Ernie Ball Music Man Albert Lee HH
A great alternative for players who love the look of the previous Albert Lee models but prefer a deeper, warmer tone than the bright and brilliant sounds of its predecessors.
Ernie Ball Music Man, music-man.com
The Music Man Albert Lee HH is a great alternative for players who love the look of the previous Albert Lee models but prefer a deeper, warmer tone than the bright and brilliant sounds of its predecessors.
Country-rock superpicker Albert Lee has been a big fan of Music Man amps since the Seventies, when Leo Fender was involved with the company. At the time, however, he wasn’t as impressed with the company’s guitars. But when Ernie Ball bought the Music Man company in the mid Eighties, Lee became one of the first big-name players to adopt the then new Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette model as his main instrument. In the late Eighties, Ernie Ball Music Man CEO Sterling Ball gave Lee a prototype guitar featuring a distinctive body shape. Lee immediately fell in love with the prototype, which became his main guitar and the basis for the Albert Lee model, which Music Man introduced in 1993.
The original Music Man Albert Lee model featured three single-coil pickups in a Strat-like configuration, but over the years the company has offered several variations of the model, including one with three soap-bar-style single-coil pickups. The newest model is the Music Man Albert Lee HH, which features a pair of humbucking pickups, an African mahogany body and a distinctive all-rosewood neck. The Music Man Albert Lee HH is a great alternative for players who love the look of the previous Albert Lee models but prefer a deeper, warmer tone than the bright and brilliant sounds of its predecessors.
The most distinctive feature of the Music Man Albert Lee model is its unique angular body shape, which looks like either the love child of a Strat and an Explorer, or a Strat as conceived by George Jetson. Thanks to its compact body dimensions and comfortable contours, the guitar is exceptionally lightweight, even though it’s made of denser materials, including mahogany, for the body, and rosewood, for the neck as on the HH model.
Like previous Albert Lee models, the HH features a 22-fret bolt-on neck with a 25 1/2–inch scale, 10-inch radius, 1 5/8–inch nut width and a 5 7/8–inch headstock that complements its compact dimensions. However, the neck and fingerboard are made of attractive rosewood instead of maple. Finished with gunstock oil and a hand-rubbed wax blend, the neck has the raw feel of unfinished wood but is protected from sweat, dirt, moisture and other external elements that would otherwise cause harm. My test example also came with locking Schaller M6-IND tuners and an optional vintage-style tremolo bridge with bent steel saddles.
The pickups are a pair of custom DiMarzio chrome-covered humbuckers that are wired to a five-way switch. It provides the usual bridge/both/neck humbucker tones in series as well as the inner and outer coils of each humbucker in parallel for Strat-like tones. Controls are a master volume and a master tone with a .047×F capacitor.
The original Music Man Albert Lee model is a very versatile guitar that is capable of much more than twangy chicken-pickin’ tones, but it still is a dyed-in-the-wool single-coil instrument. The Albert Lee HH offers a much wider tonal palette, from big and beefy humbucker sounds to bright single-coil textures, making it as ideal for picking “Country Boy” as it is for blasting “Paradise City.”
While the humbuckers are powerful, they maintain exceptional clarity, cut and definition even when played through an amp at ridiculous gain settings, and they sparkle and shimmer when driven with just a touch of overdrive. The bridge humbucker produces gnarly rhythm grind, and when you add some boost for solos it sings like the fat lady at the apocalypse. The neck humbucker provides warm, round and full solo tones, and when the .047×F tone capacitor is backed off it produces thick, vocal-like “woman” tone à la early Clapton and Santana, without getting muddy or flabby. The parallel outer-coil setting is similar to the tone of a Telecaster’s middle/both pickup setting, providing a balanced blend of brilliant twang and fat, boxy punch, while the parallel inner-coil setting produces the nasal cluck of a Strat’s dual-pickup settings.
Like every other Ernie Ball Music Man guitar, the Albert Lee HH features solid construction with impeccable attention to detail. The rosewood attaches to the body with five bolts and feels rock solid, and the rosewood provides even greater stiffness than maple. Thanks to the stiff neck, locking tuners and meticulously engineered tremolo, the guitar refuses to go out of tune even after enduring a succession of aggressive dive bombs. The neck’s rounded C-shaped profile is exceptionally comfortable and fast, with a raw wood feel that’s smooth enough to play up and down quickly, but it provides just the right amount of resistance for anchoring your fretting hand when you want to put on the brakes. The combination of high medium-width frets and Music Man’s compensated nut provides spot-on intonation, making the HH the ultimate studio ax. Studio guitarists will also appreciate the extensive shielding that provides dead-quiet performance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Most guitarists know of Albert Lee only as a first-class country rock player, but this latest version of his signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar is so versatile that everyone from the hardest rockers to the smoothest jazzers should give it a test drive.
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