Sometime in 1957 or 1958, Ernie Ball opened what was arguably the first music store in the United States to sell guitars exclusively, in Tarzana, California. When music sales reps criticized him for refusing to sell drumsticks and other instruments’ equipment, Ball replied, “I just want to sell guitars.” He was repeatedly told that a guitar store would never be a success, but the words rang hollow as people began to come from miles around to visit the shop.
With the guitar-based rock revival of the 1960s, Ball noticed that beginning students were having difficulty playing the bestselling medium gauge strings, particularly in holding down or bending the G-string. At the time, it was common for a set of strings to have a wound third string. Ball convinced a string manufacturer to make him custom sets with a 24-gauge G-string, which he sold in his store. It was the beginning of the Ernie Ball brand.
Located not far from Hollywood, the store began to attract a large patronage of professional musicians, including The Beach Boys, Merle Travis and The Ventures. Ball also began to notice the practice of slack stringing among players who discarded the bottom sixth string and added a banjo first string on top (high E string). This resulted in an overall lighter gauge set with a plain third string. Once again, he ordered from a manufacturer naming his new product the Ernie Ball Slinky. Slinky strings traveled the country with the pro musicians who used them and soon Ball was receiving mail orders from individuals and stores.
Today, many world famous guitar players use Ernie Ball Slinky strings. A very small sampling of these guitarists includes Slash, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, The Edge, Angus Young, Buddy Guy, Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett, James Hetfield, Albert Lee, John Mayer, Buckethead, Dave Navarro, Brad Paisley, John Petrucci, Synyster Gates, Dave Murray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Paul Gilbert.
Ernie Ball saw a particular demand and improved upon existing products, finding ways to better fulfill market demands. By the early 1970s, he took the company global by establishing distributors in Europe and Asia, making Ernie Ball the second biggest string manufacturer in the country. He was unorthodox in his management methods, disregarding market surveys, preferring instead to test products in the marketplace to see if they would succeed. In the early ’80s, the company bought the Music Man Company, expanding into the production of high quality guitars, basses and amplifiers. Ball, along with former Fender employee George Fullerton, was instrumental in the development of the first modern acoustic bass guitar, introduced under the Earthwood brand in 1972.
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