Even though Music Man was the first company that Leo Fender collaborated with during the Seventies after he sold Fender to CBS, lightning did not strike twice, at least when it came to Music Man’s early guitar models.
In fact, Music Man did not produce a successful guitar model until the mid Eighties after Ernie Ball had purchased the company.
While the ever-popular StingRay bass (originally developed in the mid Seventies by Leo Fender, Forrest White, and Sterling Ball) has remained a popular mainstay of Ernie Ball Music Man’s product lineup since day one, the guitars they offered had little to nothing to do with Leo Fender’s previous Music Man designs.
Ernie Ball Music Man has produced an impressive variety of original Music Man guitar models over the last three decades. The company continues to innovate with their Modern Classic Collection, which includes the StingRay (a tribute to their Seventies Stingray I and II models) and the brand new Cutlass guitar model, by delivering updated features, high-quality construction, and standout performance in a classic design.
At first glance, the only major difference between the StingRay and Cutlass guitars appears to be the dual-humbucker pickup configuration of the former and the three-single-coil configuration of the latter. However, while both models have offset asymmetrical double cutaway bodies, the StingRay’s body is 1 1/8 inches longer and 1 3/32 inches wider, and the StingRay’s body is African mahogany while the Cutlass has an alder body.
But beyond the electronics, body dimensions, and body materials, the StingRay and Cutlass have several features in common, including a maple neck with either a maple or rosewood fingerboard, 25 1/2-inch scale, 10-inch radius, 22 high-profile medium stainless steel frets, and compensated nut.
Schaller M6-IND locking tuners are installed in Music Man’s signature 4-over-2 configuration, but the headstock is longer (6 3/8 inches) than previous Music Man guitar headstocks. The necks are attached to the bodies with five bolts to provide perfect alignment and rock-solid stability, and a sculpted neck joint provides a smooth transition between the neck and body. The Music Man Modern tremolo features vintage-style bent steel saddles for optimal tone and a smooth, chrome-plated cover for playing comfort when resting the picking hand over the bridge.
The StingRay’s electronics consist of a pair of custom-wound Music Man humbuckers with chrome covers, a three-position pickup selector toggle switch, and master volume (500k ohm) and tone (.022µF capacitor) controls mounted on a chrome-plated control panel. The Cutlass features three custom Music Man mid-Sixties-style staggered-pole single-coil pickups, a five-postion blade pickup selector switch, master volume (250k ohm) and tone (.047µF capacitor) controls, and a transparent buffered output and new wide-spectrum silent circuit powered by a single nine-volt battery.
These new versions of the StingRay and Cutlass (which never made it into regular production as a guitar model the first time around) have about as much in common with their namesake predecessors as the new Mini Cooper has with its original version. The new StingRay and Cutlass are sleek, high-performance machines with classic aesthetics as their Modern Classic namesake suggests. The fit, finish, and feel of both models are phenomenal, completely living up to the standards of quality that have earned Ernie Ball Music Man guitars their esteemed reputations over the years.
The StingRay has a distinctive voice that’s bigger and warmer than an SG but brighter and livelier than a Les Paul. The Cutlass delivers the full palette of familiar Strat-style tones, but they’re likely among the best you’ll ever hear, with plenty of balls, dynamics, percussive attack, and dead-quiet hum-free performance thanks to its silent circuit.
The Modern tremolo system on both models would make Leo proud as it keeps the guitar perfectly in tune even when returning to pitch after dropping the strings down until they’re totally limp. This tremolo system combines the solid feel and fat tone of a vintage tremolo with the tuning stability of a double-locking system (thanks to the locking tuners and straight string pull on the headstock), although players can only drop pitch from standard and not raise it.
STREET PRICE $1,499 (each)
MANUFACTURER Ernie Ball Music Man, music-man.com
•The StingRay features a larger African mahogany body and two humbucking pickups to provide aggressive classic rock tones.
•The Cutlass has an alder body, three single-coil pickups with staggered polepieces, and silent circuit to deliver classic blues and hard rock tones.
•The Modern tremolo system has vintage-style bent-steel saddles and a smooth bridge cover for comfortably resting the picking hand above the bridge.
•Schaller M6-IND locking tuners and an elongated headstock with straight string pull and Music Man’s distinctive 4-over-2 configuration provide rock-solid tuning.
THE BOTTOM LINE The Modern Classic StingRay and Cutlass provide a perfect blend of vintage looks and present-day features, resulting in timeless masterpieces for discriminating electric players.