Ernie Ball. If you're a guitarist or bass player, you've probably seen this company's colorful ads peppered throughout your favorite guitar magazines; you may equip your instruments with the strings they are most known for Slinkys; or maybe your neighbor down the street owns a JPX, the beautiful, sleek shred machine crafted by the Ernie Ball-owned Music Man company. If you play an instrument, you've heard of Ernie Ball.
Once you look a little more into the company though, you start to see that EB is more than just a string company. It's when you check out the exhaustive list of endorsed musicians that the magnitude of the company starts to show.
Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Slash, Angus Young, Jeff Beck, Peter Frampton, The Edge, John Mayer, John Petrucci, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Jack White and Chris Broderick, all of these guitar legends, aside from pressing their fingers on wooden fretboards for a living, faithfully use Ernie Ball/Music Man products. The list goes on. And it's expansive.
You could say that since the company began 50 years ago, Ernie Ball has established a fair amount of credibility and clout in the industry; in the world of electric guitar, it doesn't get much bigger than Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Paul McCartney! Considering the thousands of endorsed artists who use Ernie Ball strings, accessories, volume pedals and Music Man instruments, the impact of this California-based guitar company is clearly apparent and seemingly the go-to company when it comes to quality music gear, especially strings.
So this year, at the 2012 NAMM Show, Ernie Ball celebrated their 50th Anniversary.
After a long two days covering the NAMM Show, I, your fellow UG writer, had one last task to complete: head up to the California Ballroom at the Anaheim Hilton and cover the anniversary celebration, which promised to deliver a special All-Star jam.
Having little knowledge of the company aside from using their Power Slinky electric guitar strings on my Strat, it was time to check out why Ernie Ball and Music Man was such a big deal, and how they managed to hit the 50-year mark.
Mind you, this isn't an Ernie Ball/Music Man promo and it's not a shameless plug. Rather, this is an acknowledgement andwell, celebration, of how far this company has come in the past 50 years and the impact it has made on the world of modern electric guitar.
A Brief Ernie Ball History
Decades ago, a young musician named Sherwood Roland Ball, or Ernie as he was more familiarly known, opened up a small guitar shop in Tarzana, California. At that time, the store was dedicated solely to the electric guitar and accessories. Ernie, noticing a problem his guitar students had with bending their strings, developed a lighter gauge of strings that helped guitarists bend with more ease.
Eventually, Ernie Ball strings caught the attention of notable guitarists, such as Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Pete Townsend of The Who, and Jimi Hendrix, and by coming out with more guitar accessories, pedals, and improved guitar strings, the company grew and eventually bought the Music Man company, which produced high-end guitars, basses and amps. Expansions and relocations occurred over the years, and today, Ernie Ball strings and accessories are available in over 5,500 music stores in the U.S. and around the world.
Everyone Loves A Slinky
Slinky strings are the backbone of EB. Over the years, EB made a variety of nickel-plated custom-gauge strings, 7-string sets and bass strings an essential part of their output. And now, unveiled at the Ernie Ball booth at this year's NAMM Show, is their newest development in string technology Cobalt Slinky Strings.
Cobalt is a metal alloy that apparently has a much stronger magnetic relationship to guitar and bass pickups. The result is, according to their website, an extended dynamic range, incredible harmonic response, increased low end, and crisp, clear highs.
And guitar heroes like John Petrucci, Slash, and Steve Morse are raving about them. Each guitarist notes a strong difference in feel between the Cobalt strings and other normal strings. Particularly, you get a buttery feel when playing, a long-lasting sustain when playing harmonics, and a strong clarity when playing lower notes. Plus, the metal alloy lasts longer than other steel or nickel strings, keeping the strings bright.
Sound like a string worth getting?
50th Anniversary Party On, Wayne!
And so Ernie Ball celebrated their 50th Anniversary in style, promising an all-star lineup of guitar greats to supply the music for the event.
