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Ernie Ball Music Man Sabre review

Ernie Ball Music Man's cutting edge guitar design has scarcely been sharper than on this modern-voiced doozy

  • £3399
  • €3599
  • $3199
Music Man Sabre review
(Image: © Future / Neil Godwin)

Our Verdict

The Sabre shows a different side to Music Man, with a classic double-cutaway body the launching pad for an all singing, all dancing modern electric that's got heaps of tricks up its figured-maple sleeve.

Pros

  • The Sabre's finish is truly exquisite.
  • You will love the feel.
  • Wide range of contemporary tones.
  • A well-balanced instrument.

Cons

  • It might be too modern for some folk.

What is it?

The Sabre is a little different for Music Man, which is to say that it is an electric guitar of relatively conventional stylings.

Compared to the outré body shapes of the Albert Lee and St. Vincent models, or the retro-futurism of Omar Rodríquez-López's Mariposa, the Sabre is a little more staid in its design, a doublecut-away solidbody that made its debut in 1978.

A Leo Fender and George Fullerton design, the Sabre could be scene as a descendent of the Stratocaster. Initial runs featured two models, the Sabre I and the Sabre II, with the I offering a modern feel with a flatter 12" fretboard radius and the II a vintage 7.25" radius and narrow vintage-style frets.

But with their active electronics, onboard 2-band EQ and phase switches, the original I and II models were quite different to what we have today, which is an altogether more conventional S-style.

Sure, the silhouette is the similar, but it's a very different instrument, and one well attuned for the contemporary player. 

Pickups-wise, we have a winsome pair of direct-mounted Music Man Custom Wound humbuckers. The bridge pickup has an Alnico V magnet with a DCR of 18kohms; the neck has a Ceramic 8 magnet and a DCR of 12.2kohms. The controls are simple enough; master volume, master tone, and a five-way pickup selector switch

The edge of the figured maple cap creates the illusion of binding, and it really is a sumptuous piece of timber to behold. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Elsewhere there is a Chrome ‘Modern Tremolo’ 6-saddle bridge with push-in arm and a discrete cover plate that's not unlike the sort you'd see on a vintage Strat. A set of locking Schaller M6-IND tuners keeps things in order up top, and that's good to see, but as ever with these premium Music Man electrics, it's the tonewood choices that will probably see the need for the fainting couch.

A book-matched flame maple cap – 13mm thick – sits atop a solid Okoume body and is guaranteed to set the pulse racing. Similarly, the roasted, figured maple neck is mana from heaven for your Instagram feed.

The deep caramel colour of the maple is extended to the fingerboard, which counts the frets out in dot inlay and is immaculately finished with hand-rubbed with gunstock oil and wax. The body is unbound but exposed edges of the maple cap preserve the illusion and put a bow on the presentation.

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The sculpted heel makes the Sabre must accommodating to those spotlight moments up the top end of the fretboard.

The sculpted heel makes the Sabre must accommodating to those spotlight moments up the top end of the fretboard. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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Mounting the truss rod adjuster wheel at the bottom of the neck makes quick tweaks a breeze.

Mounting the truss rod adjuster wheel at the bottom of the neck makes quick tweaks a breeze. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)

Performance and Verdict

Where do you start with the Sabre? It has to be the feel and playability – it is a supernova of ergonomics, with that thin neck a really zippy and shred-happy delight, and the balance of the guitar just right.

One of the good things about Music Man really sweating over the details and putting 100 per cent attention into the finish is that once you've done the swoon down at the store and got it home, you'll be too busy playing it to notice all these things. This is the sort of guitar that sweeps you up in the moment. The setup is bang on.

The clean tones are particularly inspiring. There is plenty width and warmth to these 'buckers, and the five-way selector does a good job of mining for musical tones. You can select it so each humbucker is in series, the coil-split outer coils on each pickup in parallel, both ’buckers on full in parallel, and a coil-split position that activiates just the inner coils of the bridge and neck pickups.

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(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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The neck profile is agreeably slim , with that 10" fingerboard radius offering a very comfortable, modern feel.

The neck profile is agreeably slim , with that 10" fingerboard radius offering a very comfortable, modern feel. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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Schaller M6-IND locking tuners. Nice.

