Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay 5 review

The EBMM x Darkglass collab continues with a five-string version that augments the StingRay with onboard dirt and fuzz

Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay 5
(Image: © Ernie Ball Music Man )

Guitar World Verdict

The DarkRay 5 is an impeccably built fountain of versatile and useful sounds, and is the perfect option for players who love the StingRay’s feel, tone, and character, but want even more options.

Pros

  • +

    Distortion/Fuzz circuits optimized for bass.

  • +

    Stellar craftsmanship.

Cons

  • -

    Electronics and light wear batteries quickly.

Why you can trust Guitar World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Last year, Ernie Ball Music Man captured the hearts, minds and fingers of thousands of bassists by revealing the company’s collaboration with bass effect and amplification specialists Darkglass Electronics on a new bass guitar called the DarkRay. 

Combining features of the beloved Music Man StingRay with built-in Alpha (distortion) and Omega (fuzz) circuits, as well as a new two-band EQ preamp designed by Darkglass, the DarkRay was an instant hit. Now, Music Man has expanded the partnership with a five-string version of the DarkRay

Build Quality

In essence, the DarkRay 5 is a single-pickup StingRay 5 Special with Darkglass electronics and a handful of slightly different specs. The neck is crafted from roasted maple and features 22 high-profile/wide stainless steel frets, an 11” radius, a 1.75” nut width, and a single choice of fingerboard, made of ebony. 

Music Man’s signature five-bolt design solidly attaches the neck to the body, and the heel is generously rounded to facilitate playing comfort around the highest frets. The company doesn’t specify the exact tonewood used for the body other than ‘select hardwood’, but our example weighed in at a reasonably comfortable 9.4 lbs (4.3 kg). 

Whereas last year’s DarkRay four-string came in either Obsidian Black or the limited Graphite Stone finishes, the five-string is offered with either grey sparkle Starry Night or limited White Sparkle high-gloss polyester finish options, with the former featuring a plain headstock while the latter has matching paint.

The top-loaded steel bridge with steel saddles, neck plate and round string tree for the A and D strings on the four-plus-one headstock have a matte black finish, while the knurled dome-top metal control knobs and tuners are gloss black. Two compartments for the 9-volt batteries that power the preamp, EQ and effects are located on the back.

Our DarkRay 5 arrived nearly perfectly set up, needing just a minor tweak of the truss rod: We have lots of love for the Music Man easy-access truss rod wheel that can be adjusted without special tools. 

Every single detail of the fit and finish was perfection, from the rock-solid neck-to-body joint and expertly capped, crowned and polished frets to the mirror-like shine of the Starry Night finish, which is decidedly more uptown bling than the downtown industrial vibes of last year’s Graphite Stone paint job. 

Even the knobs feel classy, with firm-but-silky smooth action similar to that of the controls on an expensive studio mixing console.

Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay 5

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man )

Sounds And Playability

The original StingRay bass is known for its distinctive midrange character. The DarkRay, however, lives up to its name by delivering an inherent tone that is warmer and richer with the preamp-only setting engaged and the treble and bass EQ controls centered, although the StingRay growl comes out in the Alpha and Omega settings.

Many players will consider this a bonus, as it tames pick attack and string slide noise while bringing core musical notes even more to the forefront.

Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay 5

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man )

The noise-free specs of the Darkglass electronics provide an excellent clean base that keeps harsh overtones and attack transients under control when the distortion and fuzz beasts are unleashed.

The ring around the Gain control for the Alpha and Omega effects illuminates blue when the three-way switch is set to Omega, red in the Alpha settings, and is unlit when the preamp-only setting is engaged. 

Omega’s distortion effect scoops out the midrange slightly, while the mids are more prominent with Alpha’s fuzz, which is more of a smooth Big Muff-style effect than a sizzling classic fuzz like that of a Gibson EB-0F Fuzztone bass.

Ernie Ball Music Man DarkRay 5

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man )

The Blend control adjusts balance between unprocessed and distorted signals, which is especially helpful for maintaining clarity for more percussive styles or dialling in fat, compressed tones. The Gain control can also be backed down to provide just the slightest hint of grit in the Alpha or Omega settings, providing a useful range of textures.

Although the Alpha’s fuzz effect fortunately never gets flabby or farty, I found that it made the low B string sound less clear and defined than when the Omega distortion was engaged, which enhanced the low B’s punch and growl.

The Darkglass treble and bass EQ is an improvement over the classic StingRay EQ and a better complement to the humbucker, with its powerful neodymium magnets, than the StingRay Special’s three-band EQ, capable of dialling in a wide range of highly desirable tones with deeper, rounder bass and shimmering treble.

Conclusion

The Music Man DarkRay 5 is perfect for players who love the StingRay’s feel, tone, and character, but want even more tones and textures.

Fuzz and distortion enthusiasts who don’t mind always having these effects first in the signal chain will like the instant access – and metal, punk, and progressive players may never use anything but the aggressive, gut-punching Alpha and Omega settings, free at last from the tyranny of the pedalboard. 

Specs

  • PRICE: $2,799 (White Sparkle $2,899)
  • MADE IN: USA
  • BODY: Select Hardwood
  • NECK: Roasted maple, 34” scale, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax blend finish
  • NECK JOIN: Bolt-on, five-bolt attachment
  • NUT WIDTH: 1.75”
  • FINGERBOARD: Ebony, 22 frets
  • PICKUP: Single humbucker with Neodymium magnets
  • ELECTRONICS: Active
  • CONTROLS: Volume, Gain, Blend, Treble, Bass, three-way blade switch (preamp, Alpha/preamp, Omega/preamp)
  • HARDWARE: Matte and gloss black hardware, five-saddle Vintage Music Man top-loaded steel bridge with steel saddles, custom Music Man lightweight tuners with tapered string posts
  • WEIGHT: 9.4 lbs / 4.3 kg
  • GIGBAG/CASE INCLUDED? Hardshell case
  • LEFT-HAND AVAILABLE? No
  • CONTACT: Ernie Ball Music Man (opens in new tab)

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

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.