Regarded as one of the most forward-thinking builders in the buinsess, Ernie Ball Music Man proves that they are equally capable of leveraging classic designs from the vintage era with the BFR Nitro Cutlass Classic ’58. This master-crafted instrument by the Ball Family Reserve sports a timeless tonewood combination of an alder body and a maple-on-maple neck. Both timbers undergo EBMM’s roasting process to provide you with maximum resonance, sturdier stability, and lighter weight. However, the trio of ’50s-style single-coil pickups could be the true star of the show. Nick Jennison tells us more.
Instruments from the dawn of the modern electric guitar are prized for a reason. These classic guitars have defined the sound of the instrument for generations, and there’s something about the “vibe” that guitars from the ‘50s and early ‘60s that gets our collective motors running.
That said, playing a vintage guitar can be a different story. They’re inconsistent, they can be very difficult to play, the pickups squeal and hum, the tremolos don’t really work, keeping them in tune can be a challenge… There are reasons why so many of the world’s best designers and luthiers have made it their life’s work to fix the “flaws” inherent in vintage instruments while retaining the tone and “vibe” that we love.
New for 2023, the Cutlass BFR Classic ’58 represents Music Man’s take on this herculean task, and predictably, they’ve absolutely crushed it. It celebrates everything great about Californian guitars from the ‘50s while elegantly and subtly updating the “problem areas”.
Finished in a classic nitrocellulose sunburst with tasteful parchment plastics, we’re treated to a glimpse of what a Cutlass might have looked like if it’d been made back in ’58. The “vintage” treatment extends to the neck, too, with Music Man’s trademark roasted maple finished in a buffed nitro lacquer, complete with a skink stripe and truss rod “hole” at the headstock end. Honestly, these kinds of necks are usually like kryptonite to me. I hate playing glossy maple fretboards with vintage fret wire, and having to take the neck off to adjust the truss rod is a pain. Thankfully, Music Man has completely remedied both of these problems with their trademark adjustment wheel and frets that are vintage in width but modern in height. I tend to think of Music Man guitars as being effortless to play, and this is no exception.
Sonically, the Cutlass ’58 Classic does a fabulous job of retaining the classic three-single-coil sound but with more consistency and reliability. The custom wound ‘50s style single coils have buckets of chime and sparkle but still provide enough output for more modern styles. More importantly, the output is consistent between all five positions and across the entire range of the volume control thanks to the transparent buffered output (which also renders this guitar immune to the loading effects of long cables and some vintage effects). Whether you’re after the tones of Nile, Knopfler, Blackmore, SRV or Malmsteen, this guitar will deliver with gusto.
Another very welcome update is the hardware. The Cutlass ’58 Classic sports a two-point music man tremolo, which not only feels extremely smooth to use with no flat spots or sticking points, but it’s also much nicer under the right hand thanks to the smooth metal “cover” and recessed saddle screws. It’s actually somewhat reminiscent of the “ashtray” covers found on older Strats but still allows for palm muting and easy string changes.
The Music Man BFR Cutlass ’58 Classic is everything we love about both vintage and modern instruments rolled into one. It has the tone and “vibe” of a ‘50s guitar but with the playability and consistency of a modern, high-end Music Man. It’s a killer guitar with only one single problem - it’s limited to 100 pieces worldwide. So, if you want one, you’d better move fast!
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