled by 120 distributors in 101 countries.
When James D’Addario took his father, John, Sr., his mother Mary, and his own wife and three children to visit the town of Salle in 1996, never could he have imagined a warmer reception. A parade through the town, a feast at the mayor’s home, a key to the city; all were presented to the D’Addario family. The news of the success of the D’Addario “cordaro” had made its way back to this tiny town; and the town, like a proud great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, was smiling.
When John D’Addario Sr. passed away in June 2000, he was surrounded by his wife, his children, and grandchildren. He had the distinct pleasure of watching his children succeed beyond his wildest expectations, and he was very proud. Today, thirteen family members, grandchildren and cousins, work for D’Addario & Company, Inc., and great steps are being taken by John, Jr. and James to pass down the family vision and tradition.
The biggest tradition, and the one least likely to receive any headlines, is D’Addario’s appreciation for their employees. A company that started with family has grown to require the talents of so many people working together towards the same goal. What has become important is to preserve the values of the family while encouraging the growth of the company. John, Jr. and James are convinced that it can be done.