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This article was originally published in issue #45
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Two 'Modern Classics' newcomers from Music Man (well, one new, one not so new) take the fight right to the very heart of the competition with beautifully made quality, reliability and superb sounds. Lewis Turner has to decide which he'd rather take home. Of course, he'll have to pay for it first....
Over the years Ernie Ball's Music Man guitars have established themselves as the equal of anything on the market. They may still be a bit less of an obvious choice, but there is now a wide range of instruments including many signature models, and they are well known for their excellent build quality, playability and comfort, as well as stunning good looks and finish. I once owned a Music Man JP7, as an aside, and the neck was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on a guitar. It really was a talking point!
In this review we are taking a look at two of their new models on offer the StingRay and Cutlass guitars. As always be sure to check out the video to hear them for yourself.
Music Man StingRay
The StingRay is designed to offer the perfect combination of old world aesthetics and styling with modern design and playability. It's a nod back to the earliest Music Man guitars of the mid-1970s, though in its latest incarnation it is a thoroughly contemporary instrument, as you'd expect.
The main features of the StingRay are the African mahogany body, bolt-on select maple neck, 22 stainless steel fret rosewood fingerboard, Alnico 5 humbuckers and Modern Classic tremolo. The finish and attention to detail overall were, as always seems to be the case with Music Man, top notch.
The body and neck wood combination gives great tone continuity and sustain, with the mahogany body providing plenty of bottom end and the maple neck bringing back some of the high end sparkle. Despite the wood combination this is a very light and well balanced guitar, which means it resonates well even unplugged.
The classic Music Man headstock is a thing of beauty and features one of my favourite things on a guitar, locking tuners! Courtesy of Schaller the M6-INDs keep everything in check, and make string changing a breeze. The neck was comfortable to play, with great action and good intonation throughout. The medium sized stainless steel frets not only feel great and smooth and you won't be looking for a re-fret anytime soon. Some claim they alter the tone making a guitar a bit brighter - not always a bad thing and it depends on the guitar/personal taste.
The body is a familiar comfortable shape, with a decent enough cut-away for high end access. The bridge on this guitar is another fantastic bit of Music Man kit, the Modern Trem with Vintage bent steel tuners and pop-in trem arm is as stable as anything else on the market, and matched with the tuners you will have to work hard to get this thing to go out of tune. This guitar was set with heavy springs so wasn’t a floating bridge, but changing that wouldn’t prove to be that big an ordeal, and different strength springs are provided.
Two Music Man Custom wound humbuckers with chrome covers are fitted, controlled by a three- way switch. These pickups sound great with plenty of warmth and mid-range punch. The bridge was bright and crunchy, the neck warm and clear, the combination of the two was a classic clean mid range tone, making it a real all round guitar but with a noticeable nod towards classic/vintage tones.
The StingRay is brilliantly set-up with fantastic tuning stability thanks to the bridge and locking tuners and the Music Man pickups deliver a pleasing array of tones and dynamic range. The guitar is comfy to play, light and resonant. Ours was finished in Vintage Tobacco burst adding to the overall vintage feel of this instrument. Another high end, high quality instrument from Music Man with nothing to really fault it on.
This is a really high class guitar and belongs on your audition list if you're considering a new, professional class instrument that isn't just the inevitable offering from the big two. Don't, whatever you do, overlook this fine guitar – especially at the price, which is exceptionally very good for such a well made instrument!
Music Man Cutlass
The Cutlass is designed with a similar brief to that of the StingRay, aiming for a combination of old world aesthetics and styling, with modern design and playability, but the Cutlass is a totally different beast. The main features on this model are the light weight alder body, bolt on select maple neck, 22 stainless steel fret maple fingerboard, '60s inspired single coil pickups, Modern Classic Tremolo and a Transparent buffered output.
As with the StingRay, the finish and attention to detail overall was world class. The body and neck wood combination is a classic giving a familiar tone and feel that many players will be used to. Thanks to the ultra light weight alder body there was plenty of sustain and natural resonance, coupled so well with the maple fingerboard bringing extra high end sparkle. The same classic Music Man headstock and tuners are used on this guitar as on the StingRay, keeping everything in check.
The neck was comfortable to play, with a great action and good intonation throughout. Once again medium sized stainless steel frets have been used.
The body is a familiar comfortable shape, with a decent enough cut-away for high end access. The bridge on the Cutlass is the same as the StingRay and was set up in identically.
Now onto the real difference! Three Music Man '60s inspired' single coil pickups featuring a silent circuit are fitted to this guitar, controlled by a five-way switch. We are probably all familiar with traditional single coil hum, sometimes so pronounced that even the smallest light bulb in a room can bring on. There are many silent pickups or circuits on offer now, some very good but some tending to ruin the great natural tone of single coils. These Music Man pickups, however, sound great with plenty of warmth, mid-range punch and that classic 'quack' in the out of phase position. I'm also happy to report that the silent circuit seems to work really well and the natural tone didn’t seem to be lost, while the top end remained present, which is very cool. Great sounding single coils with no hum, what more could you possibly want!?
Like the StingRay, the Cutlass is brilliantly set up with fantastic tuning stability thanks to the bridge and locking tuners. The Music Man pickups deliver a pleasing array of tones and dynamic range, as well as being silent.
I will say, though, that this guitar has a definite Funk/Blues feel and tone about it and I don’t think it will ever achieve out and out Rock status with this pickup configuration.
Both of these Music Man guitars are up there with the very best. They play in a similar way but sound very different and will suit different styles, which is where the hard decision making is going to have to take place. Or you could just get both, it's only money after all!