Review: Ernie Ball Music Man Cutlass HSS RS and StingRay RS

If you love the “custom shop” appeal of Music Man guitars but lean more toward the traditional side of features and aesthetics, these new models might be exactly what you're looking for.
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The Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay RS (left) and Cutlass HSS RS.

The Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay RS (left) and Cutlass HSS RS.

When Ernie Ball Music Man introduced their new Cutlass and StingRay guitars in 2016, both models offered a little more traditionally familiar appeal than the company’s beloved “modern classics” like the Silhouette and Axis—not to mention their impressive lineup of visionary artist models. Music Man’s newest RS model additions to the Cutlass and StingRay line lean just a little bit closer to their “modern classic” aesthetic, providing upscale, customized features like roasted maple necks and more dazzling finish options without sacrificing the timeless, traditional overall vibe that made the first Cutlass and Sting-Ray models a success. 

While these new RS Cutlass and StingRay models cost a little more than their predecessors, they offer guitarists even more options toward the more easily affordable “entry” side of the Ernie Ball Music Man lineup while also delivering incredible value comparable to much more expensive “custom shop” instruments.

FEATURES
Music Man introduced three new Cutlass RS and StingRay RS models earlier this year, with two variants of the Cutlass—the Cutlass RS with three single-coil pickups and the Cutlass HSS RS with one bridge humbucker and two single-coil pickups—and the dual-humbucker StingRay RS. For this review, we’ll be looking at the Cutlass HSS RS and the StingRay RS, the latter also distinguished from other StingRay RS models by its Stealth Black finish, which incorporates several slightly different features from the others. The biggest differences between the new RS models and their predecessors are the roasted figured maple necks (on all versions but the Stealth Black models, which have standard maple necks) and the addition of new finish options, including Firemist Silver and Stealth Black.

The Cutlass HSS RS and StingRay RS share several features, so we’ll discuss those first before getting into the differences between the models. In addition to being made of roasted figured maple, the necks on the RS models have a 25 ½-inch scale length, 10-inch radius and 22 high-profile medium-width stainless steel frets. Each neck is attached to the body with a five-bolt neck plate and smoothly sculpted and rounded neck joint. The roasted necks are finished with hand-rubbed oil and wax, while the Stealth Black versions have an ultralight satin polyurethane finish on their standard maple necks. Hardware includes Schaller M6-IND locking tuners and a Music Man Modern non-locking tremolo with vintage-style bent steel saddles.

The StingRay RS has a light African mahogany body with slightly wider and longer overall dimensions than the Cutlass (total instrument weight for both models is less than eight pounds). Features unique to the Stealth Black models include an ebony fingerboard (models with other finishes have either a roasted figured maple or rosewood fretboard, depending on finish), matte black pickguard and black aluminum control cover. Electronics include a pair of custom-wound Alnico 5 humbuckers, 500k ohm volume and tone pots with a .022uF tone capacitor and a three-position pickup selector toggle switch.

The Cutlass HSS RS has an alder body and also is available in a Stealth Black finish version (not tested) with the same distinctive variations as the Stealth Black StingRay RS. Cutlass HSS RS electronics consist of a custom-wound Music Man humbucker with ceramic magnet at the bridge position, custom-wound Music Man single-coil middle and neck pickups with the new wide-spectrum Music Man “Silent Circuit” (powered by a 9-volt battery), passive 500k ohm volume and tone pots with a .022uF tone capacitor and transparent buffered output for consistent tone at all volume levels, and a traditional five-position blade pickup selector switch.

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PERFORMANCE
The immaculate construction, comfort and playability of the Music Man Cutlass and StingRay RS models are at a level beyond most of the competition in their price range. Both models have impressive natural acoustic resonance and volume projection before they’re even plugged in, and the sound and dynamic responsiveness gets even better through an amp. The StingRay RS has bold, brilliant character with glassy treble and rich bass that gives the guitar an aggressive voice. 

The Cutlass HSS RS delivers brighter treble overtones with instant percussive snap and round, full body. The Cutlass HSS bridge humbucker sounds more like a bigger P90 than a typical humbucker, perfectly complementing the middle and neck single-coils. Both guitars sound equally great with crystal-clear definition when played with clean or massively distorted gain.

● STREET PRICES: StingRay RS, $1,990; Cutlass HSS RS, $2,049
● MANUFACTURER: Ernie Ball Music Man, music-man.com

● These new additions to the StingRay and Cutlass line feature roasted figured maple necks with the character of aged vintage necks.
● Models with the Stealth Black finish option have black hardware and standard maple necks, also finished in black.
● The Cutlass HSS RS features a custom-wound ceramic magnet bridge humbucker and two custom-wound single-coil middle and neck pickups.
● The StingRay RS has two custom-wound Alnico magnet humbuckers and slightly larger body dimensions to deliver richer midrange.

THE BOTTOM LINE
If you love the “custom shop” appeal of Music Man guitars but lean more toward the traditional side of features and aesthetics and killer vintage tone, the new Cutlass and StingRay RS models are worth a closer look.