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In 1952 Sir Carroll Reed made a film called “The Third Man” in which the services of a then obscure and unknown person by the name of Anton Karas was employed to play the Zither, and as most people know, at this particular time the Zither was a relatively unknown instrument.

Although this instrument dates back literally thousands of years in its various forms, it needed the wisdom of Sir Carroll Reed and the fantastic technique of Anton Karas to bring to the public’s notice the virtue of this instrument.

Anton Karas was born in Vienna and he played the Zither there in a cafe. At the time of this film he would be about 40 years old and it would be an under statement to say he was a virtuoso of this instrument, as anyone listening to his music and recordings will appreciate.

James How wanted to learn the Zither and after acquiring his first instrument for the enormous sum of 25 shillings, he realised from the start that life was going to have its problems as the Zither he had bought had but 16 of its 32 strings and from this inception the Company of James How Industries Limited was to become the most widely known music company in the world.

At present exporting to some 70 countries including America, Japan, Europe etc. etc., making quantities of strings with the weekly outputs calculated in tons, export consignments weighing half ton, one ton etc. etc., with the most comprehensive and unlimited range of music string yet known.

James made some enquiries for Zither strings and for this particular Zither, the Concert Zither, strings for this instrument in London was practically unknown, so substitute strings were used to make up a complete set of strings, using some violin strings, some guitar strings, some cello strings, until a reasonable balance was completed.

James also found a very able teacher in Hertfordshire and would make the journey once a week from Bexleyheath, Kent to the teacher’s house for Zither lessons. This was to go on for some two years of tuition, and at the end of two years, James How would have over 300 Zithers, by which means he would acquire these inexpensively at sales, advertisements etc.

It was not the Zither that was required, but the strings from the instruments provided over a period of time the necessary authentic strings.

James How at last ran out of Zither strings and using his ingenuity as an engineer and musician quickly designed a winding machine and invaded the South East area of Singer Sewing Machine Shops for vast quantities of nylon yarn, and electrical stores for vast quantities of fuse wires.


Frank Humpage

With the aid of two of the family turning the handle each end of this machine until after five minutes of frantic exhaustion one Zither string was produced.

James How developed the technique and took over three years before he completed a 10 foot long machine of extraordinary proportions. This machine was made lovingly from stainless steel, black ebony, with ivory fittings, and would produce any string from violin, viola, cello, double bass, clavichord, harpsichord, piano strings, cymbalum, herdy-gerdy, zither strings from Prim zithers, concert zithers, Elege zithers, Lyon zithers, Mandolin zithers and the many many ranges of zithers.

This machine would make strings quickly and furthering his interest was to become the instrument by which over a period of the next 10 years, the various original and authentic designs was to be formulated based upon James How’s knowledge of the workings of a music string which took into consideration the following:-


Steel? Nylon? Gut? Terylene? Silk? Brass? Bronze? Nickel? Stainless? Monel? Silver Plated Copper? Pure Silver? Pure Gold?

Each and every design of string was carefully formulated to incorporate its pitch strain, breaking strain, amplitude, nodal sequence, harmonic frequence, harmonic sequence. These are some of the features that are included in making good strings.

About 1955 old TOMS passed away down in Somerset leaving around £100,000 in his will and instructed his Solicitors to break up all his string winding equipment. Old Toms made the strings for Heifitz, Szigetti, Ghoacim, Menuhin etc. etc.

He made the strings for the masters and for many instruments which resulted one day in a call from Mr. Douglas Morley the president of Morley Pianos, Bromley, Kent. “Dear Mr. How, can you make us some clavichord strings and we will send the patterns for you to copy”.

James How received the original set of clavichord strings and proceeded to examine, test these strings and he made one complete set of 32 strings from copper wound on bronze cores for Mr. Morley.

First letter

Mr. Morley confirmed and approved these strings and gave Mr. How the order. James How said to Douglas Morley “I am pleased that these strings are satisfactory, but would you like something far better”, to which Mr. Morley replied “how do you mean better” and James How said “I will make you a complete set in my own design, calculated down to the last fraction of a dram which would result in a far better sounding string than you already have.

I will use the same materials, but my own calculations”. Mr. Morley received this new set of strings and said “these are the ones we want, they sould better and perform better”, and that was the start of the How – Morley association which was to run for some 25 years.

The Company now having manufactured but 100,000 sets of clavichord strings. James How also manufactured for Mr. Morley harpsichord, spinnet, piano strings, square piano strings (the strings are not square, that is the name of the instrument).

As the years went by James How invented and designed more and more strings, more machines and around 1959 started up in business employing some six people, including his brother Ronald and sister Joan. Among the first clients were the Shadows, Beatles, Rolling Stones, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, all strings for the famous Vox Organ Company, all the strings for the famous Burns Guitar Company.


Unit 3B, Morewood Close, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 2HU. Telephone 01732 450838
James How Music Strings Ltd is a registered Rotosound Company