Making history since 1958

Our legacy goes back to the birth of Rock n’ Roll itself. Since 1958 Rotosound strings have been an ever-present on some of the most famous recordings ever heard from The British Invasion to Punk, Metal to Grunge, we have helped artists make the music that defined their eras.

Scroll down through our story to travel through the highlights from over 60 years of music string history.

OUR STORY

1952
January 1

The first man

James How with Zither

In 1952 James How, a violin and viola student with a diploma in engineering, fell in love with the sound of the zither after watching the film The Third Man and took to learning the 32-string instrument.

After hours of playing, James ran out of zither strings and using his knowledge of acoustics, harmonics, engineering design and construction he designed himself a winding machine. With the aid of two of the family turning handles each end of his machine, after five minutes of frantic exhaustion one Zither string was produced.

1958
January 1

Building a business

Building a business

As the years went by James How invented and designed more and more strings, more machines and in 1958 James and brother Ron formed their own business in Blackfen, Kent called Orchestral & Jazz Strings. The first strings were branded ‘Top Strings’ which soon changed to ‘Rotop’.

Among the first clients were the Shadows, Beatles, Rolling Stones, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, all strings for the Vox Organ Company, and for the Burns Guitar Company.

January 2

Making Rotop strings Rotosound Archive

One of the first string winding machines in the Orchestral & Jazz Strings workshop

1963
January 1

Rotosound is born

Rotosound is born

As more and more players sought the use of these roundwound strings James and Ron decided to create a new brand which summed up their innovation. Highlighting the strings’ distinct full, bright sound combined with the Latin verb for round, ‘Roto’, they called the new brand Rotosound.

Not content to rest on his laurels, James How patents even more string designs including the black nylon Tru Bass strings, created to reproduce the tonal qualities of an upright double bass.

January 2

Spike Heatley double bass jazz player Rotosound Archive

British jazz bassist Spike Heatley sticks his teeth into the new Rotosound strings

1966
January 1

The John Entwistle connection

John Entwistle and James How of Rotosound guitar bass strings best

John Entwistle begins a long association with Rotosound including helping to develop the RS66 Swing Bass sets. Entwistle recounts the story:

“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.”

January 2

At the heart of Swinging London

Rotosound Denmark Street shop James How Pete Wilshire Alan Marcuson Rotosound Archive

Rotosound’s Denmark Street shop with James How, Pete Wilshire, Alan Marcuson

Alongside 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 including Triumph amps and PA systems (installed in Liverpool’s Cavern Club), Image lighting (those groovy psychedelic oil wheels that were so fashionable at the time), Pro Mark drumsticks, Jenco Vibraphones, Marimbas and Celestes, and the Rotosound Rhythm Light which worked in sync with the music!

January 3

A booklet for the Rotosound ‘Rhythmlite’ unit

True to the spirit of the times, The Denmark Street shop sold Image lighting (those groovy psychedelic oil wheels that were so fashionable at the time), Pro Mark drumtsicks, Jenco Vibraphones, Marimbas and Celestes, and the Rotosound Rhythm Light which worked in sync with the music!

January 4

The iconic fuzz pedal

Rotosound MKIII Fuzz Pedal in Macaris Denmark Street web

An original Rotosound Fuzz MKIII which belongs to Ant Macari

Rotosound began to augment the catalogue with other musical accessories including fuzz pedals which would go on to shape the sound of guitar from the sixties, seventies, and beyond. Built by Denmark Street neighbour Solasound, the Rotosound Fuzz went through various circuits and enclosures over a few years, following the Tone Bender blueprint.

Another pedal sold by Rotosound was the Growler, an eccentric pedal combining a MKI.5 fuzz with an independent wah-wah circuit. The user operated the way by rotating a rubber pad with their foot and there were no controls for the fuzz or level.

