Jason How of Rotosound…
A few weeks ago, Tim Fletcher was lucky enough to be invited to visit the Rotosound factory in Kent, England, and he took the opportunity to chat to company chairman Jason How.
They talked about the brand’s history, the difficulty of getting a new product to be accepted by bass players who can be somewhat set in their ways, and the company’s new Ultramag bass strings. Oh, and Steve Harris uses flats…
How’s Business Jason?
It’s fantastic – it’s mad at the moment! Although strings are maybe not the most exciting product, but they are an accessory product which is a consumable. You might buy several guitars in a lifetime, but you’ll probably buy several hundred sets of strings, so it’s a good business.
Rotosound are perhaps best known for stainless steel products – are they still your main bass strings?
Yes definitely – it’s what we’re known for. Trends come and go and people’s tastes change, but our stainless-steel strings are something that goes back to the sixties. If you’ve heard J. J. Burnel from The Stranglers, if you’ve heard Bruce Foxton from The Jam, or Chris Squire or Geddy Lee, you’ll get the idea of what the sound is all about.
Some of your products are nickel-based, but do you think they are perhaps not as well-known as your stainless-steel strings?
We make the Roto Bass, which is a less expensive set, and we now do the new Ultramag which is a very high-end, nickel-based string, so we’re hoping that this will attract some newer players.
From what I’ve read, it uses the type 52 alloy – what is that?
It’s 52% nickel and 48% iron – not a new material, but we’ve never used it for bass strings before. Our other nickel strings are 8% nickel, so having 52% is a big change.
How does the type 52 alloy affect the sound and playability of the string?
The main point is it’s a louder sound, and it’s slightly brighter – it’s a clearer sounding string.
What was the reason for developing the Ultramag strings, as it was a bit of a step away from what you’d been doing?
We needed to have a product at that price point in the market, that was a real high-end product. People are always looking for something better – what can they go up to. Our Swing Bass range covers 99% of what we do and what players want, but there was nowhere to go above that in a higher-end more prestigious string, and we wanted something for that market.
When are the Ultramag strings going to be available to buy?
They’re out there now – one of the first dealers was Strings Direct. The reps have had them to sell since the middle of January, so if they’re doing their job, they should be in the shops.
Thinking about putting new products on the market, do you think bass players are perhaps a bit more conservative than guitarists – more reluctant to try new things?
Guitarists are very conservative – super conservative! I think that probably all musicians are conservative, although on the surface you don’t see that, but there are a lot of traditionalists out there. Getting people to start onto something new, once they have used the same product for a while is quite difficult.
You talked earlier about the changes of taste in strings – I’ve noticed there’s recently been a lot more talk about flat-wounds. For example, more people putting them on Precisions and getting that old-fashioned, late fifties, more ‘original’ sound. Have you notice a recent increase in sales of flats?
Actually, we can’t make enough of them! They are very, very time-consuming and very difficult to make, so we don’t really advertise them. We have only a selection of our string makers that can make flats as it takes nearly a year to go through the training to learn how to make them. We have machines that which I designed back in 2002 that make round-wound strings fairly automatically, and people that come here and work on those machines can make 100% perfect strings – the first strings they make will be perfect. There’s little training needed because the machines have taken away most of the manual input, but the flat-wounds are still 100% human element input to the labour – so it’s much more of a skilled job. As for the sound, people say ‘it’s for jazz or blues’ but it’s not really, it’s just a different sound. Steve Harris from Iron Maiden is one of our biggest endorsees of flat-wounds.
That is going to be a big surprise for people – the idea of Iron Maiden being a major metal band, but their bass player using a string developed in the 1950s…
Yeah, and it’s perfect for him – we sometimes suggest new products for him and say ‘try this Steve’ but he says, ‘I don’t want it…I want what you’ve originally made – that’s my sound’.
What’s next for Rotosound?
There are a few things going on in the background that we are working on – probably not coming out this year, but hopefully next year…
But you can’t tell us?
No, I’d have to shoot you!
Visit online at rotosound.com