Sterling Ball: these are the guitarists that blew my mind
When you’re the son of legendary string guru Ernie Ball, you’re bound to make a few famous friends.
But it takes a confident guitarist to record an album alongside iconic players such as John Petrucci, Albert Lee, Jay Graydon and Steves Lukather, Morse and Vai - but that’s exactly what EB CEO Sterling Ball set out to do with The Mutual Admiration Society.
And boy, did he succeed. The album, which sees Sterling accompanied by drummer John Ferraro and keyboardist/producer Jim Cox, is a groove-heavy, star-studded celebration of all things classic pop, blues, country, and, of course, guitar - there’s even a Disney medley for good measure, courtesy of Mr Petrucci.
When we asked Sterling to share the 10 players that blew his mind, he couldn’t resisting stretching the format - a little like the strings that bear his family name.
“Please allow me to add The Mutual Admiration six,” he says. “They would all be on the list of 10!”
With that in mind, we’ll let Sterling introduce the Society cast, before delving into his guitar inspirations…
“Albert has been the most influential of all to my personal style. His attack, dynamics, never two solos alike has always got me. I love that he essentially plays clean. He absolutely changed country guitar. You hear a lot of guys who sound like Albert… but when you hear Albert you instantly know it’s him and it’s great.”
“The first time I played at a private gathering with him we took a break… it was a party band and I looked at him and said, “Don’t take this wrong, but you play from a different part of the playground.”
“What I meant is that his phrasing was so unique and what spots he filled and what spots he left open coupled with his crazy command of the whammy and six strings. I was a significant musical moment to be that moved by a guitarist.”
“Passion. Emotion. Fire. Chops Insane command and ability to always play the right part…always plays the perfect supporting parts. If it’s a singer or another soloist, Luke always makes them sound better. Incredible soloist.”
“Ah, Jay played on so many records, none more famous than the Peg solo with Steely Dan. Jay is incredibly detailed about every note, waveform... he has the most amazing ears in the music business. He plays with a very unique and well crafted voice.”
“Just gobs of talent and ability. It was a such a pleasure for all of us to create a track where John can show just how deep he is as a player.
“Hearing someone outside their genre is always enlightening… most times not in a good way! In this instance, he showed how crazy good his melodic and harmonic sense is coupled with an unparalleled skill set.”
“Steve’s love of all genres of music drove him to develop a deep understanding of each form. From there he was able to create a voice that is so rich and varied and authentic. His signature picking, chicken pickin’ and vibrato are an unmistakable voice.
“He is so well-rounded and would be a legend if he just played any one of the multiple styles he incorporates.”
1. Buddy Emmons
“A steel guitar player. But to me one of the greatest players ever. His chordal stuff is insane and still probably the most exciting soloist I have ever heard.
“He did a jazz album in the ’70s that is so crazy. I had the pleasure of playing with him and was also in the audience when he and Albert Lee would just tear it up.”
2. Ted Greene
“Many of you may know him as the guy who wrote the book Chord Chemistry, but he was one of the most insane chordal melody players ever.
“He started in my dad’s store and was a rocker. He dove into chordal melody a la George Van Eps (another monster) and recorded or performed very little but Google has some great stuff. He taught most of the great session players in LA.”
3. Lenny Breau
“I don’t know how deep this guy was - because I have a hard time figuring out how he could do the harmonic stuff, the Chet stuff, the outside seven-string guy chordal stuff…
“I was fortunate to jam with him in the ’70s at Music Man parties. He had issues that held him back, but he was so gifted.”
4. Chet Atkins
“Chet produced so much stuff… crazy. But his Travis-style picking and simple melodies and tasteful solos were there from the ’50s til he died.
“I heard a quote I hope was from him - someone was asking him how he dealt with his chops deteriorating over time and he answered, ‘I just try to play prettier.’”
5. Joe Pass
“Loved him as a solo artist and the stuff he did with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.”
6. BB King
“I got Live At The Regal when I was a kid. I just loved his passion. His phrasing. His signature licks….”
7. Jimi Hendrix
“I feel kind of obvious because he would be on any list… but he just changed the guitar world forever.
“I think that I really love the songs as much as the guitar playing...”
8. Jeff Beck
“Another obvious choice. Jeff and I have two things in common… we don’t use a pick and we both use Ernie Ball strings.
“From there, he is one of the most evolving and expressive players ever. Tone, attack, note selection, phrasing… perfect.”
9. Allan Holdsworth
“The most fluid guitarist I ever heard. His solos were so smooth and his lines so perfectly played. His vocabulary probably second to none.
“Metal Fatigue is an album I still listen to. Desert island stuff.”
10. Stevie Ray Vaughan
“I mean, what can you say… biggest tone on the planet.
“Powerful, great songs, perfect band. Kind of merged all of what came before into his own sound then reset the standard.”