Guitarists Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney of 311 recently sat down with us for an episode of our web series, Ernie Ball: String Theory. It’s always great to see and hear each artist’s unique take on music and guitar playing, and the boys in 311 didn’t let us down.

With that said, we present to you the six biggest things we learned about Nick, Tim and the band as a whole throughout the episode. We’ve provided the timestamp for each segment as well, so you can follow along.

#1 – Tim started as a trombonist (0:34)

Tim started in the horn section, which he enjoyed, but was lured away by discovering the sounds of Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. He quickly came to the realization that, “I’ve got to learn to play guitar so I can be cool and play cool music!”

#2 – The first song Nick learned on guitar was “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett (0:54)

After beginning piano lessons at age 5, Nick graduated to the playing acoustic guitar at 12 years old. “You know, just a couple of chords, but I would sing too.” This makes a lot of sense, as 311’s overall sound has a very mellow, beach-y feel good vibe.

#3 – The majority of 311 songs are initially written on a single guitar with no preconceived plan (1:31)

Nick says that, “if you only wrote songs one certain way, that would become very limiting,” so some songs originate from a vocal idea, a title or just a vague concept.  For the most part, however, sitting down with a guitar and just stumbling on things seems to be the most common method of beginning their songwriting process. Tim agrees, and states that learning songs that are written by his fellow bandmates frequently leads him to work on things that he’s never approached before. “Some of the discovery is from trying to figure out things inside your mind.”

#4 – Everything the band has recorded has been with Ernie Ball strings (2:37)

Tim first encountered Slinky strings back in Nebraska, before the band made the move out to California. He was drawn to the pink packaging of Super Slinkys, which he picked up from the now-defunct Russo’s Guitar and Drum Center in Omaha.

#5 – Nick credits Stevie Ray Vaughan for his choice of string gauge (3:14)

The only major change that Nick has undergone in terms of strings took place when he began getting heavily into SRV, prompting him to move up to 11s. “I overbend with 9s or 10s, so I’ve been on 11s for all that time.”

#6 – None of the band members have been home during the month of July for the last 20 years (4:47)

311 is always busy touring during the summer, so Nick remarks that he and his bandmates are always on the road during that time and don’t get to be at home. Their music is evocative of the Southern California lifestyle and the summer sun, so it definitely makes sense that they’re busy during that time of year. It certainly gives a new perspective to their song “Don’t Stay Home” as well.


String Theory

Watch every episode of Ernie Ball: String Theory at our website, featuring such players as Kirk Hammett of Metallica, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Joe Bonamassa, and more. You can also enjoy some of 311’s most popular songs in this Spotify playlist.

Guitar Strings

Nick Hexum and Tim Mahoney play Ernie Ball RPS Slinky strings. Do you? Try a set.

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