1967
January 1

Rock royalty choose Rotosound

Jimi Hendrix Noel Redding Alan Marcuson Rotosound Guitar Strings_Purley Orchid Ballroom March 1st 1967

Jimi Hendrix & Noel Redding talk strings with Alan Marcuson March 1st, 1967.

Rotosound’s reputation for quality strings that delivered a knock-out tone brought in a number of new artists around 1967 and thanks to newly appointed marketing man, Alan Marcuson, we have these fascinating photos of rock royalty using Rotosound strings.

January 2

Pink Floyd Roger Waters Syd Barrett using Rotosound strings at Abbey Road Studios 1967

Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright with Alan Marcuson in 1967. Pink Floyd were in Abbey Road Studios during this shoot recording Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

January 5

Hold your group together with Rotosound strings

The Who Sell Out album cover

The Who release The Who Sell Out in December of 1967, which features a spoof jingle advert for Rotosound strings.

1968
January 1

Swing Bass 1967 roundwound string pack Rotosound Archive

A new, psychedelic design is introduced for packaging and catalogues

The companies of James How and Company, James How Music Strings Limited, and Orchestral & Jazz Strings Limited reform under the heading of James How Industries (JHI).

September 1

Expanding horizons

Staff outside JHI factory 20 Upland Road Sidcup

James How Industries sets up a new factory in Upland Road, Bexleyheath, and more people are employed to cater for the increasing demand for his strings.

1969
June 19

Jimmy Page using the Rotosound Fuzz 19/6/69 Paris "Tous En Scene"

Jimmy Page using the Rotosound Fuzz 19/6/69 Paris “Tous En Scene”

1970
January 1

World Famous Music Strings

Rotosound Music industry supplement 1971 Great Britain map Union Jack flag

A visit to the Japanese Trade Fair in Tokyo found that Rotosound’s efforts to export to Japan over several years had now given fruition with 100 stores in Tokyo and a further 200 throughout the country stocking Rotosound.

Yamaha used Rotosound as the strings they use on their best instruments as well as many other famous Japanese manufacturers too numerous to list.

1971
January 1

More famous players pick Rotosound

More famous players pick Rotosound

James How with Curved Air (top) before boarding on a US tour and (below) outside Ronnie Scott’s club with Hookfoot

More high profile players start using Rotosound strings including Elton John’s band; Davey Johnstone, Dee Murray, and Caleb Quaye who was also lead guitarist in Hookfoot,

January 2

Slade start using Rotosound strings and soon become one of the biggest British rock groups of the 1970s

January 3

Chris Squire Yes Rotosound

Chris Squire, bassist of progressive rock supergroup Yes fits a set of Swing Bass strings to his Rickenbacker

1972
January 1

Herbie Flowers bassist. Credit Rotosound

Herbie Flowers with his Walk On The Wild Side bass during a Rotosound 1990s shoot

Transformer by Lou Reed is released featuring Herbie Flowers using RS88 Tru Bass strings. As one of Britain’s best-known session bass-players, Herbie performed with T Rex, David Bowie, Al Kooper, Harry Nilsson, Cat Stevens, and George Harrison.

2018 saw Herbie playing bass guitar on the 40th Anniversary UK Arena Tour of “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds” – which he also played on the original 1976 recording. His blue Fender Jazz Bass is still fitted with the black nylon and yellow silk Tru Bass strings.

1974
January 1

The birth of Superwound

Why Superwound advert Rotosound archives

James How forms another string company entitled ‘Superwound’. These strings pioneered a new string design where only the core passed over the instrument’s bridge. The Superwound range included 606 & 707 bass strings, Starfire guitar strings, and Country Gold acoustic guitar strings.

February 1

1975
January 1

Rotosound strings Queen Ad advert 1975 Brian May John Deacon Starfire Gauge Selection guitar giutar bass swingbass jazz 77

Brian May and Roger Deacon of Queen start using Rotosound strings.

