GHS began manufacturing guitar strings in 1964. The name of the company is the initials of the original founders. Gould, Holcomb and Solko. The company was purchased in 1975 by labor attorney/entrepreneur Robert McFee. Robert McFee is the Chairman of the Board of the still family owned company. Russell McFee serves as President, Shirley McFee as Director of International Sales and Constance McFee as Director of Marketing. The company, based in Battle Creek, Michigan employs over 100 very talented people. All of the manufacturing of strings is done in Battle Creek. There are several sales offices around the United States.
GHS builds all of the machinery necessary to manufacture strings in house. It is important to know how a machine is going to react to the different materials used in the winding process. It is also important to be able to regulate the winding speeds and tensions. A machine run at speeds that are too high or too low will harm quality. The machines built at GHS are computer controlled for accuracy. There still is a great deal of human control when winding a string - the operator can determine very quickly if there is a problem with the process. Computer controlled machines have highly increased the quality of string products - however, the human touch is still necessary to maintain quality. Our strings certainly are not hand-made in the truest sense, but the machinery is of the finest in the world and were created to surpass the old methods of hand-winding. Another important factor is the quality of the material being used. If poor materials are used - you will get a poor product - Garbage in - garbage out. We inspect raw materials when they arrive and reject any metal that does not meet our high standards. After that - every string is inspected after each step in the manufacturing process. The final inspection is done through heavy magnification. The tensile strength is an important factor when speaking about raw material. Each spool of wire is tested for the appropriate tensile strength. The material is not allowed to be too soft or too hard. If the wire is not strong enough - it is rejected. If the material is corroded in any way it is rejected. If the wire is not true in gauge size - it is rejected. Rejection of all but the best material helps maintain a top quality product. All of the factors that are important to guitar players around the world are affected by these manufacturing decisions. Once GHS has developed a formula that works - it is tested by both professional and amateur players. With favorable results - a new product is born. The products that players all know and love are never changed unless it is widely recommended by consumers. Our Boomers for example are still manufactured to the same specifications they have been since their inception. Consistency is one factor that musicians rely upon. When players buy a set of strings they want it to meet or exceed their expectations. They also expect that the next time they put on a set it will be the same as the last. Attention to detail at the manufacturing level assures consistency.
The wire should be shiny and smooth from end to end. Consistency is important. Eric Johnson once noticed an intonation problem with the .018 gauge strings he was receiving from us. It was discovered that the wire size was slightly inconsistent from end to end. This was an extremely minor inconsistency in the wire, which an ear like Eric's was able to pick up. Poorly made product would have an inconsistent look to the wrapping or tarnish or spots. A spotty wire may not necessarily have an effect on the tone, however a badly tarnished string is a sign that is has been subjected to poor storage conditions. At GHS we ship our product in the United States directly to the dealers. We also do not require a minimum order, which allows our dealers to keep fresh product on hand.
When referring to string formulas there are many factors to consider. The basic factors are raw material type and quality, wrap to core ratios, tensile strength, and even the freshness of the finished product. Most string companies have their unique formulae when it pertains to the size ratio of the wrap and core wires. This ratio will give subtle differences in the way a string feels, how long it sustains and its durability. Typically, a heavier core wire will provide for longer sustain, higher volume and better durability. However, if a core wire is too heavy you sacrifice playability - it is harder on the fingers. When you add the dimension of the core wire to the dimension of the outer wrap you come up with the string gauge. As an example, a .48 string may have a .18 core wire with a .15 wrap wire or a .14 core wire and a .17 wrap wire. Usually there are variances to these numbers due to tension in the winding process and draws the wrap wire down on the core. For players general knowledge - if it feels good, sounds good and is durable - it is the string for you. The tension needed to bring a string to pitch is one of the most important factors to consider. This will relate to how easy or hard a string is to play. If the tension is too low, longevity suffers, if it is too high - playability suffers. The balance is very important. Personal preference is the key factor, but if certain guidelines are not followed - quality declines.
One of the best resources we offer is our Custom Shop. This allows any player to develop his own Custom Set if there isn't one available. All of the strings in our sets - plus hundreds of others - are available to be put in Custom Sets. We will package the individual strings as a set for any player that would like this. Any GHS dealer can order Custom Sets with their regular orders. We do thousands of these for players around the world. Even if the dealer doesn't carry the individual strings the player wants, we can generally have them sent to the store within a matter of a few days.
The basic process for making strings is relatively simple with the proper equipment and experienced operators. Any string manufacturer that is producing a high volume of product that also desires to maintain high quality has moved to computer aided winding machines that regulate the winding speed, winding direction, wire alteration and a host of other variables. A hand-wound string environment may not always produce the highest quality. Computer controlled manufacturing processes can regulate the variables to the finest degree possible. As far as the basic process - a ball-end is first attached to the core wire. The Automatic Ball End (ABE) machines drop the ball into place and wrap the core wire around it and in our case - lock it in place with our Lock-Twist technology. The core wires are then transported to the string winders who use a lathe type machine that places the specific wrap wire over the core. These machines are pneumatically controlled. It is extremely important to have the proper tension drawn down on the wrap wire and across the core wire to produce a quality product. The wrap wire comes off spools and is wound at a regulated speed (not too high - not too slow). The final product is - in our case - inspected and hand-coiled and placed in corrosion resistant envelopes. The main shortcuts that a manufacturer could take would be in the use of lower quality raw materials and in quality measures. A great deal of labor time is spent inspecting raw wire and finished goods. It is up to the manufacturer to take the time necessary to assure that the product that leaves the factory is of the highest quality. We also tend to reject a fair amount of raw material. This is a costly process that could be skipped.