Review: Ernie Ball Music Man James Valentine Guitar

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)


James Valentine, guitarist for the band Maroon 5, once said in an interview that he avoided designing his own guitar because he realized that he was better off playing a bunch of different guitars, like the Teles and 335s that he often switched between when performing onstage.

However, Valentine had a change of heart when he connected with the fine folks at Ernie Ball Music Man, who helped him create the guitar of his dreams: a singular instrument that combines the greatest hits of his favorite guitars with new creative twists.

Chief among these innovations are the guitar’s ergonomic wedge body design, which lends itself to Valentine’s funky rhythmic playing style, and versatile electronics that allow the James Valentine signature to be well suited for a wide variety of musical flavors, from “Moves Like Jagger” pop to Zeppelin-esque stomp.


While James Valentine is a big fan of ES-style semi-hollow guitars, the only nod to those guitars are the pickguard shape and the curves of the lower bout and cutaway horns. Valentine is also a Tele enthusiast, which explains the slab ash body. But to cut down on body weight, the Valentine guitar features Ernie Ball Music Man’s innovative wedge shape that subtly tapers from a thicker bottom to a slightly thinner top, all without sacrificing the guitar’s warm tone and powerful resonance. An added benefit of this shape is the guitar provides a comfortable playing position, allowing your forearm to be more relaxed.

Another distinctive feature of the Music Man Valentine are its pickups and electronics. Pickups include a custom Music Man humbucker at the neck with coil splitting via the push-push master tone knob and a large custom Music Man single-coil with staggered polepieces like a Tele. A built-in hum cancelling circuit allows users to adjust trim pots for the neck and bridge pickups to minimize noise, and an active preamp that provides a +20dB gain boost is engaged with the master volume control’s push-push function.

While the pickup selector has only three positions, its five different pickup options—bridge single-coil, neck humbucker and bridge single-coil parallel, neck single-coil (split engaged) and bridge single-coil parallel, neck humbucker series, and neck single-coil (split engaged)—cover a wide range of Tele meets ES-335 tones.

The Valentine signature includes many premium features like its hardtail, string-through-body bridge with vintage-style bent-steel saddles, and removable metal cover that provides a comfortable base for anchoring the picking hand when palm-muting strings. The neck has a 25 1/2–inch scale, 22 high-profile, medium-width stainless steel frets, a 10-inch radius, and rounded C-shaped profile, with a roasted maple single-piece neck, which is bolted to the body via five screws. The roasting process removes moisture to provide the stability and resonance of an aged neck.


Ernie Ball Music Man guitars are known for their supreme playability, and the Valentine more than lives up to this legacy. The gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish of the neck provides similar feel and resistance to raw wood. The compensated nut delivers spot-on intonation when playing up and down the neck, and the sculpted neck joint allows guitarists to access the uppermost frets with ease. The wedge body design is both elegant and lightweight, making the guitar a joy to play for hours.

What impressed me the most about the Valentine is how its relatively simple and uncomplicated controls provided access to a huge variety of sounds ideal for a wide range of music. The bridge pickup can spank and twang like vintage Tele, but set to neck humbucker and bridge single-coil in parallel, the guitar growls like a Les Paul Junior. The neck humbucker on its own can sing like an ES-335 with a gorgeously, voluptuous tone. A whole world of textures can be explored by experimenting with various split and volume settings when both pickups are engaged, and the +20dB active gain boost unleashes incredible sustain to fatten up solos. This versatility makes the Valentine a great choice for guitarists who prefer to gig all night with just one axe.


• An adjustable hum cancelling circuit provides dead silent noise when the bridge single-coil and split neck humbucker settings are engaged.

• A +20dB active gain boost circuit allows guitarists to engage fat, aggressive overdrive directly from the guitar by pushing down on the master volume control.


By combining an innovative wedge body shape with versatile electronics, the Ernie Ball Music Man James Valentine provides a diverse rainbow of tones along with playability and comfort.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.