|Ed Sullivan and the Beatles 1964|
In 1964 the Beatles made their first United States appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show. At that time I was 13 years old and like kids of that era I had to have a guitar.
My Dad relented and bought me a late 1940’s era Harmony Patrician archtop acoustic guitar from a local pawn shop for $20.00. The salesman that sold it to Dad said, “Well you need a couple of things to go along with that guitar. You need a pitch pipe to tune it and you need an extra set of string, ‘cause that kid is going to break ‘em.” For an extra two bucks I got a pitch pipe and a new set of Black Diamond guitar strings.
|Larry Cordel "Black Diamond Strings"|
I had not thought much about those strings until last week when I turned on a local radio station that plays a variety of diverse music. That day they were playing Country music by some unfamiliar artists.
|Black Diamond Strings Set|
Which is odd, because I recall how difficult it was to play guitar with those thick heavy guage old Black Diamond strings.
|Black Diamond Set|
|1960's Gibson Guitar Strings|
I was not aware that both Gibson and Fender sold their own brand of strings until a few years later. And it would be another ten years or so before Ernie Ball started putting string sets together with light and ultra light guage strings.
As were kids and had no idea that the professional players were discarding the sixth string and replacing the first string with a .009 banjo string and then using the remaining five strings.
|Bell Brand Strings|
Interestingly enough the Standard Musical String company owned by Alexander Paul, who was already making Black Diamond strings. The last partner was a Mr. George Dow Emerson, who owned yet another a string factory in New Jersey. These men got together to form the National Musical String Company
|National Musical String Co. 1898|
Interestingly enough advertisements for employment went out looking for mostly women employees. By 1899 the partners purchased another manufacturer called the American String Company.
|Black Diamond stamping plates|
This was in 1932 and the National Musical String Company was then bought by C. Bruno and Son Incorporated and James and Frank Gibson, who owned the Gibson String Company (which was not associated with Gibson Guitars).
|From C. Bruno catalog - U of I library|
The partnership only lasted a year and both men went their separate ways, with Martin building guitars and Bruno selling musical instrument as a wholesaler.
|C.Bruno and Son catalog|
Bruno and Son was eventually purchased in 1970 by the Kaman Music Corporation (Ovation Guitars) and renamed the Kaman Musical String Company. The business was moved from New Jersey to Kaman’s headquarters and factory in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
|National Musical String Co - today|
|Black Diamond Strings - circa 1965|
As I recall Black Diamond strings were sold in a black cardboard container with six individual reddish packs, each containing a string. The gauge of the string was not listed on the box or the pack, but instead it said B or 2nd Steel or E or 1st Steel. All I can say is they were heavy strings.
The National Musical String company made strings for guitars, Hawaiian guitars, banjos, mandolins and other instruments. I have also come across Black Diamond electric guitar strings that were made in later years.
|Display Case for individual strings.|
Back in the mid 1960’s most players that I knew did not purchase a new complete set of strings. More often than not if a string broke or sounded dead, we went to the music store and bought an individual string and those stores all stocked individual Black Diamond strings.
I was not certain if Black Diamond strings were still available and being curious I learned that in 1930 Ed Wackerle of Chicago, started a company to manufacture strings for bowed instruments. He was upset with the quality of strings being offered at the time. To achieve quality he put together an endorser panel; a group of players that would test the strings and suggest improvements. He came up with stainless steel strings and marketed them under the Red Label brand.
Then in 1967 John and Vincent Cavanaugh purchased the company and continued to manufacture Red Label strings. They moved the business to Sarasota, Florida
By 1972 a research and development department was set up to further enhance the strings quality. Out of this came the Old Fiddler Line of strings for Country, Western and Bluegrass players.
Improvements were made on cello and bass strings with the Supreme Line. The business was renamed the Super-Sensitive Musical String Company. In 1997 the grandson of the company’s founder took over the reigns and introduced computerized manufacturing.
|John and Jim Cavanaugh|
|Current version Black Diamond strings|
A special thanks to Chris of the Mudcat Cafe for some very interesting information on the history of the National Musical String Company.
This was written by the late Guy Clark in honor of Rodney Crowell's father