1976
January 1

Stanley Clarke with Rotosound's Martyn and James How 1976

Martyn and James How meet with Stanley Clarke up in London at The Old Grey Whistle Test whilst he was with the band ‘Return to Forever’

1977
January 1

Safety pins and strings

Wilko Johnson Dr Feelgood Rotosound advert

An advert featuring Wilco Johnson from Dr Feelgood 

With the explosion of punk, the music world once again focuses on London and the UK as a whole. Rotosound joins forces with some of the key bands of the movement including Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stranglers, Sham 69, Souixsie & the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, and The Jam.

January 2

Paul Gray with Rotosound Swing Bass pack. The Damned Eddie and the Hot Rods Bassist

Paul Gray, bassist with The Damned and Eddie and the Hot Rods, keeping it cool with a pack of Rotosound Swing Bass strings

January 3

Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton of The Jam string up with Rotosound strings. Bruce uses RS66LD Swing Bass although (pub trivia fact) on Town Called Malice he used RS88LD Tru Bass strings.

January 4

Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy Jazz Bass strings advert Rotosound archive copy

An advert in the back of the Thin Lizzy ‘Bad Reputation’ tour brochure

January 5

The Slits Tessa Pollitt female punk new wave Rotosound strings

Tessa Pollitt of The Slits with Rotosound strings fitted to her Precision Bass

January 6

The Stranglers Rattus Norvegicus

The Stranglers release Rattus Norvegicus. Bassist JJ Burnel powerful basslines come courtesy of Rotosound Swing Bass strings.

1978
January 1

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Siouxsie and the Banshees use Rotosound strings

1979
January 1

Jaco Pastorius Weather Report Rotosound strings Fender bass guitar photo

Rotosound employs the services of an exclusive USA distributor called Meisel Music in New York who have success in making Rotosound the top selling bass strings in the USA. Quite an achievement for an overseas company when the majority of the competition are all American brands!

The UK factory based in Bexleyheath at this time was working night shifts most of the time to keep up with demand.

Trade shows in Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles all helped to spread the word along with legendary bass players like Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius.

1980
January 1

Another innovation

Another innovation

James How develops the RS55 Solo Bass string which is ‘pressurewound’; a very smooth feeling string with the brightness of the RS66 roundwound set. Rotosound trademarks the process under the name Linea.

1981
January 1

The String with the Sting. The Police bassist Superwound Superwound advert

The Linea™ concept is replicated throughout the Superwound range with the 505 series proving popular with Sting from The Police who are having massive worldwide success throughout the 1980s.

1982
January 1

Superwound Star Players Leaflet

Bands such as Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and Tear for Fears help define the sound of the early eighties with the emergence of The New Romantics and Synth-Pop. Bassists John Taylor and Martin Kemp keep the bass at the front of the band and of course Rotosound provide the strings!

1985
January 1

The Funkmaster

Mark King Rotosound Funkmaster advert 1986

Superwound release a light-top, medium-bottom gauge of steel bass strings announcing that: “Mark King, Britain’s premier funk bass player, uses and recommends the Superwound 606F Funkmaster St, which is specially designed to meet the needs of his style and playing.”

Nickel plated 303 sets are also released shortly afterwards.

January 2

Geddy Lee Rotosound Superwound Funkmaster advert 1987

Revered bass player from Rush, Geddy Lee, starts using the new Funkmaster strings. He later switches to use the Rotosound RS66LD Swing Bass strings.

1986
January 1

Billy Sheehan joins the family

Billy Sheehan in Rotosound catalogue 1986

Bassist extraordinaire, Billy Sheehan, begins his relationship with Rotosound, one which continues to this day.

January 2

Spacer in development 1986

James How’s innovations continue with the development of black Spacer strings. The inventive use of anodised wraps on these strings prevent corrosion but it won’t be until 1989 when these are brought to market.

January 3

Still expanding

Unit 3 Rotosound factory 1986

With more new product lines being produced and the global demand for the company’s strings booming, James How Industries expands into a new premises next to the Superwound factory in Sevenoaks, Kent. Unit 3 remains the headquarters for Rotosound until this day.

