Review: Ernie Ball Music Man Armada
Creating a guitar that has universal appeal to players of classic and modern rock is a lofty and complex goal for any designer.
If possible, the instrument would have to possess a vintage essence while simultaneously captivating the eye with a fresh, modern aesthetic. It would have to combine the comfort of a well-worn ax and precisely engineered ergonomics.
And it would have to deliver the rock tones of yesterday and today while providing guitarists with the means to break new sonic ground.
The new Ernie Ball Music Man Armada generously meets all of these requirements, making it one the most refreshing, inspiring and interesting guitars for rockers to come out in years.
Without a doubt, the Armada’s most visually striking appointment is the V-shaped, quilted maple inset that tops the mahogany body. Its graceful arch elevates the pickups and hardware into a natural playing position but gently slopes downward behind the bridge to almost seamlessly blend into the otherwise flat body. This is a true neck-through design, so the Honduran mahogany body’s center block is actually an extension of the neck. To keep the guitar around eight pounds and achieve an airy tone, lighter and less-dense African mahogany is used for the body wings.
The neck’s details are just as specific and integral to the Armada’s performance, if not as immediately conspicuous. Its relatively thick depth is reminiscent of Fifties-era sticks but with a more modern C-shaped profile, a longer taper and an easy-to-manage width. Music Man’s own compensated nut corrects the guitar’s innately inaccurate intonation and allows strings to glide easily. The medium jumbo frets are tall enough to increase overall volume and aid legato styles. They’re also polished stainless steel, so they should last through a lifetime of play. Mother-of-pearl fret markers mimic the maple top’s V shape, and an exposed, wheel-style truss-rod adjustment is accessible between the neck pickup and top fret.
Music Man expressly designed the Armada’s humbuckers to capture the guitar’s special tonal palette. They’re controlled with a three-way, short-throw toggle and low-friction master volume and tone pots. A specialized passive wiring scheme ensures that treble does not “roll off” when volume is reduced. The hardware is also top-notch, with locking Schaller tuners firmly holding the strings on the angled headstock and a Graph Tech tailpiece enhancing sustain and harmonic content.
I can typically predict how well a guitar will project its tone just by observing the fifth string’s vibrations, which usually displays the strongest frequency wave. The Armada’s strings, however, all vibrated with equal strength, more like a dreadnought acoustic. If the Armada was a semihollow, then I might not be as surprised by its volume and extraordinary acoustic presence. But it is, in fact, a solidbody that makes the most of its high-end components and well-executed design. To that end, a special note of credit must be given to the stainless-steel frets and Graph Tech tailpiece.
Plugged into a Fender Tone-Master, the Armada delivered brilliant yet graceful punch, especially for mahogany, neck-through construction. The guitar’s wood, frets and hardware all clearly resonated through the speakers. I could turn clean tones into crunch tone simply by attacking the strings with more gusto. Likewise, I could coax warm, jazzy notes from the Armada using the neck pickup and a more controlled touch.
Turning up the amp’s gain continued to reveal the Armada’s powerful personality and its pickups’ balanced delivery. Classic rock and stinging blues tones have never been more pleasing and distinct. Combining the Armada with my Mesa/Boogie Mark V’s hottest channel was equally unique: bass notes were particularly defined, the midrange sang with a haunting depth and high-note ghosting created a three-dimensional effect.
List Price $3,850 to $4,250 (depending on color and options)
Manufacturer Music Man, music-man.com
The highly figured and uniquely shaped maple cap is arched and set into the mahogany body, creating a bold aesthetic appeal, enhancing attack and improving picking-hand comfort.
Honduran mahogany neck-through-body construction helps the Armada resonate and sustain with a profound, note-defining acoustic presence.
The Bottom Line
Music Man’s Armada is a triumph of artistic design and multidimensional tone, imbuing classic and modern rock styles with exceptional power, balance and sonic imagery.