Ernie Ball String Theory is a web series that explores the sonic origins of some of music’s most innovative guitar players. In this episode, we speak with Albert Lee about his unique relationship with country and blues, his tour experience with rock n roll’s biggest acts, and what still inspires him today. Find out the top six things we learned below…
1. Inspired from the start (0:38)
AL: I think Christmas of 1958, I was 15, it was a Hofner Archtop guitar. I actually played that for about a year – a year and a half maybe and I was really making good progress. I’d become a big fan of Gene Vincent and his guitar playing, Cliff Gallup, Buddy Holly. Seeing the Chirping Crickets album… Buddy Holly’s first album and he had this guitar with 3 pickups and a weird kind of tremolo on it and I thought ‘wow that’s amazing.
2. How Albert Lee found inspiration. (2:37)
AL: We had Buddy Holly, and Gene Vincent, and The Everly Brothers, Elvis of course… I was a big fan of all of these guys and I just loved the sounds of the guitars and tried to copy a lot of the solos and I did quite well on some of the simpler ones.
3. Albert’s experimental pickups. (4:54)
AL: I took the pickup cover off of the rhythm pickup of my Telecaster and I broke the windings. I thought that wasn’t a smart thing to do ya know? So I thought, ‘what am I going to do now?’ You couldn’t walk into a store and buy a pickup in those days… in the early ’60s. I took the middle pickup out of this SG and put it on the Tele. I like to think I was one of the first people to do that.
4. You can find talent in local pubs. (6:42)
AL: A lot of the people in the pubs would say “oh yah you guys are good, but you’re not as good as the Americans ya know” and I knew we were…
5. How Ernie Ball revolutionized strings. (7:37)
AL: What I used to do is buy a set of strings… throw away the bottom strings, move them all down one, and then put on a really light first string, and then I’d have a rock n roll set ya know? But then of course I discovered the Ernie Ball strings… and Sterling would have a go at me ya know ‘oh when are you going to start using our strings?’ So I did eventually… and that was how long ago? 50 years ago… almost.
6. Albert’s work has always been consistent. (9:24)
AL: I flew back to England to work on a record and who should be on the session but Eric (Clapton) and half his band. So there I was in England recording this album with Eric and Marc Benno and at the end of the sessions Eric’s manager came up to me and said ‘Eric did a tour without a rhythm guitar player… would you be interested in going out with Eric a little?’ Wow. Yeah why not?
Albert Lee gets his signature sound using Ernie Ball Regular Slinky electric guitar strings.