Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay review

Revisiting an old favourite

  • £1599
  • $2142
TODO alt text

Our Verdict

Don't be fooled by its subtle retro vibe in the looks department; this one can handle pretty much any style you fancy.


  • Build, sound, playability, more regular size and stylistic versatility.


  • Options are limited, as are colours, but the guitar is impressive, and sounds superb.

Heaped in the Californian tradition of original company founder Leo Fender, this new-for-2016 model returns to that great man's heritage.

The StingRay revisits the first Music Man guitar, circa 1976, designed by Leo Fender and Forrest White. This isn't just a backward glance; it is comfortably lower than Music Man's high-line guitars in price, too.

Read more: Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray Old Smoothie

The StingRay is still made, we understand, at Music Man's HQ in San Luis Obispo, and has plenty of modern-guitar DNA - combining heritage and price is a subtly different direction for one of our favourite USA makers.

This guitar certainly recalls those original guitars with its Fender-esque silhouette, similar contouring and the large edge radius of the recently-reviewed Cutlass.

Most other features remain identical to the Cutlass, but it's no surprise to see dual covered Music Man humbuckers, while the chromed control plate with its Tele-style knurled knobs not only adds shielding but again recalls the vibe of the original. Ironically, while the Cutlass uses powered electronics, the StingRay doesn't, although it did originally feature a preamp.

Feel & Sounds

We don't quite get that 'wow' factor of the usual oil-finished neck here, but it feels very good with a meaty 'D' profile, approximately 21.5mm deep at the 1st fret and 23.7mm at the 12th. Frets are perfectly fitted and polished and setup is excellent with a roomy string height that's not overly low.

The 'Modern' vibrato actually looks a little retro, which certainly suits the StingRay, while that large domed cover over the saddles makes for a very comfortable feel for your right-hand palm.

Unplugged, there's plenty of poke, as you'd expect, but these 'buckers have quite a classic vintage-y tonality - thicker than the Cutlass's single coils, yes, but still open-sounding with chime-y highs and a not over-pokey midrange.

We struggled to find a sound or style where the StingRay wouldn't fit. Through our Fender-style combo with a little Bigbsy-like waggle from the vibrato, we drop back into the 60s, but then with a Marshall amp voice and a gain boost, we can dial in some rockier 70s classic-to-hair rock.

"This is a superbly built modern guitar that plays like a dream."

The StingRay's neck - to us, at least - is simply great: full in the hand, it's an old Fender or mid-50s Gibson handful. Its slight chrome-y retro vibe suggests alt-rock duties, which again it handles perfectly, especially through a little Vox AC10.

Back to our clean Fender with the wick down and a little volume and tone rolled off and we can comp our jazz. Coil-splits would broaden the palette, but maybe Music Man wants to create two distinctly different voices with the StingRay and the Cutlass. It certainly has - and both sound superb.

The 'Modern Classic' moniker is highly accurate. Yes, Music Man might have plundered its back catalogue for inspiration, but this is a superbly built modern guitar that plays like a dream.

The hum-cancelling Silent Circuit and the transparent buffer mean you really won't have a problem with hum or any lack of clarity with long lead runs.

The magazine for serious players
Subscribe and save today!

Tech Specs

Country of OriginUSA
Available FinishChili Red (reviewed), Ivory White
Left Handed Model Availablefalse
No. of Frets22
Scale Length (Inches)25.5
Scale Length (mm)648