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The Innovators

Mark Dronge Of DR Strings
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Mark Dronge, the president of DR Strings, grew up in the music industry. His father, Alfred, founded Guild Guitars in 1952 and was a prominent figure in the musical-instrument business until his untimely death in a 1972 plane crash. Mark’s wife, Elisabet, is from the family that made Levin guitars in Sweden, sold in the U.S. under the Goya name. Django Reinhardt used a Levin on his 1946 American tour, and Julie Andrews played a Goya on a mountaintop in The Sound of Music.

Making strings, Mark says, was something his father considered, but Guild never entered the market. “For various reasons, one being a lack of space, it didn’t happen,” he says, “but I got a chance in 1989 and started DR Strings.” The company purchased its first string-making machines from Daniel Mari, who had worked at E. & O. Mari/La Bella before starting his own string business. “Danny sold us two machines and taught us how to make strings. We started out in Bergen County, New Jersey, and we’ve stayed there.” Early on, Mark had a partner named Ben Rapoport—thus DR—but he bought him out about 20 years ago, and DR Strings has remained a privately held family business ever since.

DR Hi-Beams—the company’s first bass set—made a strong impression when they were introduced. Round-wound stainless-steel strings, they were similar to other high-grade bass strings on the market in the late ’80s, with two key differences: They have a round core and are handmade. The round core makes them more flexible than hexagonal-core strings and gives them a unique sound, a bit less bright than other stainless-steel strings but still clear and punchy, with a nice growl. One early endorser was Marcus Miller, who appeared in the company’s ads in the ’90s and used DR strings for 25 years; the current artist roster includes Victor Wooten, Verdine White, Jeff Berlin, Sting, and other top players.

Making round-core strings using DR’s hand-winding process is tricky, says Mark. “It takes more time and requires a couple of extra steps. You have to slow the machine down, because the wrap wire won’t grip the round core like it will a hex core. And we put a couple of flat spots at the top of the string, so the wrap wire can grip something.”

DR’s line now has ten types of bass strings, including both round-core and hex-core sets, as well as ones for acoustic bass guitar and drop tuning. The latest addition is Pure Blues, round-core strings with a “Quantum Nickel” wrap. Ed Friedland tested them for a Soundroom review in BP’s May ’15 issue, praising their performance for both slapping and fingerstyle playing. Regarding the Quantum Nickel, Ed quoted Mark as saying it is “a unique alloy that has never been used for bass strings, from a supplier that does not typically deal with the musical instrument market.”

Moving forward, Mark reports that DR Strings is at work on another new formulation, “a completely new bass string we hope to bring out at Winter NAMM [in January 2019], and we’re thinking about a second type, which will take longer to perfect.”

Even with all the changes in the music business over the past 30 years, Mark affirms that he remains devoted to the company’s founding principles. The DR Strings factory is still in Bergen County, New Jersey, with many employees who have more than 20 years of service. All of its wire comes from U.S. manufacturers. (“There are fewer suppliers than there used to be, but it’s out there.”) Many of the strings are still made using the hand-winding process, which requires months of employee training. Production improvements remain a continuing focus. And—most important—quality control is Mark’s supreme concern. “One time, when we were working together at Guild, I said to my father, ‘I don’t understand why we’re always trying to make such good products. Why can’t we make them a little faster and make more of them?’ And he said to me, ‘There will always be a demand for quality. You always have to do the very best you can. Period.’”

For more about DR Strings, go to drstrings.com.

Jim Roberts was the founding editor of BASS PLAYER and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).

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