A specialist that has found niches with uniquely
designed and manufactured strings
Aside from multiple Grammy Awards, well-deserved reputations for cutting-edge musicianship, and legions of dedicated fans, bassists Stanley Clarke, Bootsy Collins, and Victor Wooten share something else thing in common. All are enthusiastic endorsers of DR strings. Clarke favors DR Hi-Beams, which feature stainless steel wrap wire on a round core, Collins plays his signature set and Neon models, and Wooten uses the newer DR Pure Blues, which are made with a proprietary Quantum nickel wrap wire. The fact that demanding players like Wooten, Collins, and Clarke, among other world class bass players such as Jeff Berlin, Etienne M’Bappe, Sting, and Bernie Williams chose DR shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that the strings have regularly topped bass player polls.
Launched in 1989, DR Strings is a relative newcomer to the string market. Located in Westwood, New Jersey, DR is the outgrowth of a rich tradition. Company founder Mark Dronge grew up in the industry, working at Guild Guitars, the company his father Al launched in 1952. The appreciation of tradition and quest for tone is reflected in DR’s relentless drive for quality in its string production. DR combines the latest technology in winding techniques with superior USA-made wire and skilled winders who not only wind strings, but also inspect every wrap. It’s a slower and more expensive way to make strings, as reflected by DR Strings’ price premium. Yet, Mark argues that this handmade approach yields a product with a distinct musical character and feel that players appreciate.
DR’s early products, the Hi-Beam bass strings and Tite-Fit electrics, reintroduced the hand-wound process on round cores to the market. Although retailers were receptive, early endorsements by Marcus Miller and Jeff Healey provided the credibility to rapidly gain shelf space and consumer acceptance. Since then, DR has steadily expanded its product offering with a wide range of acoustic and electric string models. Despite the wide selection, Mark says, “We’re primarily a niche company, and we’ve found opportunity making strings that no one else does quite the way we do.”
The DR Pure Blues line of strings typifies the company’s niche marketing approach. Featuring pure nickel wrap wire on a round core wire (the overwhelming majority of today’s guitar strings use hexagonal core wire, which is easier to manufacture) the Pure Blues are pretty much a copy of the strings sold in the ’50s. “Guitarists love vintage guitars,” says Mark. “So we decided to create a vintage string.”
Though DR works with traditional methods, it hasn’t stopped experimenting with cutting-edge innovation and design. Six years ago, DR introduced colored strings, available in a variety of striking “day glo” neon colors. Today, these visually arresting strings are enjoyed not only for their stage appeal but for their bright sound and the high quality DR is known for, making them the choice of such players as Fieldy from Korn, Lauren Taneil of Beyoncé, and Chris Wolstenholme of Muse. “They pop on stage,” says Mark, “and we have a lot of fun seeing players enjoy them as they photograph really well.” The DDT (for Drop Down Tuning) string line features a proprietary design that keeps them in tune even in the lowest tunings. Most recently, Tom Klukowsky, who heads production and R&D, developed the patent-pending K3 Dragon Skin coated strings for acoustic, electric, and bass guitars. (The K3 designation stands for his three Klukowsky kids.) The Dragon Skin coating results in a highly resonant string that, Mark says, “sounds even louder than some uncoated strings.” And after four years in development, DR is out with its new Veritas strings, featuring “accurate core technology” that allows the string to last longer and sound brighter, Mark says. In each pack of strings it offers, DR includes three additional Xenon plain strings that contrast with the brighter wound strings, giving the player the option to use regular or Xenon plain strings.
DR Strings prides itself on the family feeling it has generated over the years, not only with its artists and customers, but internally as well, with many employees still on board from the very beginning. And today, the company is truly a family affair: Mark’s eldest daughter Camilla, who is married to Anthony Corona, DR’s top salesman, is the office manager. She says, “We are grateful to be a small part of the mission to bring music and joy to the world.” Mark’s younger daughter Annika graduated from Yale Medical School and then worked at Astra Zeneca as a global safety physician in Sweden. Despite a promising career in healthcare, she couldn’t resist the pull of tradition and music, and now is involved in global sales and marketing at DR. As she says: “I began to realize that when I was taking my vacations to spend at music trade shows, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
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