A precise reproduction of Music Man Stingray prototype number 26, a bass built by Leo Fender for Sterling Ball to road-test ahead of the Stingray’s launch in 1976, the Old Smoothie is aptly named.
Due to its markedly different pickup design, in which the strings run between the pickup pole magnets instead of over them, the original bass had a slightly less hot output. The alternate strings- over-poles design eventually became the design which we have known for four decades, and the between-poles version has now been reinvigorated as the 40th anniversary model of the Stingray.
Many of the classic features have been revisited, while some modern features have also been retained. Let’s take a closer look.
Music Man’s build quality has always been very high and this design is no exception, despite being plucked from its time capsule. Sensibly, the design team has largely opted to recreate the features of the original bass, but where it makes sense to do so some modern aspects of the Stingray design have been incorporated.
These include a user- friendly truss-rod adjustment wheel and a more secure six-bolt neck attachment, compared to the original three-bolt design. The classic ‘muted’ bridge with sponges makes an appearance, giving the player the option of old-school foam-muted tones.
The vintage rounded body design, teardrop scratchplate and headstock decal are all present and correct, while the chocolate burst colour, topped off with a high gloss finish that is also applied to the neck, takes you back to the 70s.
Overall this is a supremely solid and well-assembled instrument, as any Stingray should be. There is some headstock bias without a strap, but the bass sits firmly and comfortably against the player’s body.
The neck dimensions have the familiar fullness that we’ve come to expect, and although the bass doesn’t have the thin neck of a Jazz or a Sterling, for example, the full length of the neck sits comfortably in the player’s hand. The standard of finish across the whole bass is very good; the chrome hardware is securely attached, all moving parts turn smoothly and everything is as it should be. The circuitry of the original has also been recreated, with the original volume/ bass/treble control set on offer. No mid-EQ option for this baby!
The Stingray has always been noted for its attack, and although Music Man’s owner Ernie Ball has stated that this model sounds more like a passive bass in comparison to a modern Stingray, that isn’t necessarily the case. The biting edge is still there, but the 10 elongated alnico pickup magnets have smoothed off those spiky edges.
Now you have Stingray power matched with a less abrasive tone, adding up to a highly pleasing, responsive bass. If you think it still sounds too aggressive, you can always apply the bridge mutes with the small screw attached to each saddle of the bridge.
So is the Old Smoothie radically different from your standard Ray? Not radically, no - but it does offer a very pleasant alternative to the instrument’s usual tones. With only a two-band EQ on offer, there is an understated restraint that works very nicely for this bass. There is also the opportunity to use through-body stringing should you wish to do so, another tonal alternative at your disposal.
Playability is everything you would expect, which has been the staple of the Stingray’s success over the past four decades. Its wide appeal for bassists of all genres and styles is still firmly in place with this release; pick players, fingerstyle fans, slappers and tappers can all take advantage of one of the most recognisable tonal palettes in modern music.
For those who have always felt their Stingray lacked the sound and tone of the original vintage, here is an opportunity to buy something that could address that desire at a similar price.
At this price - and for what it is - you really can’t go wrong. The classic sound and looks are all there and frankly, what’s not to like? With more and more Smoothies making an appearance in the hands of bassists such as Neil Fairclough, who has been using one on tour with Queen + Adam Lambert, the decision to bring this model to market is totally justified. If you don’t already own a Stingray, this gives you another option to consider. Conversely, if you’re already a fan, this could very well be an alternative that works for you on all sorts of levels.