TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION
The Company was formed to do the complete manufacture of Zithers, Auto-harps, Cymbalums, and other special instruments where as the complete manufacture was undertaken, manufacturing every part and detail of the instrument, including the varnishing, the rest pins, bridge pins, finger boards, hitch pins, the strings and cases.
This was a unique operation as it would be very hard to find anywhere in the world a manufacturer who manufactured EVERYTHING. With most manufacturers if they make the guitar they buy the wood and make the instrument.
They buy the machine heads separately from suppliers also fret wire, bridge fittings and the strings, and it would be most unusual even today to find a manufacturer that manufactures the entire specification of a musical instrument product.
Many other companies soon desired to have their instruments fitted with these new style unique strings, and it is not a fact of fiction that the word unique is used.
THE JOHN ENTWISTLE CONNECTION
“It was in 1966 and I was looking for that Danelectro sound again. I tried everybody’s strings but the E and the A’s just didn’t work. It was the same with Rotosound but there was something about them that was almost there but not quite. To solve the problem I got in touch with James How and told him his D and G strings were great but the E and A didn’t vibrate properly. He told me to take my bass along to Rotosound and have some strings made until they got it right.
After a couple of hours, we realised that the problem wasn’t in the wire winding, but in the core of the string. You could see that the strings vibrated in a big circle and that was wrong; the core needed to be thicker. We also made the overall gauges a bit heavier and they sent me away with 12 sets to use.
A couple of days later they called and asked if I objected to them putting my name to the strings and selling them commercially. I told them I didn’t mind as long as they kept me supplied with free strings! But then we had to do the same with medium and short scale strings because I had loads of different basses by then. Those strings, the RS66 sets, were the first that vibrated properly.”
The world famous Rotosound Swing Bass Guitar Strings are sold to over 70 countries and exported in tons, used by every famous group in the world, and are the result of this initial design. Further patented designs were to follow. The invention by James How of another famous string, black nylon on electro magnetic wire was the first electro magnetic string in the history of string making.
The patent of this string James How allowed to expire, he was so busy he forgot to renew the patent.
THE BIRTH OF A BRAND
As more and more professional people sought the use of these strings the James How Company which had then grown to some 40 people with a production area of some 3,000 sq. ft., started to expand the company still further but on more professional lines. A brand image was created by James and Ronald and it was to be called “Rotosound” and you may well ask why “Rotosound”.
“Roto” is the Latin verb for round. It could be explained here without going into great detail that round sound employs the FULL use of harmonics from the low to the high frequency, which are not always incorporated in other makes of strings, and it was to prove in the future that it was this high frequency sound that was to be wanted among the world’s groups, professional musicians in the music scene of 1960’s.
Another formula was created “Great British sounds come from Rotosound”. Banners were made to go out to all corners of the globe bearing these words. As the name of Rotosound became more and more established so production was built up to meet the demand.
ADDING THE WIERD AND THE WONDERFUL
Along side the Rotosound string company James How opened a showroom in London’s famous Denmark Street. This store was to showcase some of the additional products that the company was now handling.
These included Triumph amps and PA systems (famously installed in Liverpool’s Cavern Club) ,DaneSound,Image lighting (those groovy psychedelic oil wheels that were so fashionable at the time),Pro Mark drumsicks,Lawrence Guitar Pickups,Jenco Vibraphones,Mirambas and Celestes Mallet and the Rotosound Rhythm Light (worked in sync with the music!)
James How was looking to augment the Rotosound catalogue with other musical accessories. The most outstanding of them being the prototype Fuzz pedals that seemed to vanish into thin air not long after going out as samples. The only notes we have on them are included in the price lists.I have still yet to come across any old advertisments showing off this pedal.Along with the Fuzz pedal was also ‘The Rotosound ‘Growler’ even less is known about this but is being explored as a potential re-issue at some stage.
In 1967 James How was running the companies of James How and Company, James How Music Strings Limited, and Orchestral and Jazz Strings Limited, and decided to reform these companies under the heading of James How Industries.
It was around this time that Dr. Seldinger from Sheffield General Hospital wrote to Mr. How and said “I understand that you make very fine an accurate banjo strings, and I enclose a sample for your kind perusal. If these could be made in non-toxic stainless steel it would greatly assist me in my work on catheterisation of arteries”.
James How supplied Dr Seldinger with these samples of wires. These wires were very similar to the banjo strings, and the samples that James How supplied were to be the first of over 20,000 wires in different types to be produced for this medical operation. These wires were distributed by Portex of Smith Industries.
The Company was formed and a brand image selected for the new medical company and it was called the Selflex Company Limited. It was to provide guide wires for many famous surgeons and doctors throughout the world for heart surgery, cardiac installation etc.
Dr. Knight at Guys Hospital had designed a valve for resusitation of the lungs, a pneumothorax valve. James How improved on this valve and perfected it and started to manufacture two different types, a re-usable valve and a disposable valve. There were to be 100,000 of these valves made and shipped all over the world, 4,000 for Israel at the outbreak of their war.
These valves would enable whoever received chest wounds, and a collapse of the lungs, to be resusitated by removing all the air from the thorax, and for the first time it allowed people to be transported both horizontally and vertically whilst these valves were attached to a very fine tube in the vacinity of the chest wall.
The advertisements of the Selflex Company are too numerous to mention, but go into the realms of Teflon coated guide wires of the best quality in the world, and again, there are many designs and patents.