December 1, 2004

Ernie Ball/Music Man Factory Tour

Launched in the late '60s by a pedal-steel player with dead-on instincts-as well as the balls to follow them-California's Ernie Ball company transformed the string industry with its "rock and roll" Slinkys (gauged .010-.046), and ultimately revitalized the entire accessories market. The outlaw style of founder Ernie Ball-who started out operating the nation's first "guitars only" music store back in 1958-still resonates in the firm, where guts, intuition, and innovation guide business strategies more than Excel spread sheets and market consultants.

Ernie's "no guts, no glory" legacy is currently exemplified by his son, Sterling, whose own vision and drive lead the company to acquire and resurrect Music Man in 1984. But Sterling didn't just toss some creative whimsy and rock and roll attitude to guitar and bass design, he also forged a left-of-center approach to marketing and community outreach that's bold, proactive, and fun. During the past few years, the madcap brain trust has kicked off Scion Tours (where Ernie Ball employees hit the road to visit dealers and players in a customized Toyota Scion), street teams, battles of the bands, and a mobile "local heroes" stage. Ernie Ball/Music Man also produces one of the hippest "happenings" at the annual Winter NAMM convention by designing its booth as a pirate ship, football field, or whatever happens to trigger Sterling's vast imagination.

In the company's San Luis Obispo factory, gigging musicians and dedicated artisans meticulously craft custom-quality guitars and basses one by one. A combination of computer technology (CAD software) and old-school luthiery (sanding, buffing, and spraying) joins forces to create those little jewels of wood and chrome that guitarists salivate over. For more information on Ernie Ball and Music Man, click to

-Michael Molenda

Guild/Benedetto Honors Johnny Smith

Jazz legend Johnny Smith signs one of 18 limited-edition Guild/Benedetto Johnny Smith Award archtops. Originally produced from 1956-1960, the JS Award has been revived by Guild with a European spruce top, a flamed European maple back, a five-piece ebony-on-maple neck, mother-of-pearl and abalone inlays, and Mr. Smith's signature in gold paint on the back of the headstock. Available in antique burst or honey blonde, these rare beauties will retail for $11,000.

-Michael Molenda


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