Ernie Ball was an iconic figure in the music world and a pioneer of the guitar. He created the first modern guitar strings, which revolutionized the way the guitar was played.
Beyond his famous flatwound strings, Ernie Ball was also the founder of one of the largest music equipment licenses in the world.
He was a passionate musician and entrepreneur who helped pave the way for the guitar industry for generations to come.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the man behind the legendary Ernie Ball brand.
Overview of Ernie Ball
Ernie Ball was a guitar player as well as a music innovator and entrepreneur. Born in 1930, he paved the way for music industry advances with the introduction of his own stringed instrument products, notably the Slinky electric guitar strings. Ernie Ball’s sons Brian and Sterling followed in their father’s footsteps, creating the popular Ernie Ball Music Man company.
In 1957, Ernie designed his own six-string bass and developed two pioneering innovations—the magnetic pickups which would become an industry standard, and his first use of multi-colored electric guitar strings that enabled him to instantly change gauges without having to wind new strings.
The same year Ernie opened Pickup Manufacturing in California to mass produce pickups for Fender, Gretsch and other companies—further solidifying his role as an music innovation pioneer. During this time he also opened a small shop dedicated to restringing customers’ instruments and soon began manufacturing strings from there.
Ernie further established his reputation as an innovator when he released the first acoustic guitar with adjustable truss rod design in 1964. In 1968, Ernie Ball Music Man Company was founded to develop guitars which expanded not only on his earlier electro-mechanical advancements but also included advanced features including active electronics, standard set necks with adjustable truss rod nuts build into various woods including basswood ash and mahogany finished off with handcrafted fingerboards made of exotic woods like ebony rosewood and more.
Early Life and Career
Ernie Ball was a music pioneer who found success and recognition in the music industry from the early 1950s until his passing in 2004. He was born in 1930 in Santa Monica, California and had a passion for music from a young age. He began playing the guitar at the age of nine and was a self-taught musician. Ball was also a pioneer in the music-equipment business, creating one of the first mass-produced electric guitar strings. In addition, he established the Ernie Ball Corporation in 1962, which went on to become one of the leading guitar-gear manufacturers in the world. Let’s take a closer look at Ball’s life and career.
Ernie Ball’s Early Life
Ernie Ball (1930-2004) is the creator of the world’s largest string company and continues to bring new and innovative products to musicians worldwide. Born in Santa Monica, California on August 30th, 1930, Ernie began working in his father’s photography studio at a young age. His interest in music began at the age of twelve when he purchased his first guitar from a local music store. Throughout high school and into college, he attended classes at the Gene Autry Professional School Of Music before serving a four-year term in the Navy.
In 1952, after leaving active duty, Ernie opened three music stores called “Ernie Ball Music Man” in Tarzana and Northridge, California and Whittier, California where he sold every type of musical equipment imaginable. He saw a need for better guitar strings which led him to develop his own superior brand of strings that allowed great tone without having to constantly change them out due to breakage or corrosion. He tested them on some of his pro musician customers who concurred with their excellent quality and Ernie began what would become one of the largest string companies in history – “Ernie Ball Inc.,” in 1962. It still remains rooted as one of the most influential companies in both music history and culture today with its wide variety of new products including signature series strings by some legendary guitarists.
Ernie Ball’s Career
Considered one of the most influential people in the music community, Ernie Ball began pursuing his career as a musician at age 14. He started out playing steel guitar, later switching to guitar and eventually becoming a lead player in Gene Vincent’s band. After tour experiences with Little Richard and Fats Domino, Ernie made the move to Los Angeles in 1959 to further pursue his career on guitar. It was there that he created the prototype for what would become Ernie Ball Strings, as well as his worldrenowned line of guitars — Sterling by Music Man.
Ernie quickly saw success with both string and guitar sales, with musicians like Jimmy Page using his product during performances with Led Zeppelin. By 1965, Ernie created Slinky strings — the iconic strings designed specifically for electric guitars that would become standard equipment across all genres of popular music from rock and country to jazz and more. As an entrepreneur, he then marketed his products on an international scale which eventually led him to open up shops around the world including Japan, Spain, Italy and India.
The legacy of Ernie Ball lives on through generations of musicians who continue to credit him as a cornerstone in their musical journey and evolution — from Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) to Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones) to Eddie Van Halen among many others who rely on his strings for their incredible sound.
Ernie Ball’s Signature Products
Ernie Ball was an American musician who created the company that would become one of the most popular guitar equipment manufacturers of all time. He was a prolific inventor, creating several signature products that have become industry standards. Among these products are strings, pickups, and amplifiers. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at Ernie Ball’s signature products and what makes them so unique.
Slinky strings were a range of guitar strings released by Ernie Ball in the early 1960s, revolutionizing the market and quickly becoming one of the most popular brands of string. The technology created used a unique winding technique which creates tension along the length of the string, allowing for greater harmonic content with reduced finger fatigue. Ernie’s revolutionary technology has been used to create all kinds of Slinky strings to suit varying styles, guitars and players preferences.
Slinkys come in regular (RPS), hybrid (MVP), and flatwound (Push-Pull Winding) as well as specialty sets such as Cobalt, Skinny Top/Heavy Bottom, and Super Long Scale. The regular Slinkys are available in gauges ranging from 10-52 while skinner options such as 9-42 or 8-38 are also available.
The Hybrid Sets use comparatively thicker plain steel treble strings (.011–.048) on top of a much thinner wound bass string set (.030–.094). This unique combination allows for more clarity on the higher notes while adding some warmth when playing lower notes.
The Flatwound sets use flat stainless steel wire rather than round wound nylon wrap wire to reduce finger noise during play which gives it an interesting warmer sound with less upper harmonics made up mainly of round-wound tone fundamentals.
