Ernie Ball Music Man is well known for developing outstanding artist models that feature entirely new designs and distinctive, original body shapes.
Recently, Music Man has taken a slightly different approach with a new breed of artist models by collaborating with guitarists on modified designs of the company’s existing classic-inspired Cutlass and StingRay guitars.
The artists involved with these models are not the usual obvious guitar heroes commonly touted within the musicians’ community but rather highly talented players with original ideas who have somewhat flown under the radar.
That spirit of originality is reflected in the Cutlass model designed by country phenom Hunter Hayes, the minimalist StingRay by punk/alternative guitarist Stephen Egerton (Descendents, All) and the stripped-down-but-versatile stereo-capable humbucker/single-coil StingRay by Dustin Kensrue of post-hardcore heroes Thrice.
The new Cutlass 6- and 7-string models designed with Jason Richardson – known for his highly technical progressive metal playing as a solo artist and with Born of Osiris and All That Remains – represent possibly the most radical interpretations of the Cutlass model yet, with the introduction of a 7-string model and departures like a wider, flatter neck with 24 frets instead of 22 and fancier materials and construction for both.
Comparing the standard Music Man Cutlass to the Jason Richardson model is like the difference between a stock 1932 Ford Deluxe 3-window coupe and a Roy Brizio deuce coupe street rod. Both do share an overall common vibe, but the latter is certainly more sleek, modern and high-performance.
From the front the Jason Richardson Cutlass 6-string shares the same body shape and distinctive long 4x2 headstock of the standard Cutlass model, but from there on the departures come fast and furious.
The lightweight alder body with buckeye burl top is rendered even more lightweight by slim contours on the back of both cutaway horns, with the lower horn providing completely unrestricted access to the uppermost frets.
Our example had a Rorschach Red high-gloss, transparent red buckeye burl top with a natural flame maple binding, but the model is also available with a satin finished, natural buckeye burl top with a thin black burst.
The Richardson also dispenses with the Cutlass model’s pickguard in favor of top-mounted pickups in an HH configuration (not the standard HSS or SSS) and rear-mounted controls, giving the model high-end, custom appeal.
The five-screw/sculpted joint bolt-on neck design is also refined, featuring a 1 11/16-inch nut width that’s about 2mm wider than before and a 15-inch radius that is flatter than the standard 10-inch radius.
While the Richardson still has a 25 ½-inch scale length, it has 24 medium jumbo stainless steel frets instead of 22. The neck is crafted from roasted figured maple with a gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax blend and features an ebony fingerboard with dot inlays.
Electronics consist of a pair of Music Man Custom high-output humbucking pickups with ceramic magnets, a 25k ohm push/push master volume control with a custom Music Man “active” buffered output preamp with silent circuit (that’s always engaged, and the volume push/push toggles between a +20dB boost and no boost), a 500k push/push master tone control with coil-splitting function, .022uf tone capacitor and three-way “fat bat” pickup selector toggle switch.
The control cavity is shielded with graphite acrylic resin and an aluminum control cover to minimize noise and interference. The hardware is gold plated and includes a Custom Music Man floating non-locking tremolo with hardened steel saddles, knurled metal knobs and Schaller M6-IND locking tuners.
The three-way toggle and coil-splitting switches provide a surprisingly wide variety of tones. The neck and bridge positions each provide either full humbucker (series) or the outer single coil when the tone control’s split function is engaged.
Instead of the usual dual-humbucker setting, the middle (both) position engages the inner single coils of the neck and bridge pickups to produce Strat-like “in between” tone. This enables the Richardson to deliver a versatile variety of full humbucker and Strat-style single coil tones.
Note that we would argue that the output is hot – even with the gain boost disengaged the pickups generated overdrive grit with my Friedman Pink Taco at its lowest gain setting, which is usually clean with other guitars.
The tone gets considerably bigger, fatter and wilder with the boost engaged, but thanks to the bright, lively tone courtesy of the ceramic magnet design, we found that individual notes remain clear, dynamic and nicely distinct.
To sum up, then, the construction is pretty flawless and the playability is as comfortable as a velvet track suit on a mild spring day. There's a simpler way of putting it: it’s a Music Man – enough said.
- PRICE: $3,499 / £3,699 (hard case included)
- MADE IN: USA
- BODY: Alder with buckeye-burl top
- NECK: Roasted figured maple with 5-screw bolt-on joint
- NUT WIDTH: 1.692”, black Melamine
- SCALE LENGTH: 25.5”
- FRETBOARD: Ebony, 15” radius. White dot position markers
- FRETS: 24 stainless-steel
- TUNERS: Schaller M6-IND locking
- BRIDGE: Music Man Custom Floating Tremolo
- PICKUPS: Two Music Man Custom Humbuckers
- CONTROLS: Master volume with push/push gain boost, master tone with push/push coil-tap, 3-way toggle switch
- EXTRAS: Active boost circuit with 20dB gain. Silent Circuit eliminates hum. 500 hours of 9-volt battery life
- WEIGHT: 7.3 lbs (as tested)
- CONTACT: Ernie Ball Music Man