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This article was originally published in issue #6
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I'm pretty sure that the Musicman Stingray Bass needs no introduction - it's one of the most identifiable Bass designs on the market today and like 'the other most well known bass designs that you'll have no trouble in naming', it has a long history .
The first Stingray basses appeared in 1976, soon after the Musicman company was set up by two ex-Fender employees. In the early days, Sterling Ball, (son of Ernie Ball) according to web resources was employed as a beta tester for the Stingray bass. Leo Fender was involved with Musicman too, officially from 1975 where he took the position of Musicman Inc's president. Long story short - and boy is there a lot of story! - the Musicman company was sold to Ernie Ball in 1984 and Sterling Ball is at still very much involved and at the helm, as the company CEO.
The Musicman was certainly a departure from the Fender designs pre-1976 despite the body shape and headstock having a certain nod to the Precision. However, the inclusion of that big soap-bar pickup and active electronics certainly sent the Stingray bass trailblazing ahead in terms of sound and options for the busy bass player. The recognisable three plus one tuning key layout on the headstock not only became eye catching but also helped to reduce neck dive. The tuning keys are physically smaller than Fender's equivalents, helping to cut down a bit on weight. Musicman didn't stop there and no doubt took time looking at how to make these new basses more robust. A six bolt design for fixing the neck to the body and the metal plate for mounting the jack socket and controls to no doubt cut down on the chances of a cracked pickguard.
Over the years we have seen numerous 'tech' upgrades but the Stingray has very much remained visually identifiable. The EQ system has included either a two band 'Bass and Treble boost/cut' circuit or a three band system, including a mid control - the bridge on some models has allowed for 'string through body' attachment or has included a set of 'mutes' for controlling tone and string sustain. Musicman has a wide range of wood and colour options for all of their instruments including some tasty 'special edition' finishes and premium fretboard materials.
I spoke to the UK distributor on receiving our test model to find out a bit more about it. I wanted to know where it fitted in the market. Apparently, Musicman felt that there was still a gap between the mid-priced non-US models and the premium ranges that needed to be filled and this is where this SR4 model we are reviewing here fits in. This model is actually a premium US-made instrument, however it favours a more simplistic 'plug-in-and-go' approach in order to make a cost saving. Musicman has suggested this instrument would be great as an entrance to owning a US-made Stingray, or indeed as a back up bass for a professional. I have to say that I think it has a wider appeal than that.
Let's dive straight in to discuss this fine bass then! I have to admit that I'm probably the ideal candidate to review a Musicman bass because I shy away from the herd most of the time, so an instrument with such heritage will have to work a little harder to win me over! I seem pretty happy in the video review right? Well, yes I am! Acoustically, even before I plugged this bass in, it sang out and rang with a really nice resonance and sustain. A really great start, as I will dismiss an electric instrument if it lacks in these areas. I'm a real fan of that 'piano string' tone with vibrant harmonics and clear sustain. Why? Well, you can roll all that off using EQ if you want to go and be all 'old-skool' with a more vintage sound, but you can't dial-in that resonance and sustain if it isn't there to start with and with the Stingray it certainly is.
Plugging in to our demo amp in the studio I was greeted with that unmistakeable toppy rasp and bite. It may just be a two band system on this somewhat stripped-down Stingray, but I was really pleased with the active circuit as I was able to dial back the top a bit and boost the lows just where I like them. Well done Musicman! Something to note is that the active circuit does not feature centre detents to give you a flat or zero setting, so using your ears is the order of the day. I think the idea here is that you're meant to find the sound you like, not be directed by 'normal settings'. Another notable absentee is any sort of pickup switching. I like that, too. The SR4 excels straight out of the included gig bag and like a P bass, it's a case of plug in and you;pre ready to go with a great tone, no messing!
If you saw our last issue's Bassment reviews, you'll know I like high mass bridges and the this Stingray includes the large plate you expect to see on these instruments. This model does not feature string through anchoring or mutes, but some sacrifices have had to be made to get the price down to a more affordable level and these are not exactly major omissions.
Overall the workmanship on our sample was fantastic as was the attention to detail, resulting in a flawless finish.
There's no doubt this is a working professional instrument - a genuine US-made bass which plays beautifully and sounds great. It's simple, reliable and does exactly what Musicman set out to do - offer a more easily affordable entry point to this industry standard range.