At the end of the tour, they invited us to try some of the guitars in the entry room, and Alex took them up on it:
After a bit of lunch, we set off for the Ernie Ball/Musicman factory, after Alex made contact with them (he sells Ernie Ball strings at his store). A much larger, and different type of operation, the factory we saw
Ernie Ball (born Roland Sherwood Ball; August 30, 1930 – September 9, 2004) was an American entrepreneur, musician, and innovator, widely acclaimed as a revolutionary in the development of guitar-related products. He began as a club and local television musician and small business entrepreneur, building an international business in guitars and accessories that would eventually gross US$40 million a year.A very different factory, they wouldn't let me take pictures in the work space, but it was much different than National. The strings, with which Ernie started the business are made in another facotry elsewhere, but here they make the electronics for the Music Man guitar and bass lines. All guitars and basses are mad to order, in effect, sold before they are created.
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While still in his early teens, Ball began playing professionally in South Central Los Angeles beer bars. By age 19 he joined the Tommy Duncan Band playing pedal steel guitar. Duncan, the former lead singer with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, took the band on tour through the Southwestern United States. During the Korean War, he did a tour of duty in the United States Air Force Band, playing guitar and bass drum. After the military he returned to Los Angeles and continued playing in barrooms and lounges, until landing a job on the 1950s "Western Varieties" program at KTLA television.The position soon gained him wider recognition in the Los Angeles music scene and led to studio work and teaching jobs.
With the guitar-based rock revival of the 1960s, Ball noticed that beginning students were having difficulty playing the bestselling Fender #100 medium gauge strings, particularly in holding down or bending the stiff 29-gauge third ("G") string. At the time, it was common for a set of strings to have a "wound" third string. He approached the Fender company with the problem, suggesting a lighter gauge but was rebuffed. Ball convinced a string manufacturer to make him custom sets with a 24-gauge third 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.From little things big businesses spring.
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. This resulted in an overall lighter gauge set with a plain third string. Again, he contacted Fender with a suggestion for a lighter set and was turned down. He then approached Gibson, who also turned him down. So, once again he ordered from the manufacturer naming the product the Ernie Ball Slinky. "Slinky" strings traveled the country with the pro musicians who used them and before long, Ball was receiving mail orders from individuals and stores. Still not a string company, he ordered separate strings in various sizes and displayed them in a makeshift case allowing musicians to experiment in creating their own sets. It took off, and in 1967 he sold the store and moved his string business to Newport Beach, California.Alex talked to the sales manager a while, and swapped some contacts.