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S.I.T. Strings’ Tim Pfouts

Victoria Wasylak • June 2019Upfront Q&A • June 5, 2019

Just because a company has a classic bread-and-butter item doesn’t mean they can’t keep exploring new technology, and for S.I.T. Strings, innovation never gets put on hold.

Perhaps best-known for their Power Wound strings, the boutique string maker has recently released both their Foundations bass string sets and corrosion-resistant electric guitar strings. While the Foundations strings offer a special core material that makes the strings more responsive to touch and flexible, the CRT strings bring anti-corrosion technology to the S.I.T.’s electric string sets, building on what was initially just for their acoustic strings.

As S.I.T. Strings approaches its 40th anniversary, vice president Tim Pfouts discussed  some of the newest offerings from the Ohio company, as well as what it means to craft and support an artist roster in 2019. (Hint: endorsements still mean just as much now as they did before.)

S.I.T.’s Foundations bass strings have a special core material. How would you explain what makes them different? Where did you come up with this idea for the different material?

Tim Pfouts: We’ve been around for over 30 years, but we’ve always been primarily a guitar string company. We always had bass strings, but our bass strings have always been engineered and geared towards more rock and metal players with a little bit heavier of a core. A few years ago, we started trying to develop a new bass string that we felt that needed to be a smaller core, more flexible type of bass string more geared towards different types of players – for example, gospel, R&B, jazz. To do that, we needed to get a smaller type of core material than we’re currently using for our bass strings because it just needs to hold up to the pressure that was going to be put on them as well.

They’ve been out for a little over a year now. We still consider it a new product because we just came out with the six strings set. We did a lot of R&D on these and got them in the hands of a lot of artists. We really sent a lot out both to just general consumers who didn’t know our product, and also our endorsed artists. We got a lot of feedback on it, and we kept tweaking it and tweaking it and finally we got into a spot that we felt comfortable, we felt good about what we’re releasing.

They’re still not a string for everybody. They are a little different flavor than our other strings. Our main bass string is called the Power Wound and it still probably outsells the Foundations because we have such a loyal base of players who use those and love them. For the Foundations, it was almost a different taste bass strings, or a different flavor of bass strings.

The newest string that you released is a coated electric guitar string, featuring a CRT [corrosion resistant technology] treatment to prevent corrosion. What goes into making a special treatment that will work so that these strings will last longer? There’s a lot of science behind that.

Probably it’s good to mention that as a company, we’re not a coated string company. There’s a lot of coated strings on the market, and we came out with the coated acoustic string a couple of years ago and it’s done pretty well. We’ve kind of held off on the electric string a little bit just because it’s not really what our core business has been.

What makes ours a little different is that the wrap wire is coated before the string is made. Our goal with this coated string that we do with the CRTs was to make a coated string that felt and played like an uncoated string, but just lasted a little bit longer from a corrosion standpoint.

Our way of looking at it from a product standpoint is we kind of wanted to tweak a non-coated string to make it last longer. The coating that we have on the wrap wire is a treated wrap wire that extends the corrosion process and moisture, affecting the plating of the wrap wire. And so what it does really is just extends the life of the string.

Also for us, we wanted to be able to come in with a coated string that was a good price point in the market. That was important for us. Being that we’re a company that’s not known for coated strings and that’s not our core business, we needed to come in with the string that was at a good price point. I think we’re there – it’s kind of right in the middle of the road. Our key players and new players are picking up these strings and they really like them. They’ve been selling really well for us so far. They’re really new – we just came out with them after the NAMM Show. So we’re only really three months into it, but so far, so good.

With the CRTs we’ve expanded the line. We don’t have a huge offering in them. I think we’re at five SKUs right now with the CRT Coated Electric. And again, they’re there to go along with the CRT Coated Phosphor Bronze that we do. And that’s the feedback that we got on the coated strings is, “Hey, you know, these strings sound like your Power Wounds,” which is our bread and butter electric guitar strings. It’s an 80 percent nickel-plated steel guitar strings.

Is there a genre that you’re noticing that these strings are popular for certain players?

You know, not really, not like we see with the Foundations bass strings. It’s pretty much been across the board. There’s certain players that just want a coated string. With that in mind, maybe they’re [players] putting strings on a guitar, they don’t want to change the strings constantly, or maybe they’re starting and not playing all the time, and they don’t want the strings rusting. Or, they could be in a [humid] environment, and that’s really where it comes into a lot too. A lot of our distributors that are doing well with these strings, they are in very humid environments. For example, our distributor in Indonesia is doing great with these strings because in their market, they need something like this to help them out. It’s the same in the United States depending where on the market is.

About 50 percent of our business is export, and so we definitely had to take that in consideration. In a perfect world you don’t want a string coated because it sounds the absolute best when it’s not [coated] – there’s nothing stopping the way the string vibrates and the way string sounds. But depending on the environment, depending on how a person plays, and depending on the pH value in their sweat, they need it. And so that’s why we decided to come out with it.

You folks have an anniversary coming up next year – 40 years in 2020. Do you have any special plans for that?

We have some new products that we’re going to come out with and we’re also going to be doing maybe a couple of events in and around the NAMM Show to celebrate our 40th anniversary as well. You know, a lot of our dealers, believe it or not, have been with us a lot of those 40 years. They’re the reason we’re still here and we’re still profitable is because of all the dealers are hanging in with us.

Time flies – I’ve been here for 25 of the 40 years. A lot of the dealers and a lot of people that support us have been with us a good part of those 40 years. And I think that’s a testament to the quality of our product and also a testament to the adaptability of many of our dealers to change through the different generations and business climates and whatever else comes their way. Hopefully some of the things that we’ll do will have a lot to do with some of our dealers and distributors, you know, bringing them into the loop about it, bringing them on board about It.

Looking at your website and your social media presence, I can really tell S.I.T. Strings seem very involved with your artist family. What are those relationships like?

I’m glad you asked about that. For us, it’s all about relationships. Being a smaller company in the industry, the only people that are going to use our product and endorse our product are those who love the product and also love us personally, and so we feel that it’s got to be reciprocated. That it’s a trade-off. If we’re going to expect an artist to support us, we want to support them where we can and we want to work with them. And it’s such a small industry, I think sometimes people forget that. Especially now with social media, it’s such a small industry that the degrees of separation between a bigger or a medium size artist and a potential consumer is so small. It’s a post on Instagram or it’s a response to an email or to a conversation after a show.

We try to focus and spend resources and money and time building those relationships that we have. We also have a really good artist relations guy who continues to work in the industry. He’s on the road and so that helps as well is that he’s always out there.

And it’s not a perfect science. We’d like to do more. There’s always that balance between promoting your product and trying to stay involved with the artist but we’re trying to find that balance.

For our artist roster, a lot of people say that it really doesn’t matter anymore, but it still does. The kids are still influenced by who plays the stuff. Maybe who that is has changed a little bit – some people like to call them influencers on Instagram – but really all they are is still guitar players. They’re still guitar players who are playing guitar that somebody else sees and likes how they play and they want to play like they do. How it looks from the outside has changed but the internal workings of our industry and of what influences people is still the same. It just looks different.

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