Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty Monarch John Petrucci Signature Electric Guitar
By Russ Loeffler |
Ernie Ball Music Man Majesty Monarch John Petrucci Signature Electric Guitar
A signature guitar for the majesty of Dream Theater!
by Russ Loeffler
Ernie Ball Music Man Guitars are designed and built in California. The Music Man shop incorporates a blend of high-tech automation with hand-built applications in a manner that is common with custom and boutique guitar shops. They build electric guitars that reference classic guitar styles, but they are recognizable with their 4 + 2 tuner headstock configurations. They also design and build guitars with original body shapes and custom features that are unique to the Music Man line of guitars. Ernie Ball specializes in artist series guitars where the designs are detailed collaborations between the artists and the Music Man design shop.
What You Need to Know
The John Petrucci Music Man signature guitar series include an impressive line-up of six guitar models. Each model comes in 6 and 7 string options. There is a common design approach to his signature models with body shapes and necks that provide access to the upper reaches of the fretboard. The Petrucci models also include piezo pickups to allow “acoustic” playing without changing guitars. Petrucci’s prog rock/metal compositions require a wide range of playing styles and guitar tones. His designs include the “Swiss Army guitar” approach to eliminate the need for changing guitars between songs … or within an epic 20-minute prog metal song.
The John Petrucci Monarchy model is the latest of the Majesty series. In my opinion, Petrucci and Music Man have arrived at the best combination of woods, finish, and hardware with the Monarchy model. The Monarchy includes subtle chrome or black hardware (depending on the color option) and black knobs. This subtlety counters, but also compliments the dramatic wood finishes of the guitar body. The body wood is African mahogany with a Honduran mahogany through neck. There is a flamed maple top in the shape of a shield which complements the inlays and overall “royal” motif of the majesty series.
The gloss finish makes the wood grain “pop”. The website specs for the Monarch include a glossy front finish and a matte finish for the back. The guitar I reviewed had a gloss finish front and back, but I didn’t notice any “sticky” feel to the back of the neck or body. The benefit was the additional emphasis and “wet” look of the guitar’s wood grain on the back of the guitar. The color options are Royal Red, Majestic Purple, Black Knight, and Imperial Blue. I don’t know why, but I’m not a fan of red guitars. However, the guitar I reviewed was Royal Red and it would be my first choice for this model.
For me, the body looks smaller than it is. I confirmed this when I held it up to some Strats and found the body widths at the bouts to be very close. It looks and feels like a standard body shape that has been “shaped” away to arrive at an original body design. This shaping also makes the guitar more comfortable and equipped for playing above the 12th fret. I was concerned that the guitar would be neck heavy, but it is very well balanced when played standing and very comfortable (natural) when played sitting down. I was surprised to see that the neck radius is 17 inches, because the neck does feel slimmer than “traditional” electric guitars, but it still has a rounded feel. The neck width at the nut at 1.685 lies somewhere between the typical spec’s for Strat’s and Les Paul’s. The fretboard is polished ebony with stainless steel medium jumbo profile frets. Overall, the neck is fast and comfortable, but provides enough width and space for fingerstyle playing in “acoustic” mode.
I didn’t notice this before, but John Petrucci has designed his Music Man guitars so that the controls fall within the “arc” of his hand when he rests his arm on the body of the guitar. I don’t know if this will be true for other guitar players, but I found that the selector switches and buttons did line up with my fingers as I moved my hand in an arc from top to bottom of the guitar.
The controls on the front of the guitar are very intuitive. There is 3-way toggle pickup selector on the upper horn that allows you to select between piezo and magnetic (or both) pick-ups. The magnetic pick-up selector below the strings allows for the typical neck and bridge pick-up sections. The three control knobs include magnetic pick-up volume, magnetic pick-up tone, and piezo volume. The knobs have textured rubber on the circumference which make it very easy to make adjustments to the controls.
I own a few Swiss Army guitars from the 90’s with piezo pick-ups and coil splitters. They include push-pull knobs, additional selector switches, and dual output jacks. They work well, but the controls can be cluttered and require some effort to manage them. Music Man and John Petrucci have done a lot to address these issues. First, the push-push control buttons make more sense than push-pull knobs. Pushing a knob is easier and faster. When the knobs are in the up position, you can feel the knob position without looking down.
