What is it?
In many respects, the Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III is exactly the sort of electric guitar you'd expect of a third-generation Steve Lukather signature model – it's a 2020 guitar with a future-proofed spec.
It goes without saying that the build is impeccable, faultless. Ernie Ball Music Man has been making Lukather's electrics since '94 – the Luke III originally released in 2012 – so there's a continuity to the design here, a subtle evolution at play.
On the 2020 Luke III, we have newly designed humbuckers. A propriety wind, these are hot and occupy the bridge position in this HSS model. A pair of Music Man Cutlass single-coils rounds out the pickup menu, while a dual humbucker model also available.
The 2020 Luke III's high-gloss finish options are all eye-catching. These alder body options come in Ocean Sparkle [pictured], Fuschia Sparkle, Bodhi Blue and Olive Pearl, while there is a deluxe maple-capped okoume-bodied Luke III option that comes in Luscious Green and Cherry Burst, priced £3,199.
The most out-there appointment remains the active circuit and the push-push function that allows you to apply 20dB of boost via the volume control. That is where the 2020 Luke III exceeds all expectations.
It's a feature that has the Luke models have had before, and is famously deployed on John Petrucci's Majesty line, but it adds an extra dimension to the guitar, a soloing secret-weapon that can be adjusted for more subtle levels of boost via an internal trim pot.
As for the other controls, there is a five-way blade selector switch and a master 500k ohm passive tone control with .022 uF tone capacitor.
You can also adjust the balance level between the pickups. As we said, this is one future-proofed guitar, and having something like this onboard boost could well clear up some pedalboard real estate.
Elsewhere, there's quality and lots of it. Take the neck. It's a specimen piece of roasted figured maple – a bolt-on with a subtle carve to ease access, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish, and a shallow C-profile carve to make it feel just right. The rosewood fretboard seats 22 low-profile, wide frets.
And the vibrato? A super-smooth piece of engineering. Topping it off are the Schaller M6-IND locking tuners, arranged 4x2 on the headstock. Lovely.
Performance and verdict
The 2020 Luke III has a nice balance and weight. Its body is heavily contoured, with deep belly cuts and forearm woodscaping making for an incredibly comfortable proposition, whether playing seated or standing.
There's a solidity to its build that gives you total confidence that no matter how hard you shake the floating vintage-style vibrato, it's still going to hold its tune.
The locking Schaller tuners, of course, are extra peace of mind on that score, but even when you look at the heel and its five-bolt-attachment, it gives you the impression that front-to-back, nose-to-tail the engineering on this guitar is 100 per cent seaworthy.
Plug it in and that bridge humbucker will hit you right between the eyes. There's a pugnacious quality to its midrange that is reprised in each of the single-coils. The 2020 Luke III knows where to park itself in a mix.
In its clarity and depth, it has a huge voice that holds its own as you dial up the gain, through crunch and into saturation levels. Here the harmonics come easy. But the detail is maintained throughout.
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If it's high-gain shred you're after, okay, but it's going to be high-gain shred for grown-ups, okay? Where we're going to hear every note. And there's no hum. A look inside the control cavity reveals a graphite acrylic resin coating and an aluminium-lined cover to kill excess noise.
The fretwork is super-premium, and the low-profile frets, allied to the 12" fingerboard radius, gives the 2020 Luke III a zippy, speedy performance, allowing for busy, note-heavy passages and bending a note and holding it.
Throughout, the attention to detail is breathtaking. Some might opt for the HH configuration, preferring the power of the dual-humbucker setup, but the Cutlass single-coils offer a smorgasbord of in-between tones and make the HSS Luke III a versatile, does-it-all electric.
MusicRadar verdict: It's no surprise to learn that the third evolution in Steve Lukather's Ernie Ball Music Man signature electric is supremely playable, massively versatile, and a soloist's dream. This is high-end craft in service of practicality, and it's awesome.
Ernie Ball Music Man
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric guitar
- BODY: Alder
- NECK: Roasted figured maple with gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- NUT WIDTH: 41.3mm
- FINGERBOARD: Rosewood, 12” radius
- FRETS: 22, low-profile wide
- HARDWARE: Chrome Music Man floating 6-saddle vintage vibrato, Schaller locking tuners
- ELECTRICS: Music Man high-output humbucker (bridge), 2x Music Man Cutlass single-coils (neck and middle), master volume with push-push +20dB boost, tone, five-way pickup selector lever switch
- RANGE OPTIONS: Maple-capped okoume Luke III from £3,199. HH dual-humbucker Luke III (same price)
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Ocean Sparkle (as reviewed), Budhia Blue, Olive Pearl, Fuschia Sparkle, [all high-gloss polyester]
- CONTACT: Ernie Ball Music Man