Guitar Aficionado

Steve Vai: Six Things We Learned from His Ernie Ball “String Theory” Episode

Here's why he has respect for Kurt five other things you might not know.
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By Christopher Scapelliti

String Theory is a web series from Ernie Ball that explores the sonic origins of some of music's most innovative players.

Today we’re happy to bring you the latest episode in the series, starring Steve Vai.

Vai shares many stories in the video, including how he started playing guitar, his introduction to Ernie Ball strings, his influences, and much more.

Among the many things we learn in this episode:

1. He made his first connection with the guitar one day at school.
“When I was about seven or eight, I think, I saw a young boy playing the guitar in my school. That was a very powerful moment. It was like a moment of clarity. I just saw this guitar hanging off this young kid and immediately fell in love with it. I instinctively understood what it was. There was an immediate connection.”

2. Hearing Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” convinced him to play guitar. (2:30)
“When I was 12, my sister came home with Led Zeppelin II. And the moment that I heard ‘Heartbreaker,’ the fantasy of playing the guitar, it switched from wishing that I had a guitar to desiring to play one, to right at that moment that I heard that, the intention was solid. I said, ‘I’m going to play the guitar.’”

3. His first guitar was a Teisco Del-Rey. (2:55)
“I had a friend that had a guitar that he never played. It was hanging on the wall in his bedroom, and I bought it for five bucks. And that was it.”

4. His first set of strings was Ernie Balls. His friend and guitar instructor Joe Satriani had to show him how to put them on his guitar. (4:00)
“They were expensive for me, but I got them anyway. And the first time I got them I didn’t even know how to put them on. I took them to Joe Satriani and he showed me how to do it.”

5. He has deep respect for Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong. (7:34)
“People say someone like Kurt Cobain wasn’t a great guitar player. Well, was he a virtuoso guitar player? You can argue not. But was he effective? Try to play like Kurt Cobain. It’s not that easy. Or Billie Joe Armstrong Did you ever see him play? It’s visceral.”

6. He never made a decision to be a musician—and his life worked out better than he could have planned. (8:58)
“I never felt like there was an option. Everything that has come to me in my career really came to me. I didn’t go out and look. All I did was follow the one thing that was most thrilling and exciting to me, and that was creating music when a new idea came up. No concern about the future, really. And the future took care of itself beautifully, better than I ever could have orchestrated it.”

Check it out below, and for more, visit