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Ernie Ball, 74; Pioneer Maker of Strings for Rock Guitarists

September 11, 2004|From Associated Press

Ernie Ball, a pioneer maker of rock 'n' roll guitar strings used by legions of artists, including the Rolling Stones and Merle Travis, has died. He was 74.

Ball died Thursday at his home in San Luis Obispo after an ongoing illness, according to the mortuary handling the services.

Over the last four decades, his strings and instruments were used by such stars as B.B. King and Metallica.

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.

Born Sherwood Ball, he grew up in Santa Monica and learned how to play the Hawaiian steel guitar from his father when he was 9, according to a history on the Ernie Ball company website.

As a teenager, he played at a bar in Los Angeles and later toured the Southwest with the Tommy Duncan band.

In the 1950s, he enlisted and played with the U.S. Air Force Band for three years. After his service, he played in Los Angeles clubs and landed a band job with "Western Varieties," a popular weekly show on KTLA-TV Channel 5.

In 1958, Ball opened a shop in Tarzana that sold only 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.

Ball is survived by his wife, Ani; three sons, David, Sherwood and Sterling; a daughter, Nova; and eight grandchildren.

A graveside service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at San Luis Cemetery in San Luis Obispo.

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