Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay

Revisiting an old favourite

  • £1599
  • $2142
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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.

Pros

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

Cons

  • 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.