Review: Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay5 30th Anniversary Bass

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

Because Ernie Ball Music Man CEO Sterling Ball played an important role in the development of the original Music Man StingRay bass, it makes perfect sense that the first entirely new product developed by Ernie Ball Music Man after they purchased Music Man was the StingRay 5 bass.

Much more than a classic StingRay with a fifth string added to it, the StingRay 5 laid the foundation for Music Man’s future as a builder of high-quality stringed instruments featuring numerous innovations, enhancements, and refinements that have made their guitars and basses some of the most highly regarded instruments in the industry.

Introduced in 1987, the StingRay 5 is enjoying its 30th year of continuous production, so to celebrate this milestone Ernie Ball Music Man has introduced the StingRay5 30th Anniversary, which combines the best features of the original with a few enticing exclusive new features as well.

While the StingRay5 30th Anniversary’s Trans Buttercream finish, red tortoiseshell pickguard, white humbucking pickup and flat-top, nickel-plated metal knurled control knobs look striking and classy, my eye was instantly drawn to the stunning flame figuring and honey brown hue of the roasted maple neck surrounded by white single-layer binding. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s beauty is more than skin deep.

Beneath the Trans Buttercream finish is a lightweight, highly resonant ash body, and within the graphite acrylic resin coated body lurks a new active preamp/three-band EQ circuit that is exclusive to this model. The humbucking pickup also boasts an exclusive ceramic magnet design.

The neck has a familiar feel similar to its predecessors, featuring a 34-inch scale, 11-inch radius and 22 high-profile wide stainless steel frets, and it is affixed solidly to the body via six bolts. Controls still consist of a three-way blade switch (with series, single-coil and parallel settings) and volume, treble, mid and bass knobs.

The StingRay 5 30th Anniversary sounds even more beautiful than it looks. Its inherent acoustic tone courtesy of its ash body and maple neck is crisp, punchy and big with fat sustain, but the preamp and EQ can extend its tonal colors almost any direction you wish, from deep and warm to brilliant and growling.

The neck and body design still remains one of the most comfortable and familiar for four-string players making the transition to five strings, and the low B string delivers impressive definition and clarity instead of the indecipherable note blob of many other designs. You’ll want to play this bass for hours both for its comfortable ergonomic design and its stunningly versatile tones.

MANUFACTURER: Ernie Ball Music Man,

• The new preamp/three-band EQ electronics and ceramic magnet humbucking pickup design are exclusive to the Music Man StingRay5 30th Anniversary model only.

• The roasted maple neck boasts exquisite flame figuring and a hardened, rock solid feel that delivers outstanding note definition and sustaining resonance.

While the StingRay 5 was great from the get-go, after 30 years the model has blossomed into a dazzling beauty that’s even more of a joy to play thanks to both its expanded tonal palette and its incredibly comfortable playability.

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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.