Schaller M6-IND locking tuners. Nice. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
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The 2020 Sabre comes with a recognisable 4 over 2 headstock whereas the original Sabres were six-in-line a la Fender. That nut is compensated to aid intonation.

The 2020 Sabre comes with a recognisable 4 over 2 headstock whereas the original Sabres were six-in-line a la Fender. That nut is compensated to aid intonation. (Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
Also consider...

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

• Ernie Ball Music Man Mariposa Standard
It’s another superb Music Man guitar. A very fit-for-purpose musical tool in an original and imaginative dress. Where could you take it?

• Ernie Ball Music Man St Vincent
Annie certainly has her own sonic stew in mind, but remove the vibrato arm and this is a slide-playing tour-de-force. It just proves, once again, that if you judge a guitar by its cover alone, then you are in danger of seriously missing out. 

There are many layers to the Sabre's voice. And that tone control is there to be played around with. As we would expect from a contemporary build, the bridge humbucker runs hot, with a very crunchy attack that could be deployed in service of heavy metal if that is your thing – hey, this thing is named after a weapon.

But the bridge 'bucker really performs well across the gain spectrum, with mid-high definition bringing out all the nuance in your playing, harmonically rich and dynamic. The coil split positions allow you to find some great in-between tones, Strat-esque spank on the inside coil position and a lovely warm bloom in the low end with the outside coils.

The neck 'bucker itself is an interesting counterpart to the hot bridge pickup. It has a clarity just enough treble fairy dust to make it a very expressive proposition for soloing or letting your riffs cut through.

All in all the Sabre is a typically meticulous build from Music Man. It isn't cheap, of course, but it does come with a moulded hard case and the 100 per cent peace of mind that it's so eminently playable it's almost obsequiously flattering. 

It's a boutique purchase,  a Suhr-esque proposition existing outside of the Fender/Gibson paradigm of guitar design, and it'll reward you with all kinds of musical possibilities.

MusicRadar Verdict: The Sabre shows a different side to Music Man, with a classic double-cutaway body the launching pad for an all singing, all dancing modern electric that's got heaps of tricks up its figured-maple sleeve.

The web says

"Overall, I am so thrilled with the Sabre’s playability and versatility that, well, I ain’t done with it yet! When possible, I enjoy the convenience of traveling with just one guitar, and this guitar does just about everything I need it to do — from surf-adelic humbucker-through-reverb-tank textures to searing hot solo sounds to whammy-bar mayhem."
Jude Gold, Guitar Player [editor's pick]

"We’re enormously impressed by the way the Sabre handles high levels of gain, and the clarity and separation of both overdriven and clean sounds is exceptional. In fact, we’ve rarely heard better note definition for chordal work."
Darran Charles, Guitar

Hands-on demos

Mark Chapman

Cooper Carter

Rabea Massaad

Specifications

(Image credit: Future / Neil Godwin)
  • ORIGIN: USA
  • TYPE: Offset double-cutaway solidbody electric
  • BODY: Okoume with bookmatched flame maple top
  • NECK: Roasted figured maple, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT/WIDTH: Graphite/43mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Roasted maple with dot inlays and hand-rubbed oil and wax finish, 254mm (10”) radius
  •  FRETS: 22, high-profile medium stainless steel
  • HARDWARE: Chrome ‘Modern Tremolo’ 6-saddle bridge with push-in arm, Schaller M6-IND locking tuners
  • STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 54mm
  • ELECTRICS: 2x Music Man Custom Wound humbuckers, master volume, master tone, 5-way pickup selector blade switch
  • WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.5/7.9
  • OPTIONS: None. The Ball Family Reserve edition costs £3,999 / $3,799
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Dual-humbucker w/ vibrato options: StingRay RS, Valentine Tremolo and Steve Lukather (from £2,399 / $2,149)
  • LEFT HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Honey Suckle (as reviewed), Cobra (roasted maple ’board, black hardware), Boujee Burst and Blue Moonstone (ebony ’boards, chrome hardware). High gloss polyester (body), hand-rubbed oil and wax finish (neck)
  • Contact: Ernie Ball Music Man