Although I was exhausted from the 10 miles I collectively walked at the NAMM Show during the day, my second wind came quickly as I went up the escalator and heard an increasing volume of music. Walking into the main room, the crowd became drowned in a sea of moving neon lights. Cameras on cranes swooped above the audience to capture the performances, and four floor-to-ceiling screens surrounded the stage on either side.
Then I realized who was on stage.
The Roster for the All-Star Jam:
Steve Vai rocking his signature Ibanez model, plus a Gibson Les PaulAlbert Lee strumming his Music Man Signature model
Steve Morse aggressively picking at his own Music Man signature
Paul Gilbert handling vocal and shred duties on a double neck guitar
Joe Bonamassa jamming on his Music Man
Randy Jackson bassin' it up
Dave LaRue being a true monster bass player
Blues Saraceno rockin' out
In between sets, the audience turned to the monitors to watch their favorite guitar legends personally thanking Ernie Ball for years of providing quality guitars, parts and strings. Even a 12-foot high, white-haired Jimmy Page appeared on screen to thank the esteemed company. Ernie Ball CEO Sterling Ball made some heartfelt speeches, cheers were made, music was played. Finally, the show ended with a medley jam of Led Zeppelin tunes.
Apologies for the intense blur coming from the photo; despite appropriate camera settings, the sound waves emanating from Steve Morse's rig prevented a proper, clear photo capture of the scene. Damn you, Steve Morse. Blurriness is blamed on your supersonic sound waves.
Interviewing EB Musicians
Despite my desires to abandon my cameraman, stop working and just enjoy some serious shred, I had a job to do. We grabbed a couple of beers (it was a party after all) and stood in the hallway where the roar of the crowd and blasting of the music was a tad quieter. It was time to scan the room and see if we could grab any good interviews; after all, this is for you guys and the UG community deserves the very best.
Admittedly, the off-the-cuff nature of the interviews made it difficult to ask those probing what the fans want to know questions, but given the beer and good vibes of the event, plus the one thing everyone there had in common a relationship to Ernie Ball the interviews were fun and improvisatory, much like the jamming going on during the concert. Here's who we managed to grab:
There was this one fellow, named DJ Ashba, who apparently plays for this band called Gunzun Roses. Never heard of them. Sike! Yeah, Guns N' Roses!!
DJ Ashba actually turned out to be a refreshingly nice guy. We approached him, nudging into the circled formed by his posse, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked if he had a few minutes to do a quick interview for UG. He politely said something along the lines of, Yeah, of course, I'm just going to go inside and get a drink and I'll be back.
Figuring he would go about his business, we shrugged it off thinking we wouldn't be seeing him again. Oh well.
But about 5 minutes later, to our surprise, there was DJ Ashba ready to talk in front of the camera. We had a spritely conversation about politics, religion, the use of Baroque trills in classical musicstuff you're dying to know about.
But he did say that he's been using Ernie Ball products for years, and every year, he rides on Sterling Ball's shoulders horsey ride style at NAMM. And he also revealed a little bit about developments in the new Guns N' Roses recordbut I'm afraid to even type anything about it because I think Axl Rose may have put a monitoring chip in my comput---
Next was Dave Weiner, touring guitarist for Steve Vai and master instructor of the weekly YouTube guitar lesson series, Riff of the Week.
I asked Weiner what it was about Ernie Ball products that he enjoyed so much. For him, he fully realized the quality of Ernie Ball strings after he switched back to another brand for direct comparison. At that moment, he realized that EB strings were the superior string. I might have to try that. You should too.
Finally, we got Mikkey Dee from Motrhead. Yes, Motrhead! He didn't really seem to know exactly why he was at this event, being a drummer and all, but nobody seemed to mind. He was merry, and he assures us that Lemmy is doing well these days.
All in all, the party was a lively celebration of a great music company. A company with reliable products and an amazing story, starting from scratch and elevating to an international presence in the music industry. Plus the CEO gives piggyback rides to guitarists in Guns N' Roses. That's pretty rad.
Photos, Interviews and Report by Zach Pino