From Ernie Ball’s site, Music-Man.com site:
Sterling Ball wrote this about his association with Eddie Van Halen:
I guess I have to talk about EVH…
This is a edited message that I responded to on our forum about the old 5150 guitar strings.
It is an example of you never know when you take a little creative initiative where it can take you.
5150 strings are what put EVH and I together….
For years the legend was that he only used Fender strings that had been boiled. We had dealings with Rudy Leiren, EVH’s high school buddy/longtime tech on other stuff but they kind of kept a lot of the mystery of EVH’S sound. A lot of the stuff was just playing with people like David Lee Roth Paternity insurance, no brown m&m’s and stuff…..
So a Guitar World Magazine cover around 1989 or 90 had EVH standing in the hovel known as 5150 Studios…He had just named the studios that and had fell in love with the whole 5150 idea.
Scattered on the ground at his feet were some real acme string envelopes…..I thought, hmmmmm another myth debunked….If he has those dogs we can kill it for him. The challenge is how do I get his attention?
So I sneak in the art department when my dad was at lunch (back then that was his turf)…….I took stencil and made red labels with a very funky black stencil with 5150 in big letters and guitar strings in small…… I went to the factory and scraped up some old pure nickel and had the guys make them in Eddie’s gauge…I sent them to Rudy who showed then to Eddie and the very next day the phone rings and its EVH.
He said ” I just got these strings and they are hysterical and great strings too…thanks man….” I said “Do you want to know what would be more hysterical?” He bit on the bait and I said ” How about if you could make a bunch of money and have your own brand of guitar strings at the same time” He was all over it and said when can we get together?
My dad was a pilot and had a single engine Bonanza…he and I flew to LA and picked up EVH, Rudy (who was not small) Engineer Donn Landee and another guy and we flew to the factory in SLO. I remember taking off at Van Nuys and a loud buzzer went off and I thought for sure it was weight related (Don’t crash Dad!) but we made it fine.
When we got to the factory I gave them a tour and Eddie got to drive some of my Dad’s cars. It was time to talk business. I had passed the groups test. I said one thing. ” I understand that you have a relationship with Kramer (secret ownership) It’s been great meeting with you but I am not in the business of designing products for competitors….Are you sure that you can do this?” He said ” I wouldn’t (Bleepin’ )be here if I couldn’t”. He liked my royalty deal and it was to the races, or so I thought.
A few weeks later my good friends at DAddario (this business is actually quite friendly) called me and said “Kramer just sent this string package to us to duplicate and it looks like something you were involved with….whats the deal?”
I called Eddie and said, “WTF….You gave me your word”…..He said “I don’t know anything about it.”
I said that I anticipated this and had registered as a trademark 5150 for guitar strings in between the time of sending him the strings and his visit and that if there were going to be 5150 strings I would be involved. He said “I own 5150!” I said “Not for guitar strings” He said “Are you trying to rip me off?” I said “No, I won’t come out with them if you aren’t involved but you can’t come out with them if I’m not involved” I told him I would give him the trademark in exchange for a 20 year license. The attorneys said money had to change hands so I sold it to him for $20.00 but actually as a joke I told him I would only accept a bowling ball….True story I sold the 5150 trademark for a bowling ball. (Oh yeah and a 20 year license that I gave back when we separated….something I didn’t have to do, btw Karma is a good thing.)
It turns out Kramer was trying to mess with me. Eddie had no idea that they had done what they did. They sent me a letter saying that they had to be involved with EVH as he was a silent owner and was contractually obligated to include them in any products in the music business. (The original 5150 strings were Kramer by Ernie Ball on the back of the label) So I made a a deal where I would sell the strings to Kramer and they would pay EVH the agreed upon royalty. A couple of years went by and EVH’s in my opinion over her head junior accountant turned business manager called and said “You have never paid us royalties, I want an accounting immediately or I will issue a cease and desist order. I said “Wait a minute…Kramer is my customer I have paid them promptly and have zero obligation to provide you with an accounting. If you haven’t been getting royalties talk to Kramer.” She asked for the accounting again and I repeated that I didn’t have to but added, “If you ask Kramer for an audit and send me proof then I will give you an audit”
Lets just say that was the end of EVH and Kramer. Our accounting was perfect and without casting any aspersions or allegations there allegedly a disconnect between the receiving and paying of royalties on Kramers part to EVH. EVH went red assed mad and severed the relationship with Kramer.
The in my opinion over the head business manager (Who later got hers…thank god.) was now in the position of finding a new guitar company for EVH. There wasn’t anything that jumped out at them. I said “How about if I make a guitar in the interim?” We dont make enough to satisfy the demand but I can promise a great guitar, and we can make him anything he needs. We quickly designed and built a guitar that Im very proud of. Eddie made great music and some decent royalties. We made whatever he needed from double necks to baritones.
The rest is history and most of the ending history is full of rumor and falsehoods and hurtful internet gossip. The relationship was a time bomb from a personal and business relationship. EVH had some well publicized issues and there was never any way where it could make the business people happy. We just weren’t big enough, and EVH and I hit the wall.
The less said the better. It was ugly and didn’t have to be. We weren’t the only company that had the privilege of working with EVH. We weren’t the only company that parted ways in a difficult manner. I take it as a backhanded compliment that there is more interest in our era than the others. Maybe thats who some of the BS is out there.
I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the creative process and be an integral part in a very important period of a gifted musician.
But like most things with my family it started with a little creativity, integrity, and a guitar string.