Ernie Ball/Music Man 25th Anniversary Solidbody Guitar
Ernie Ball/Music Man, music-man.com
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2009
The Music Man 25th Anniversary is a fitting celebration of the quality and innovation that the company has nurtured over the years.
Although Music Man was established in the Seventies and produced the first post-Fender guitars designed by Leo Fender, the company that we know and love today got its true start when Ernie Ball purchased Music Man’s trademarks and designs in 1984. In addition to reviving the beloved StingRay bass, which was initially designed in the mid Seventies with considerable input from current Ernie Ball Music Man CEO Sterling Ball, Music Man has produced a wide variety of acclaimed new instruments like the Silhouette and Axis guitars, the Sterling and Bongo basses, and the John Petrucci, Steve Morse, Steve Lukather and Albert Lee Signature model guitars.
With a stock lineup like that, as well as the limited-edition Ball Family Reserve Series, Music Man couldn’t celebrate 25 years in the business by just slapping a custom paint job on a pre-existing design and calling it an anniversary model. Instead, the company designed a totally new guitar that combines several familiar Music Man features with some new innovations. As a result, the Music Man 25th Anniversary model guitar adds a brilliant new voice to the company’s already stellar lineup.
The Music Man 25th Anniversary has a single-cutaway body shape that’s similar to the Axis model, but its body is slightly longer and wider, which actually makes the guitar’s curves seem more trim and subtle, and it is more dramatically contoured to provide greater playing comfort. But the biggest difference lies underneath the highly figured, book-matched maple top. In addition to a mahogany tone block that extends from the top of the neck pocket to the end of the bridge, a feature first introduced on the Silhouette 20th Anniversary guitar, the 25th Anniversary model has a basswood body with a few dozen angled routed chambers surrounding the tone block. As a result, the guitar is exceptionally lightweight and delivers big, resonant tone with a fast, percussive attack and full, rich sustain.
The guitar features a pair of custom DiMarzio humbucking pickups, but a versatile wiring configuration provides 10 different sounds instead of just the usual bridge/both/neck tones. A Stratstyle five-position switch offers the following settings: both bridge coils, outer coils of bridge and neck pickups, all four coils, inner coils of bridge and neck pickups, and both neck coils. A two-position switch toggles between parallel and series wiring. Parallel wiring is where the current is “split” or “divided” to each pickup or coil, while in series wiring the current must flow through one pickup or coil to reach the other one. On its own, a traditional (i.e. non-coil split) humbucking pickup is wired in series, which increases inductance and reduces the resonant frequency. This is partly why a humbucker delivers increased output and fatter tone than a single-coil pickup. While a humbucking pickup itself may be wired in series, the entire pickup circuit is usually wired in parallel. The 25th Anniversary’s ingenious wiring scheme provides a full array of authentic humbucking as well as single-coil tones without any buzz or hum.
Ernie Ball Music Man guitars have some of the best-feeling necks in the business, and the 25th Anniversary model is no exception. My example featured a maple fingerboard, although rosewood is also available. The neck is finished with gunstock oil and hand rubbed with a special wax blend to balance the resistance of raw wood with the slick comfort of a finished neck. As a result, the neck feels like it’s already broken in.
The chambered basswood body, maple top and pickup wiring combine to deliver unique tone. The guitar sounds exceptionally bright and punchy, with a very pronounced attack, while it retains the fatness, depth and warmth attributed to most dual-humbucker guitars. It’s as if the guitar has its own presence control built into it and is cranked all the way to 10. This pronounced upper midrange/treble peak may take some humbucker traditionalists a while to get used to, but for many players it will sound as if someone removed a wet blanket that was covering the speaker cabinet.
The series wiring configuration provides plenty of enticing tones, from huge humbucker girth to screaming Brian May–like treble booster squall. One of my favorite tricks was to use the center dual-humbucker setting in parallel and then switch to series to provide a natural-sounding signal boost that easily pushes an amp into overdrive. It’s like having a Tube Screamer at your fingertips.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Music Man 25th Anniversary is a fitting celebration of the quality and innovation that the company has nurtured over the years. With its unique sound and exceptional playability, it also points to a bright future for a company that has refused to compromise since the beginning.
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