Brian Ball Q&A
Ever since its launch at last January’s NAMM gathering in Anaheim, Ernie Ball’s Cobalt line has been gaining – and maintaining – momentum amongst dealers and players. Benefiting from the stronger magnetically active signal pull provided by cobalt (compared to other, more “traditional” elements used in string manufacture), the new strings provide players with greater response, output, and clarity.
MMR recently spoke with vice president Brian Ball about Cobalt to learn more about this distinctive product offering – an innovation proving that, after 50+ years in the trade, Ernie Ball is still pushing the boundaries of innovation…
MMR: What’s the Cobalt line all about? What was the catalyst for the project and what are the fundamental elements of Cobalt strings that makes them notable?
Brian Ball: More than anything, we set out to create something unique and distinguishable from a tonal standpoint – providing another option and voice for musicians. In our segment, the majority of innovations have been based around durability and extending the life of instrument strings. We took a very scientific and quantitative approach towards researching materials that gave musicians a louder, more vibrant output signal, and easier playability. We wanted something that was vibrant, but not overly bright: a middle ground between nickel and stainless steel.
MMR: When was the official launch and what’s the early response been like – both from dealers and players?
BB: We officially launched the Cobalt Line at the 12’ Winter NAMM show. The early response was really positive, which is something that I was hopefully optimistic about, based on the feedback we received from our artist beta-test team. Dealers were somewhat apprehensive due to the higher price point, but for those that jumped in early I think they were able to capitalize on some really strong sell through.
MMR: Are there any high-profile artists, in particular, who have already embraced the Cobalt line?
BB: We’ve had a ton of artists integrate Cobalt strings into their arsenal: James Valentine from Maroon 5, Slash, John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, and many more. A lot of them are using Cobalts exclusively, and some are using Cobalts on certain guitars and certain songs, and nickels for others. They seem to enjoy having the option, and a different dimension, which Cobalt strings provide.
MMR: Let’s talk about sales figures. How does the Cobalt Line stack up against other options out there?
BB: We don’t really divulge full sales statistics, but the Cobalt line has already become a major staple of the overall Ernie Ball line. Sell-through both domestically and internationally has exceeded our original forecasts. I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve developed and created – but I’m also careful to not get overly excited based upon just nine months of sales history. Really, for us success will be determined after three to four years, when we can see that the line has some sustainable legs to it. That’s when I’ll be really happy!
MMR: What’s next for Cobalt?
BB: We’ve recently launched 7-string offerings for the Cobalt line, and have finally been able to fulfill all distribution orders from NAMM. Cobalts are now available in over 90 countries around the world!
MMR: Any general observations on the string market? Expectations for the coming months?
BB: The string market has always been extremely competitive, and for a reason. There are some great leaders, and teams in our segment that we have a lot of respect for, who are direct competitors. Looking ahead, I think you’ll see an influx of new innovations and a continued daily battle for market share, shelf space, and promotional initiatives.