The piezo volume control doubles as a push button to toggle between mono and stereo outputs. This requires a stereo cable, but it cleans up the guitar by eliminating a second output jack. The magnetic pick-up push button engages a boost (up to 20dB). My preference was to adjust the boost level down. The boost provides significant volume increase with clean tones, but the boost acts as more of a sustain function in over-drive mode. The magnetic pick-up volume doubles as a coil splitter, but only for position 2 (neck and bridge pick-up combined). I have guitars with individual pick-up coil splitters, but most of the combinations are not useful. I think Petrucci and Music Man made the right choice to limit the coil splitting to the best combination while avoiding the clutter of additional controls. Additional controls on the back of the guitar include piezo treble, piezo bass, and boost level. This requires a small screw driver to adjust the settings – not something you can do while performing.
The guitar is loaded with DiMarzio Sonic Ecstasy pick-ups and a piezo bridge pickup in the floating bridge. The pick-up combinations provide an abundant pallet of tonal options. When I test run guitars and amps, I always start with the clean tones. I ran the guitar through the neck pick-up, clean jazz tones to bright “country” bridge pick-up sounds as well as the piezo acoustic sounds. The tonal options increased when I combined the magnetic and piezo pick-up sounds. I tried multiple options for the magnetic pick-ups with various amounts of overdrive and fuzz. The boost function really shined in overdrive modes. I was transported to “Santana sustain” territory with a push of the boost button and a smooth overdrive. When I moved to higher gain settings on my amps, the guitar tones had a good combination of bite and crunch without sounding harsh on the high notes or flabby on the low notes.
The bridge includes a custom John Petrucci Music Man piezo floating tremolo. The tremolo is VERY sensitive, and it took a while for me to adjust my playing. The whammy bar can be removed or pushed in with a single click. Once it is engaged, it locks in tight. This was the first guitar I played where I was able to use a whammy bar with a piezo pickup. At first, I thought it was a novelty. But after some practice, I found that it yields some useful sounds if used with some constraint.
The overall tuning and intonation for the guitar was very stable and easy to adjust. The Schaller M6-IND locking tuners are smooth and secure. The floating bridge is surprisingly stable considering how sensitive it is. The bridge cover is rounded and smooth – no sharp edges! The truss rod adjustment at the bottom of the neck is so simple it’s brilliant. No string removal or components are required to adjust the truss rod. Any small screw driver (or even a nail) can be used to reach through the strings to make truss rod adjustments.
- The piezo treble and bass EQ controls can’t be adjusted during performance. The EQ settings need to be dialed in when plugged into a PA or amp before a performance. On the other hand, I don’t know how you could add this functionality without adding more controls and increasing the clutter to the front or back of the guitar.
- The small cover for the rear access to the magnetic / piezo pickup selector looks a little funky, but I don’t see how you could avoid it. The switch could be relocated to accommodate a more symmetrical back plate, but that would counter the “arc” pattern and functionality for the switch.
- The cover is not visible from the front of the guitar or noticeable when playing.
- The street price for the Monarch Majesty is $3,299 and it may be limiting for some people. However, this one guitar could check the boxes for 2 or more of the guitars on your bucket list. The elimination of a few guitars has the advantages of reduced maintenance and the hassle of transporting multiple guitars to gigs.
I admit I started this review with a bias that the Majesty Monarch is a speed metal guitar for shredding. Then, I moved to my next bias that this guitar is another Swiss Army guitar with excess controls. These biases and assumptions are true. However, the design to support playing between the 12th and 24th frets doesn’t mean that the playability of the guitar in the lower frets needs to take a back seat. The guitar’s neck and body design support all styles of playing. I’m sure it would raise some eyebrows, but I don’t see why this guitar couldn’t show up at a Jazz, Blues, or Pop gig. The well thought out arrangement the controls (including multi-function knobs) allows for many tone options without looking like some Radio Shack components were added to a guitar as an afterthought. The combination of build quality, beautiful woods, finish, and functionality make this guitar extremely versatile as well as a great value. -HC-
Music Man John Petrucci Fender Majesty Monarch ($3,299 "street")
Be sure to check out Harmony Central's exlusive John Petrucci Interview.
You can purchase the Majesty Monarch from: · Sweetwater · Guitar Center · Musician's Friend
Russ Loeffler is a contributing editor to Harmony Central who covers trade shows and live events when he is not fine-tuning his guitar chops. He is also a gear head with a passion for good music, great tones, and music that is much easier to listen to than it is to play.