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, Johnny Marr of The Smiths discusses his obsession with playing guitar, his musical influences, and why he relies on Ernie Ball Power Slinky’s for his signature sound. Find out the top six things we learned…

1. Seeing a guitar for the first time was like finding buried treasure. (2:07)

JM: “I saw my first ever real guitar close-up I want to say when I was about 9 or 10, which was at an Irish show band who would play the greatest hits as well as his Irish songs. This guy had a red Strat and he opened the case and let me see it. That was a really, really powerful moment for me. It was like treasure when I saw that guitar.”

2. The hard times are valuable times. (5:43)

JM: “I had plenty of kicking around in the rain and the cold trying to find rehearsal rooms and paying dues. I now know that those times are really invaluable. Particularly playing in other people’s bands playing other people’s material because you just learn all these different quirks about songwriting.”

3. He learned guitar by studying the great pop artists of the 1970s. (6:33)

JM: “When I was learning to play and put chords together I was completely studying glam rock and the music of the early 70s. What was considered complete bubblegum at the time for teeny boppers… that was the stuff that I was buying and really studying as a kid. They’re all built on absolutely rocking great guitars with interesting overdubs.”

4. The Rickenbacker guitar helped improve his songwriting. (9:40)

JM: “The decision to get a Ricky was to deliberately put me in a place where it would improve my songwriting. They are not as easy to play as some other guitars. I felt that the limitations of it would be advantageous to my songwriting. I would have to play a certain way, which is exactly what happened.”

5. Ernie Ball Power Slinky’s are an integral part of his sound. (13:45)

JM: “When I meet people who have bought my guitar, it’s the first thing I tell them: ‘You need to put 11s on, you to put on Power Slinky’s.’ It’s how I designed the guitar and that’s my sound and that’s the right feel for it.”

6. Doing what you love should never be a chore. (14:56)

JM: “I made a conscious decision when success came for me at 18 or 19 with The Smiths that if playing the guitar ever got to be a chore, or fame or stuff that came along with success ever got in the way of my love of the guitar, I would stop doing it and honor being a guitar player. That was my first love and that always has to be protected at all times.”


Johnny Marr relies on Ernie Ball Power Slinky electric guitar strings.

String Theory

Check out similar String Theory films from Ernie Ball featuring artists such as Mac DemarcoRobin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction, Daron Malakian of System of a Down, and Kurt Vile.

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