Music Man Guitars
Ernie Ball is credited with making some of the most popular musical instruments on the market. His signature products include Music Man guitars, Ernie Ball strings and volume pedals.
Music Man guitars are perhaps his most famous product. Before Music Man, Ernie Ball sold his own line of electric and bass guitars and amplifiers under labels such as Carvin and BKANG Music. He approached Leo Fender in 1974 with the plan to purchase his guitar business, but Fender refused to sell anything other than a licensing agreement, so Ernie started work on a new design—the iconic Music Man series of guitars. The prototype was completed in 1975, and a production model was installed in several music stores the following year.
The first few models included the Stingray bass (1973), which had an iconic 3+1 headstock design; the Sabre (1975), offering improved pickup systems; the Axis (1977) featuring an ergonomic body shape; and later on, variations such as the Silhouette (1991) with high-output pickups for bigger sounds, or the Valentine (1998) for mellower tones. Alongside these models were various high-end special edition instruments built with premium materials such as rosewood fingerboards or exquisite finishes made from high-quality woods imported from foreign countries like India or Brazil.
Featuring quality craftsmanship and modern engineering techniques that had resisted all attempts at imitation by competitors over decades, these guitars are some of Ernie’s lasting legacies and carry his name to this day.
Originally designed by inventor and entrepreneur Ernie Ball in the 1970s, volume pedals help guitarists achieve unparalleled expression during performances by creating a smooth, sustained swell to sound. Ernie Ball was an innovator dedicated to pushing the envelope of the guitar playing experience, and his signature line of volume pedals are a prominent example of his pioneering spirit.
Ernie Ball’s volume pedals come in several sizes depending on the desired effect — from small to large — and can also provide an underlying low-end boost. The minivol uses optical activation (pulse-width modulation) rather than potentiometer sweepers found in earlier versions. This ensures precise control of your signal dynamic level with minimal added noise.
The company’s signature Volume Jr features Low Taper, High Taper and Minimum Volume modes and is small enough to fit on a pedalboard but still offers plenty of range and expression capabilities. For those who demand more control they offer their MVP (Multi-Voice Pedal), as well as their unique VPJR Tuner/Volume Pedal which features an integrated chromatic tuner with moveable threshold adjustments for fine tuning reference pitches such as an E chord or C# string up or down in half steps.
No matter what size you choose, Ernie Ball’s signature line of volume pedals provide musicians with precise control over expression dynamics within their performance space. Whether it’s twitchy attack bursts or quiet sustain rises, these excellent pedals will add a new dimension to your music making process.
Ernie Ball was a revolutionary in the music industry, changing the way we make music today. He created the iconic Ernie Ball String Company, which is still one of the most popular brands in the music industry. His legacy will undoubtedly last for generations, but it’s important to take a look back at who he was and the incredible things he created.
Ernie Ball’s Impact on the Music Industry
Ernie Ball was a beloved American entrepreneur who made a lasting impact on the music industry with his innovations and products. A guitar technician by trade, he became an influential businessman who developed improvements to instrument strings, making them more durable and cost-effective for musicians. He also invented guitars and took the music industry in new directions with a robust line of amplifiers and effects that enabled guitarists to create unique sounds.
Ernie Ball’s contribution to stringed instruments was revolutionary, as it opened new possibilities for musicians truly expressing themselves through their instruments. He crafted his own electric guitar strings that were ideal for rock ‘n’ roll musicians who demanded powerful performance at an affordable price. The strings came in various gauges allowing players to create their signature sounds and maintain their instruments better than ever before.
Ernie Ball’s contributions quickly established him as a leader in the music industry. His impressive lineup of amplifiers and accessories served double duty – they gave players the tools they needed to achieve great sound while providing retailers with products they could reliably market and sell. Many of Ernie Ball’s innovations are still today relied upon for creating some of the world’s most popular recordings. Musicians around the world continue to give thanks for his lifelong dedication to music innovation and influencing multiple generations of players from different genres
with his array of versatile products
Ernie Ball’s Legacy Today
Ernie Ball’s legacy lives on in the music world today — his company still produces high-quality strings, electric and acoustic guitars, basses, amplifiers and accessories. His vision for string production techniques revolutionized the industry and continues to be held in high regard by musicians of all ages. He set a standard for musicians that is still adhered to today — top-quality instruments with superior sound.
Ernie Ball understood the importance of quality craftsmanship not just with guitars but also with strings. His iconic Slinky strings feature advanced manufacturing techniques as well as exclusive compound materials which produce superior sound quality and enhance player performance. Ernie Ball strings are crafted with a combination of powerful magnetic coils, precision windings and exacting gauges that have been perfected over decades in order to provide unparalleled performance on stage and studio alike. This dedication to craft sets them apart from other brands and has made Ernie Ball an institution in the music world.
To this day his two sons maintain the mission of their father—continuing his legacy by providing players with premium products designed to provide exceptional playability at an affordable price. By creating products built on quality, consistency, generational heritage and innovation Ernie Ball continues its commitment to craftsmanship into a new era within the music world.
Ernie Ball was an innovator and industry leader for more than five decades. His humble beginnings started with guitar strings, but he eventually branched out into manufacturing guitars, basses and amplifiers. With his eye for quality and detailed craftsmanship, Ernie Ball created signature instruments like the Stingray Bass and EL Banjo that remain popular to this day. He also founded a music shop that remains a local staple in California’s San Gabriel Valley.
While his legacy was shaped by hits like “Yesterday”, Ernie Ball left behind a musical legacy that will continue to influence the music landscape for many years to come. His influence on players around the world is far-reaching, and has been felt in jazz, rockabilly and blues circles alike. While music may have changed since Ernie’s death in 2004 at age 81, his impact on songwriting lives on through the generations of musicians who have become his devoted fans.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
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