Biography of Ernie Ball - inventor of Slinky guitar strings

Ernie ball strings

"If it feels right, I know it will sell"

Ernie Ball, Founder of  legendary Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings

Born in 1930, Roland Sherwood "Ernie" Ball grew up in Santa Monica, California and was introduced to Hawaiian steel guitar by his father at the age of nine. He soon got bored with it and gave up, only to return in his teenage years, practicing several hours a day and soon playing six nights a week in a beer bar in LA.

At 19, he joined the Tommy Duncan band, playing pedal steel guitar. Ernie Ball toured the southwest US with Tommy until he joined the U.S. Air Force Band when the Korean War broke out. He played a variety of jazz, classical and big band music in the Air Force and formed a popular five-piece band that at the air base. During this period he also learned to play standard guitar. When he left the Air Force Ernie Ball played bars for a while but had to take a teaching job to support his family. However, a bandleader of a live variety show heard him play and hired him not only to play in the staff band but also for two solo spots. This live ‘seat of the pants’ weekly TV show built his confidence and his reputation and led to both studio work and a big demand for his guitar teaching.

Ernie Roland Sherwood Ball

In 1957 Ernie Ball opened his own modest music shop, a few miles from Hollywood, the first in the US to sell only guitars. This was unknown at the time and music sales reps would try to persuade him to stock drum sticks, clarinet reeds, etc but he always said "I just want to sell guitars”. His love for guitars and only guitars built a reputation for the store not just locally, but with people traveled from other parts of the US to visit Ernie Ball and his guitars.

During his teaching sessions Ernie noticed that students struggled with fretting the third string of the medium gauge Fender strings that were the popular at that time. He tried (through his sales rep) to get Leo Fender to produce lighter gauge strings, but Leo was concerned about fret buzz and had no desire to change his guitar design to get over it! It was only then that Ernie thought of supplying his own custom gauge strings and contacted a string manufacturer to make custom medium gauge sets, replacing the standard 29 third string with a 24. At the same time rock and roll guitar was taking off and more guitarists were experimenting with using different strings. Particularly popular was replacing the standard first string with one from a banjo and moving the others up, discarding the heavy sixth string.

After the success of his earlier custom sets, and having failed to convince either Fender or Gibson to change their thinking, Ernie decided to produce his own custom set of strings specifically aimed at Rock & Roll guitarists… and first set of Ernie Ball Slinky strings was born! (Regular 10 - 46). To offer even more flexibility he then ordered a wide variety of single strings of various gauges and allowed customers to make up their own sets in any combination, selling them from a homemade wooden storage rack. Guitarists loved it and were soon experimenting with their own combinations of Ernie Ball strings.

The legendary Merle Travis and the Ventures were regulars at Ernie Ball’s store and told people they used “Ernie Ball” strings, even though Ern wasn’t a string maker! As he sold more and more Ernie Ball Slinky strings he sold the shop, moved house and concentrated on the string business, being joined in the late 1960s by his son Sterling as a full time salesman for he Ernie Ball Company.

Ernie Ball died on September 9, 2004.

Ernie Ball guitar strings are now exported to 68 countries and are the world’s favourite guitar strings.

The current Slinky range includes:

2215 - Skinny Top Heavy Bottom      10, 13, 17, 30, 42, 52

2220 - Power Slinky                            11, 14, 18p, 28, 38, 48

2221 - Regular Slinky                         10, 13, 17, 26, 36, 46

2222 - Hybrid Slinky                           09, 11, 16, 26, 36, 46

2223 - Super Slinky                             09, 11, 16, 24w, 32, 42

2225 - Extra Slinky                             08, 11, 14, 22w, 30, 38

2626 - Not Even Slinky                      12, 16, 24p, 32, 44, 56

2627 - Beefy Slinky                            11, 15, 22p, 30, 42, 54

Musicians who used Ernie Ball guitar strings, accessories, or instruments include:
Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, Glen Frey, Joe Walsh and Don Felder of The Eagles, Jeff Beck, Albert Lee, Eric Clapton, Steve Morse, B.B. King, Steve Lukather, Carlos Santana, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, along with members of U2, The Pretenders, AC / DC, and Fleetwood Mac, Metallica, Mike McReady and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, Slash of Guns and Roses, Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, as well as members of Live, Collective Soul, 311, Bush, Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt, Smashing Pumpkins, Matchbox 20, Sugar Ray, Reel Big Fish, Social Distortion, Pennywise, Lagwagon, and the Descendents. Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, Slash, Matthew Bellamy of Muse, Johnny Christ of Avenged Sevenfold, Daron Malakian of System of a Down, Green Day, Blink 182, Sam Featherstone, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Albert Lee, Eric Clapton, Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Angus Young. of AC/DC, John Petrucci.



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