Ernie Ball, a pioneer maker of rock’n’roll guitar strings used by legions of artists from the Rolling Stones to Merle Travis, died yesterday (Sept. 9) at his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He was 74. Ball had suffered an ongoing illness, the mortuary handling services announced.
Music stars from B.B. King to Metallica have used his strings and instruments over the past four decades. Beginning with a small music shop in the San Fernando Valley, Ball built a business with annual sales of $40 million and a worldwide reputation. Along the way, he bucked traditional thinking in the music business.
“He changed the way people thought of guitar accessories, and how they sold and marketed them, and to this day the Ernie Ball way is the industry standard,” his son, Sterling Ball, said in a statement.
In 1958, Ball opened a shop in Tarzana that, uniquely, sold only guitars. “Sales reps would come in and say, ‘Ern, you’ve got to sell clarinet reeds, drum sticks, valve oil, blah blah blah,'” Ball once recalled. “And I’d tell them, ‘I just want to sell guitars.'”
In 1962, complaints from customers that they couldn’t find lighter-gauge, flexible strings for their rock’n’roll instruments prompted Ball to create and sell sets of strings he called “Slinkys.” They were a hit. He later branched out into instruments and accessories, buying the Music Man electric guitar company in 1985.
Today, Ernie Ball items are sold in more than 5,000 music stores in the United States and exported to more than 70 countries.