5 things we learned about Tim Henson from his eye-opening Ernie Ball String Theory episode

Tim Henson
(Image credit: Ernie Ball/YouTube)

Ernie Ball recently tapped Tim Henson for the latest episode of its String Theory series, during which the Polyphia maestro took a deep dive into his influences, songwriting philosophies and overall approach to the electric guitar.

Across its 11-minute duration, the String Theory installment reveals some surprising elements of Henson’s guitar-playing DNA, including his biggest Hollywood-based inspirations, how he sees the guitar simply as a “means to an end”, and how he was already practicing to be the best guitarist on earth at the age of 10.

Here’s everything we learned about Tim Henson in Ernie Ball’s latest String Theory episode.

1. He purposefully practiced to be the best guitarist in the world from the age of 10

With his Neurotica Ibanez art guitar in hand, Henson revealed how a particularly strong-willed mindset from the outset of his guitar-playing journey helped him turn his dreams into an inevitability, and enabled him to pioneer the innovative style he’s known for today.

“[When I turned 10] my dad just brought out a guitar, I had no idea that he even played,” Henson recalled. “My dad would go and play with his band, and occasionally he would take me and let me play with them, and I would want to solo over whatever they were doing.

“In sixth grade my friend group’s parents were asking us what we each wanted to be when we grew up, and I said I wanted to be a rockstar,” he went on. “Of course, everyone rolled their eyes or something stupid. I was just dead-ass serious, though.

“I had this idea that I wanted to be the best guitar player on earth. From like age 10 to 13, I just practiced with the intention of becoming the best guitar player in the world.”

2. Jack Black movies were some of his biggest inspirations 

By an extension of the above point, Henson also revealed some of the biggest driving forces behind his desire to become the best guitarist on the planet: Jack Black movies.

Specifically, Henson cited School of Rock, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, and even Steve Vai’s cult classic Crossroads as key early influences that got him well on the way to becoming the guitar star he is today.

“I had watched School of Rock and Pick of Destiny and, you know, the Jack Black movies were really influential,” he mused. “Then I watched Crossroads, with Steve of course, and just the idea of selling your soul to the devil and then you were the best… I thought that was so cool.”

3. He joined a worship band so he could get regular playing experience

Before his days as a progressive virtuoso – and before Polyphia’s early death metal era – Henson was involved in a significantly different guitar scene: worship music. Though at the time he didn’t “give a shit about any of that”, the band gave him the opportunity to play regularly.

After forming bands to play Green Day and emo covers, Henson then joined a worship band for a youth group. “That was one of the first times I ever played with a group of my peers. Then I joined a worship group, and I don’t give a shit about any of that, but I just wanted to play. It was an opportunity for me to play every weekend.”

4. The guitar is just a means to an end for him 

Though he set himself an early goal of becoming the best guitarist on earth, it’s interesting that Henson sees the instrument itself predominantly as a vehicle for creation. In fact, had he picked up any other instrument in his youth, the Tim Henson we know today may not have developed.

“Guitar playing for me is more of a means to an end, the end being the creation of music,” he said. “The guitar is a tool to execute my ideas and bring them to life. If I were good at any other instrument, I would be playing that instrument – but I’m only good at guitar, so that’s the one I use.”

5. His biggest piece of advice for aspiring artists? Find your voice

Given he’s well on track to achieve the goal he set his 10-year-old self, Henson is probably one of the best people to give advice when it comes to all things guitar. Speaking to Ernie Ball, he imparted a particularly important piece of wisdom to viewers: find your voice.

“I think the most important thing as a young player is to find your voice, to find your style,” he offered. “The way you do that is you learn your favorite things, you learn your favorite styles and it helps to be into a lot of things, so you can pinpoint contrasting stuff.

“Eventually, you get good at all these different things you like – stylistically, they’re going to make their way into your original playing. Then you might have an original voice.”

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.