September 17, 2004 by

Ernie Ball


Categories: Business, Military, Musicians

eball.jpgWhen Ernie Ball opened his small music store in 1958, he only sold guitars. Buyers would come into the Tarzana, Calif., shop and encourage him to branch out — maybe sell a clarinet or two — but Ball always refused. Over the next four decades, he transformed that business into a $40 million corporation with a worldwide reputation for excellence.
In 1962, customers began to complain about playing on tough, inflexible strings. So Ball created “Slinkys,” lighter-gauge strings that better suited rock ‘n’ roll instruments. Word of mouth spread and these custom-gauge single strings became a favorite of many artists, including B.B. King, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and Metallica.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Ball decided to diversify his wares and offer other instruments and accessories. His brand name items are now sold in more than 5,000 U.S. music stores and exported to more than 70 countries. Ball also purchased the Music Man electric guitar company in 1984.
Raised in Santa Monica, Calif., Ball learned to play the steel guitar as a child. He quickly bored with the instrument and put it aside until his teens. After a year of practicing for several hours a day, Ball joined the Musicians’ Union and landed a job playing at an L.A. bar. At 19, he became a pedal guitarist in the Tommy Duncan band.
Ball served in the U.S. Air Force Band during the Korean War. For three years, he performed in ceremonies and marched in parades. After the service, Ball returned to L.A. and became a guitarist in the staff band for the weekly TV show “Western Varieties.” In his spare time, he tutored dozens of students.
Ball died on Sept. 9. Cause of death was not released. He was 74.

24 Responses to Ernie Ball

  1. Gary

    I didnt know the dude even existed, i just thought it was a really cool marketing plot. His strings are the best out there and i can bet hes still rockin wherever hes at today. His strings are so friggen good imma get the ernie ball eagle tattoo’d on my fore arm. RIP dude, you rock

  2. mike

    ernie ball was a man who didn’t take no for an answer.when people told him something wasn’t good or was simply a bad idea he would be even more determined to show his ideas were worthy.i worked on the masonry aspect of the San Luis facility and got to meet the man and have various discussions concerning construction practices.many owners of big companies,like ernie ball,are only concerned about the “bottom line”Mr.Ball was an exception.he was genuinely interested in the whole procedure.i have learned alot from him-about buisness and life.Rock on ernie!!

  3. jeremy ball

    i didnt know him very well. I nevere met him. he is my dads uncle. i just found out about his death. he has great guitars and accessories. i wish i could of met him. i heard he was great.

  4. jan

    Just found this log. Thanks Ernie, for the best strings around and I’ve been using them for the past 100 years. Tried most (hot) brands available, always came home to you. Have peace and fun.

  5. Jackie Gere

    I met Ernie when he came to El Sobrante, Calif., to meet up with, and later marry, my friend, Nova
    Gayle, who also sang country music in the night clubs in the Richmond, El Cerrito, Berkeley area.
    They made a beautiful couple, and it is only now
    that I have caught up with them. I was 16 when I met Nova Gayle, and she touched my life indelibly.

  6. Allen Hightower

    I used to use Ernie Ball guitar books in teaching many years ago. Now I have gone back to guitar teaching and can’t find the books. Are they still published? Where can I get them. His section on teaching bar chords in book 2 is great, I still use the system with my students but don’t know where to tell them to get the book.
    The name Ernie Ball will always be synonamous with great gutiar and bass strings.

  7. Ginny

    I had to honor of not only working for Ernie ,but beside him. He was a true genious. He is greatly missed everday here at the Ernie Ball Company. I have worked for the company for 7 years. RIP Ernie

  8. Juliet H., Via Yella

    I was just thinking about Ernie and his sons, especially my friend Sherwood. Feeling a little nostalgic, I googled his name to see if I could contact either Ernie or Sherwood to say hi, thanks, and leaving a wishing-you-well/hope-life-is-treating-you-gently note. Sorry to hear of the passing of such a genuinely sweet and talented man. Miss the jam sessions and hanging out on Via Wazier.

