Steve Vai: Five Things We Learned from His New Ernie Ball 'String Theory' Episode

(Image credit: Ernie Ball)

String Theory is a web series from Ernie Ball that explores the sonic origins of some of music's most innovative players.

Today we’re happy to bring you the latest episode in the series, which stars Steve Vai. In the clip, which you can watch below, Vai shares many stories, including how he started playing guitar, his introduction to Ernie Ball strings, his influences and more.

In fact, he reveals the following surprising factoids:1. Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" was a true turning point (2:37): "The moment I heard 'Heartbreaker,' the fantasy of playing the guitar, it switched from wishing I had a guitar to desiring to play one to ... 'I'm gonna play the guitar'."

2. He's not a natural (3:15): "I'm not really a natural at playing an instrument, oddly enough. I had to work really hard at the guitar."

3. The first strings he bought were Ernie Balls, and Joe Satriani showed him how to put them on his guitar (4:30): "They weren't cheap strings, but I got them anyway. And the first time I got them, I didn't even know how to put them on. I took them to Joe Satriani and he showed me how to do it."

4. He's got a lot of respect for Kurt Cobain and Billy Joe Armstrong (7:35): "People say someone like Kurt Cobain wasn't a great guitar player. Well, was he a virtuoso? You can argue not. Was he effective? Try to play like Kurt Cobain. It's not that easy. Or [Green Day's] Billy Joe Armstrong. Did you ever see him play? It's visceral; every note and every chord pops. It sounds like a giant orchestra. That's hard to do."

5. Everything in his career came to him (9:15): "I didn't go out and look. All I did was follow the one thing that was most thrilling and exciting to me. And that was creating music when a new idea came up. No concern about the future, really. And the future took care of itself—beautifully—better than I ever could have possibly orchestrated it. Find what you love and throw yourself into it."

Of course, these are just five facts pulled from the clip. Be sure to watch the entire episode below.

For more information, visit

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums. He now plays in two NYC-area bands.