Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay review

Revisiting an old favourite

  • £1599
  • $2142

MusicRadar 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.

MusicRadar's got your back Our team of expert musicians and producers spends hours testing products to help you choose the best music-making gear for you. Find out more about how we test.

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.

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.

Dave Burrluck

Dave Burrluck is one of the world’s most experienced guitar journalists, who started writing back in the '80s for International Musician and Recording World, co-founded The Guitar Magazine and has been the Gear Reviews Editor of Guitarist magazine for the past two decades. Along the way, Dave has been the sole author of The PRS Guitar Book and The Player's Guide to Guitar Maintenance as well as contributing to numerous other books on the electric guitar. Dave is an active gigging and recording musician and still finds time to make, repair and mod guitars, not least for Guitarist’s The Mod Squad.