1987
January 1

Appetite for Swing Bass

Duff McKagen Guns N Roses Rotosound bass player Swing Bass 66

One of Rock’s most iconic bands, Guns N’ Roses, drop their acclaimed album Appetite For Destruction with bassist Duff McKagen using Swing Bass strings and joining the Rotosound family of artists.

January 2

Michael Anthony Van Halen guitar strings rotosound advert

An advert featuring Van Halen’s Michael Anthony

1988
January 1

Heavy Metal for Hard Rock

Heavy Metal for Hard Rock Rotosound advert 1988

Hard rock sweeps the guitar-world by storm and Rotosound gets picked up by the likes of many top bands of the genre. The Starfire Xtra-wrap electric guitar strings are made with a reinforced ball-end to handle the big bends, whammy bar dive bombs, and heavier playing style of the time.

January 2

Steve Harris Iron Maiden bassist advert cutout

Steve Harris of Iron Maiden appears in a Rotosound advert. A large part of Harris’s signature tone is his choice of flatwound Jazz Bass 77 strings

1989
January 1

Billy Sheehan signature set launched

BS66 and Spacer on bass guitar

Working closely with Rotosound, Billy Sheehan helps to develop the BS66 set, which uses a 0.043″ G string and a heavy E string.

The Spacer strings are also launched as the RS6006 range: “A Patented Black finish is integrated into the surface of our Special Stainless Steel and combined with high output undercovers to produce a brilliant string with enhanced fingertip response and feel.”

January 2

Billy Sheehan introduction to Rotosound catalogue 1989

Billy Sheehan introduces the Bass Guitar Strings section of Rotosound/Superwound’s 1989 product catalogue

1991
January 1

The sound of grunge

Krist Novoselic Nirvana

Krist Novoselic with Nirvana in 1991

The new decade is shaken up with the emergence of grunge and alternative rock bands from the States. The most prominent bands on the scene including Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Screaming Trees, and Kyuss choose Rotosound strings.

1992
January 1

Rotos launched

Welcome to Planet Roto advert

Another new range of guitar strings is introduced – the nickel on steel Rotos. Rotosound had always been famous for its stainless steel strings but a lot of new players favour the nickel strings which are smoother to play.

The Roto range has gone on to become Rotosound’s biggest selling line of guitar strings ever. Advertising began in the form of ‘Planet Roto’.

1993
January 2

Roto Bass Planet Rotosound advert 1993

Along with the new Roto electric guitar strings, the Roto Bass line is introduced offering the most popular bass gauges in a nickel wound construction.

1994
January 1

The end of an era

James How Family

James had been working on new string winding machines during the late eighties but had become too ill to continue the work. In 1994, James How dies and the company is taken over by James’ two sons, Martyn and Jason.

January 2

Cool Britannia

Cool Britannia Rotosound Pulp Supergrass Oasis Kula Shaker guitar bass strings

Britpop bursts into the world and once again Rotosound is at the heart of an era-defining music scene. Bands are drawing inspiration from the sixties and groups such as Oasis, Suede, Pulp, Kula Shaker, Dodgy, Cast, Supergrass, Gene, and the Lightning Seeds naturally choose Rotosound strings to create their unmistakeable guitar tones.

1995
January 1

Farewell Superwound

Dodgy Staying Out For The Summer Rotosound Country Gold Acoustic Guitar Strings Andy Miller Advert 1995

One of the final Superwound adverts

Superwound closed in 1995. The necessarily large range – due to each gauge needing a variety of off-shoots to fit different types of instrument bridges – became unwieldy. The piano string design strings continue under the Rotosound brand as P.S.D. Bass and Super Bronze acoustic strings.

