When a bass guitar is championed by the likes of Flea, Tony Levin and Pino Palladino you know it must be something special, and that is a fitting description of Music Man's mighty StingRay bass. The single-pickup original has certainly stood the test of time - thanks to its remarkable versatility - but this double humbucker version opens up the parameters even further.
Music Man's Bongo showed exactly what a twin humbucker bass could do, but for many it was a visual design step too far. Bassists are an adaptable bunch, but when it comes to the 'Ray, they may be reluctant to leave its tried and tested formula behind. So what exactly does the HH bring to the playing field?
Visually the usual components are exactly as they should be. Oval scratchplate, chromed crescent moon control plate, heavy-duty bridge but now with added pickup and surface mounted selector switch. The bridge pickup is positioned exactly as on the regular StingRay and the additional unit sits fairly centrally between that and the end of the neck.
All the other major features stay pretty true to form; Schaller BM tuners with tapered string posts, the neat capstan wheel truss rod adjuster and the chrome-plated brass cover plate sitting over a graphite coated control cavity that keeps background noise to a minimum. However, while presentation is as you'd expect, the electronics are much more sophisticated.
In order to fully appreciate what's on offer it's perhaps best to think of the two humbuckers as four separate single-coil pickups running one-four from bridge to neck. So at the furthest extremes of the switch you either engage coils one and two (bridge humbucker) or three and four (neck humbucker) and in the centre position you activate all four coils (both pickups on).
Standard textbook stuff, of course, but it's the other two switch positions that give this bass a very interesting tonal twist. One activates coils two and three for a really big central pickup sound while the other offers coils one and four for a super-wide hollow sound. This in addition to a master volume, with bass, middle and treble active EQ means there's a lot of sonic potential here.
With heavy-duty hardware, a secure six-bolt neck plate, a comfortably contoured body and a compensated nut for greater tuning accuracy, this bass is definitely built for battle. The ever-so-slightly wider neck takes a little getting used to, but as the general proportions remain within the optimum, the StingRay playing experience is hard to fault.
Although there's still a difference in sound between the Ernie Ball-made models and the original Leo Fender examples - those really early ones were notably bass heavy with a rounder sound - today's versions are far more versatile, having added presence and clarity that's ideally suited for this updated model.
It's impossible to find a bad sound here. Thankfully, the regular StingRay sound is retained but, of course, you get a whole lot more to play with. Using both pickups together produces a fat, thumping sound with a hollow edge that's hard to follow. Using the two extreme coils together unleashes a very cool, sumptuous hollow sound while the two middle coils tighten things up nicely.
Individual volume controls could possibly have improved the blending options slightly but we're not about to second-guess the experts on this point. This new breed of StingRay offers countless tonal variations and the ability to focus your own sound preferences with the highly effective three-band EQ. Altogether it's a highly impressive, professional instrument from head to toe.