Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review

Sterling’s 5-string StingRay proves you don’t need to spend big to sound big

  • £394
Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review
(Image: © Future)

MusicRadar Verdict

The SUB Ray5 from Sterling offers up tones aplenty, ranging from bright and bouncy funk and pop vibes to massive, gut-wrenching rock and metal tones - all while staying within a price bracket that keeps us onside. A killer 5-string bass for beginners and pros alike, the Ray5 is a real joy to play.


  • +

    Sounds like a full-fat StingRay

  • +

    Build quality is impeccable

  • +

    Super easy to play


  • -

    Not quite as refined as the more expensive options

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Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review: What is it?

The Music Man StingRay has certainly done the rounds since its inception in 1976. Music Man (founded by ex-Fender employees Forrest White and Tom Walker in 1971 as Tri-Sonix) originally started out producing guitar amplifiers, but a year after Leo Fender was made president of Music Man in 1975, the StingRay bass was born unto the world. Since then, versions of the StingRay have been released under various monikers - S.U.B, OLP, and now Sterling by Music Man. 

Nowadays, active bass guitars are readily available from virtually any instrument manufacturer, but the StingRay will, in our opinion, always be the most iconic and popular option. Regardless of whether you’re a groove merchant, a walking pocket, you’re slap happy or believe that eight-finger tapping is the way forward, the SUB Ray5 deserves to be near the top of your shortlist. 

There are literally thousands of 5-string bass guitars on the market at different price ranges, but here’s why we think that the SUB Ray5 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck options out there (in fact, it’s the choice in our guide to the best cheap bass guitars). 

Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review: Performance & Verdict

On first inspection, the SUB Ray5 looks amazing. Cover the headstock, and you’d have us thinking it was a USA-made, full-fat Ray. The gloss black finish we’ve gone for exudes stealthy and powerful vibes, and the way the light catches on the body bevels make this bass look a whole lot less ‘budget’ than it is. Paired with a pale maple neck and fingerboard, the contrasting shades really help the Ray5 to stand out amongst the myriad other active 5-strings in this price bracket.

But visuals, alas, only tell a small part of the story. Luckily for us - and for the Ray5 - it doesn’t just look good. Weighing in at just a whiff over four kilograms, it’s within that goldilocks realm of not too light and not too heavy. The body is sculpted with the player in mind, with the forearm bevel and room around the upper frets obviously intentional design features. 

The neck, while wider than an average 4-string, is not uncomfortable for smaller hands, like some 5-string necks can often be. 16mm string spacing at the bridge is to thank for this, and although it’s narrower than the more standard 17.5mm, we got used to the tighter spacing pretty quickly. The rounded D neck profile is a little more Jazz than Precision, perfect for those who prefer a deeper neck so they can dig into their playing a little more.

Also consider

The tones that the SUB Ray5 can produce, although not quite as refined as more expensive StingRays, are impressive nonetheless. Many of the signature StingRay tones are easy to recreate, and although the SUB only possesses a 2-band EQ as opposed to the more desirable 3-band, we’re happy to report that there is plenty of grunt which is able to be tapped into when required. 

Both EQ controls set flat found a perfectly respectable and enjoyably warm, rounded tone that wouldn’t sound out of place in many musical scenarios. Bring your picking hand back over the pickup and without any EQ tweaking you’ll start to hear the bright, punchy personality of the Ray5 shine through, especially when using a pick. 

Once we started tweaking the EQ controls a little more, we discovered tones reminiscent of Tim Commerford and Justin Chancellor, and even though that all important mid EQ control is missing, we still got close to Mark King territory. If we really had to critique the Ray5, other than the fact that it’s not as flashy or interesting to look at as the USA-made Rays, the lack of a 3-band EQ would be our main gripe. But we’re nitpicking here. For under $/£400, there’s not much else on the market that ticks boxes like the SUB Ray5 does.

Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review: Hands-on demos


Adam Gordon 

Sterling by Music Man SUB Ray5 review: Specifications

  • Body: Basswood  
  • Neck: Maple 
  • Scale: 34-inch  
  • Nut width: 45mm 
  • Fingerboard: Maple 
  • Case/gig bag included: No 
  • Left-handed: Yes 
  • Contact: Sterling by Music Man
James Farmer

James is a freelance writer and former Junior Deals Writer at MusicRadar. Before writing, James worked as a guitar salesman at a local music store, so he knows a thing or two about matching people with their perfect instruments. James also has experience working in other areas of the music trade, having worked for the online music distributor, RouteNote. James is a guitarist, bassist and drummer and has also toured the UK and Europe with his old band Hypophora.