January 2

The Cure Rotosound strings Advert 1995

Robert Smith and The Cure use Rotosound strings

January 5

James LoMenzo Slash's Snakepit Rotosound advert 1995

A Swing Bass advert featuring – and signed by –James LoMenzo. James was playing with Slash’s Snakepit at this time; he has gone on to play with Megadeth, Zakk Wylde, John Fogerty, and many more, although he has always stuck with Rotosound.

1997
January 1

Oasis Paul Guigsy McGuigan Rotosound advert

An advert featuring Oasis’s Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan. By this time Oasis are one of the biggest bands on the planet and Noel, Bonehead and Guigsy are all using Rotosound strings.

January 2

Kylie Minogue Rotosound 1997

Kylie Minogue poses with a Rotosound t-shirt. Kylie’s bassist Kevin Miller is a notable Rotosound player

1998
January 1

New string winding machines

Jason How string winding machines

Picking up where his father left off, Jason How begins around 8 years’ of work designing, upgrading and building a completely new set of machines that now produce around 90% of the company’s output. These machines incorporate all the latest technology and ensure the company’s competitiveness continues along with unsurpassed consistency.

2002
January 1

Famous faces unite

Billy Sheehan Steve Harris John Entwistle Rotosound photo

A very famous photo of three bass legends. Billy Sheehan, Steve Harris and John Entwistle convene at the Rotosound factory in March.

2005
January 1

Zach Frederick Export

The introduction of new string making machines means that the company’s in a position to step up its exports, so takes on Zach Frederick to run Rotosound’s export business. This has proved very successful with the export turnover tripling since Zach and his team first came on board.

Productivity is now at its highest point in the history of the company. A more efficient production means that we can hold on to and control the manufacturing. All machinery is maintained to our highest standards and to our specifications. Many of which go back a long way in the companies history.

2006
July 1

Moving up another gear

Rotosound string winding machines

Jason’s new machines hit the factory floor increasing output substantially and making Rotosound more competitive worldwide.

2008
January 1

Right here, right now

Great strings for today's generation Rotosound advert

Guitar bands are back in the charts with indie acts such as Franz Ferdinand, The Cribs, Kasabian, Zutons, The Ordinary Boys, and Kaiser Chiefs continuing Britain’s rock legacy. Rotosound strings are once again contributing to the top groups of their era.

2009
January 1

New products and a new look

Nexus Bass Rotosound article

Rotosound develops its own coated strings in the Nexus range. The wrap wire in coated before being applied to the wound strings, which offers a far superior playing experience than other well known coated string brands. The Nexus range effectively replaces the Spacer range as the brand’s corrosion-resistant string.

An all new packaging design is introduced across the entire string range.

January 2

Rotosound Packaging 2009

Even more new string sets are added into the product range, including British Steels, Tru Bronze and Pure Nickels. This is mainly due to demand and the capabilities now to produce a wider range of strings.

More accessories including guitar picks, guitar straps, guitar leads, tuners and capos are also added to the comprehensive string range.

January 3

Guthrie Govan

Guthrie Govan in 2011 catalogue

British guitar virtuoso Guthrie Govan becomes an official Rotosound endorsee.

“I do some fairly barbaric things to my strings on a daily basis, so I’ve experimented with many different brands over the years, in a quest for maximum consistency, tuning stability, durability and all-round tonal splendour. After much research, the conclusion I reached was simply this: Rotosounds rock 😉”

2010
January 1

A fuzz reprisal

Fuzz catalogue page 2013

An email from a gentleman in Arizona, USA sparked off interest in a dormant product that James How had only sold as prototypes back in the late sixties. The Rotosound fuzz pedal was originally manufactured to James How’s specifications back in 1967 as James was good friends with Dick Denny (who he was in the RAF with during the war) and Tom Jennings who was the Managing Director of Vox at that time.

This heritage has caused quite a stir so it was decided that upon close inspection we could reissue the original pedal with only a few small mods to bring it up to date along with a more usable spec. With help from Andy Brunt and Dr. Barry Pyatt we set to work on re-creating the original pedal.

