Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay 5-String Electric Bass
By Chris Loeffler |
Ernie Ball StingRay 5-String Electric Bass
Give all 5 fingers equal time ...
by Chris Loeffler
When Ernie Ball, maker of Music Man guitars and basses, tastefully launched some forward-thinking artists guitars these last few years it got many (myself included) wondering what that might mean for their future releases of guitars and basses. The Music Man brand is storied, and the iconic looks never quite penetrated the mainstream the way Fender and Gibson did, but Music Man’s continued to churn out and build a reputation as a player’s instrument, something unique with very practical innovations to set it apart. In the bass world, it was the aggressive midrange and rise of bass as groove instrument in the 70’s that brought the Music Many bass to the limelight, and it’s been (not so quietly) doing its thing every since. As Ernie Ball has proven itself a brand looking to innovate in everything it touches these last few years, its exciting to see it revisit the iconic StingRay bass for this anniversary release.
What You Need to Know
The original StingRay was known for its heft, non-nonsense aggressiveness, and punch (thanks to its early active preamp) and love-it-or-leave it midrange, and an initial unboxing of the new StringRay immediately took those preconceptions to task. The carefully contoured body looks modern, the maple neck suggested high-end snappiness, and the instrument itself is just damned lighter than I was expecting, even with the heads up there was some modernization in place. Everything seemed dialed in to reduce weight (metal hardware, the subtle body carves) without straying from the icon StingRay look. The bass is full-sized without being unwieldy to smaller players and is well balanced.
One of the quirks of the original StingRay was the lack of mid control, and the Anniversary edition handily addresses that with a three-band active EQ/preamp that runs at 18v for pure headroom without turning into a battery-eating monster fed by redesigned neodymium humbucker at the bridge. The humbucker provides a rich, if different than the original, midrange as a platform for the bass’ tone, but the EQ in the preamp really rounds out the highs and lows for the full, high-fidelity sound expected of modern basses. The lows are throaty but clear, and the highs are defined and can be strong but never quite sparkle (a good thing when it comes to competing for space with a guitar).
Because I’m a guitar player, I cranked everything to eleven to see how my early 70’s Music Man bass head could handle it, and was pleased (if not surprised) by the take-no-prisoners aggressiveness of the StingRay, even through a 4x10 collection of Fatar speakers. I don’t think most pop arrangements could survive that sort of up-front sonic assault, but there are undoubtedly thousands of brash young men and women who will use that tone to grab their audience by the throat in the first song of their set.
I’ve heard basses with more high-end, and while I wouldn’t want one I did note there was only so much top-end to be milked from the pickup/preamp combination.
The Ernie Ball Music Man Anniversary StingRay bass squeezes more versatility and function out of a single pickup instrument that I would have thought possible, achieving a vibey, lived-in sound that could hand in almost any application but that isn’t so two dimensional as to be a “signature” sound or behavior. The instrument snaps, booms, and thuds exactly like it should, with each component and design choice clearly feeding in to the final output sound in an intentional way. For an Anniversary model, the StingRay is more forward-thinking than I would have expected, sharing more visual similarity to its early ancestors than their thuggish sonic funk. - HC-
Buy Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Special at Sweetwater ($2,199.99 Street)
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.