  9. Kip Raymond

    Ernie was a true Renaissance man who loved being involved in all aspects of his business. He hired me to teach him how to do typesetting on a Compugraphics Editwriter back in the 70s while at his old facility in Newport Beach. We spent a lot of time talking about his early years, his steel playing, and his plans for moving up to San Luis Obispo. Sorry to learn of his passing.

  10. Denzil Hookens

    I had three guitar tutors i.e. phase 1,2 and 3.
    Someone borrowed phase 3 and I would love to get one if this possible.
    I live in Melbourne, Australia and would appreciate hearing from you in this regard
    Thank you

  11. Sherwood Ball

    Ernie Ball – Thank you to everyone who posted such
    nice things about my dad. Here’s a man who sacrificed his dreams of studio work, music production and composing to raise his four children.
    The American dream actually happened with a man
    who saw a need and worked his tail off to fulfill that dream. Much more difficult nowadays with mega corporations crushing the mom and pop businesses.
    One of the things that made the company dif than
    many other corporations was Ern’s hands on approach but also this is a music company owned and run by musicians. Not everyone likes everyone. The comment about my brother, I know he has not always rubbed people right. He is a brilliant business man, has expanded the company beyond what my father could have done, has a heart of gold and the years have smoothed out the rough edges. A few of the grandchildren have carried on the legacy and are truly in touch with the music business today which is a testament to my brother and my father. BTw, Jeremy: who is your Dad and where does he live?
    Hey Juliet. Do you still live on Via Yella?
    Thanks to all,

  12. Flip Parker

    Ernie Ball has been a guiding force in my life.
    In the sixties my father managed the store,and my mother worked with Gene Bresh to start the mail order business selling his custom guage strings that today are still the best selling guitar strings in the world.
    Ernie was an innovator and visionary. His son Roland is carrying on the tradition developing new products that push the envelope of creative music. Thanks Ernie, Flip Parker

  13. John Wastaferro

    So sorry to hear about Ernie’s passing. It has been many years since I’ve had any contact with the Ball family. I was married to Ernie’s sister, Mary in the early 70’s. I remember seeing him as talented, energetic, and a loving father/husband. Hi Sherwood and the entire family. My condolences.

  14. Steve Taylor

    I lived in Tarzana when I was in my 20s (1963-7), and bought two beautiful Gibsons from Ernie. I still have both of them. He was generous with his time and knowledge, and I used to love to go in, hang out and just talk music with him. I was saddened to hear of his passing, and I wish his family the best. He will be missed by many.

  15. Chris Heath

    As a child I knew Ernie and his family, at least as much as a kid can. My Dad, Bill Heath, was Ernie’s right-hand-man for several years at Ernie Ball Inc. My brothers and I cleaned the warehouse in Costa Mesa for a while; we were known as “the nose pickers” by Sterling. We used to sit at home, winding guitar strings and putting them in the square envelopes that were sold individually in stores. My brother Cary has one of the first-made Earthwood acoustic bass guitars. When Ernie moved the company to central CA, my Dad decided not to move, so his career with Ernie ended. When I heard of Ernies death, I was sad that I would not meet him again. My Dad still has great stories of working with and for Ernie, and I’m grateful to the Ball family for past years of acquaintance.

  16. mervo

    I started playing guitar about 40 years ago. I just bought a new classic guitar. I played it for an hour with the factory strings. The store owner gave me a set of Ernie’s as he knew the factory strings wouldn’t be on long. They weren’t and I doubt my new axe will ever see any strings other than slinkies.
    I wonder how many Ernie strings will get stroked tonight!?
    Rock on Ernie!

  17. Joe Jarrett

    When I was going thru basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio,Texas in 1950. Ernie Ball was in the same barracks as me. This was a band barracks and we were waiting for tryouts. Of an evening after marching all day,etc and eating our evening meal. Ernie would get out his guitar and play. I believe Ernie was probably around 21 years old at this time and I was 22. Little did he or myself know how successful he would become in later years.

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