The production run was limited to 2000 units. The first run was released in 2012 and sold out almost immediately.

2012
January 1

Signature sounds

signature guitar sets

Signature electric guitar sets are released for some of Rotosound’s heaviest artists; Michael Amott (Arch Enemy, Carcass), Paul Allender (Cradle Of Filth) and Mikey Demus (Skindred). With their hybrid gauges, these strings lend themselves to drop tuning and aggressive playing.

2014
January 1

Pedals – Phase(r) II

Rotosound Pedals catalogue page

Having invested in the tooling to make the Fuzz pedal it only seemed natural to bring out a complete range of other pedals. The plan was to replicate the ‘vibe’ of the late sixties and make the pedals very retro looking and sounding. John Oram (who was an apprentice electrical engineer at Vox in the late sixties) helps design six brand new circuits that are unique to Rotosound and the pedals are be manufactured at the factory in Sevenoaks.

January 1

Staying fresh

Rotosound Swing Bass 66 roundwound bass guitar strings RS66LD foil pack round wound stainless steel stain less bassist gift

Exciting times for us as we introduce our entire range of strings in colour-coded ball ends in new environmentally friendly airtight packaging with new artwork.

The innovative, air-tight packaging is made from foil and provides a moisture barrier ensuring strings will not tarnish or fade while in the packs keeping them factory fresh until ready for use. The packaging has also been reduced by 90% making the new packets incredibly eco-friendly.

2015
January 1

Good relations

The Vaccines Rotosound UK gutiar strings bass swing bass rotos best

Rotosound has always had a great connection with all its artists right back to the late fifties. To continue that tradition, Dom Fairbanks is brought in to handle all Artist Relations, keeping up with the newest bands and giving Rotosound a strong presence at all the happening festivals.

Some Rotosound endorsees at this time include… The Balconies, Temples, Peace, You Me at Six, Babyshambles, Boy Cried Wolf, Crystal Fighters, Fatherson, The James Cleaver Quintet, The Vaccines, Skindred, Arch Enemy, Treetop Flyers, Twin Atlantic, and White Lies.

January 2

Glastonbury headliners

Florence and the Machine Rotosound catalogue

Guitarist Rob Ackroyd and bassist Mark Saunders take to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury with headliners Florence and the Machine

2018
January 1

Celebrating 60 years in style

Rotosound 60 years Billy Sheehan Doug Wimbish bassists

Rotosound kicks off their 60th anniversary at the NAMM show by hosting appearances from bass legends and endorsees Billy Sheehan and Doug Wimbish.

The celebration comes at a significant point as the company branches out into distribution. Rotosound takes on UK distribution for Dutch music giant, The Music Alliance (TMA), with access to their full range of instruments and accessories totalling more than 17,000 products.

February 1

Rotosound Diamond Anniversary advert featuring Living Colour bassist Doug Wimbish

Rotosound Diamond Anniversary advert featuring Living Colour’s Doug Wimbish

2019
January 1

By George! They found Harrison’s strings

George Harrison Hofner President Thinline auction with Rotosound strings

An old guitar of the Beatles’ George Harrison shows up at Sotheby’s Auction House with a pack of Rotosound strings in the case. The owner recollects this –

“…George gave me this Hofner President… in the summer of 1969, before the release of ‘Here Comes the Sun’. I’d gone to George to ask him to show me the chord I was missing from the song ‘Here Comes the Sun’ which I was trying to teach myself to play. George told me to go and get a guitar from his guitar room, which I did, he described this guitar as ‘Blondie’ and remarked that a Hofner President was his first good guitar. George showed me the chord then took the guitar from me, and told me, whilst smiling, ‘Play it up here at the seventh fret’, he then handed the guitar back to me telling me it was mine. He said it needed some work doing on it and gave me a set of [Rotosound] strings for it that he thought would be better for me than the ones on the guitar.”

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