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Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III review

The continued evolution of Steve Lukather's signature electric matches effortless playability with incredible tones

Ernie Ball Music Man Luke III review
(Image: © Ernie Ball Music Man)

Our Verdict

Steve Lukather’s decades of guitar wisdom are evident in Music Man’s latest Luke III model, which boasts a distinctive midrange voice perfect for soloists and a wide range of tonal possibilities for any musical application.

For

  • Incredible playability.
  • A top-drawer build.
  • Onboard boost function.
  • Both HSS and HH options.
  • Cool finishes.

Against

  • Price.

As one of the most recorded guitarists of all time with a few thousand sessions on his résumé, Steve Lukather certainly knows great guitar tone. Since 1994 he’s put that know-how to good use in collaboration with Ernie Ball Music Man on his signature Luke solidbody electric model.

The latest version – the Luke III – was introduced back in 2012, but, like most Music Man models, changes, tweaks and upgrades are often made along the way after the initial release.

For 2020, Music Man has made several significant changes to the Luke III, most notably new pickups and a more powerful built-in preamp/boost. If you’ve held the line on buying a Luke, this version is one you don’t want to miss – she’s a beauty.

A new active preamp circuit provides up to 20dB of boost activated with the push/push volume knob, placing boost/overdrive functions at the player’s fingertips.

A new active preamp circuit provides up to 20dB of boost activated with the push/push volume knob, placing boost/overdrive functions at the player’s fingertips. (Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

Features

The 2020 version of the Music Man Luke III comes in two configurations – a dual-humbucker model and a humbucker/single/single. 

We looked at the latter. While the Luke III still has passive pickups, this version features a newly designed Ernie Ball Music Man high-output covered humbucker and a pair of Ernie Ball Music Man Sixties-style Cutlass single-coils with staggered polepieces. 

The boosted output of the active preamp, activated with a push/push switch on the master volume knob, is factory set at 12dB, but can be adjusted by the user to at least 20db. Users can also decrease the maximum amount of boost and adjust/match the output levels of the pickups via trim pots inside the control cavity.

(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

Also new for the model are three distinctive high-gloss polyester finishes: the vivid Ocean Sparkle and Fuschia Sparkle with chrome hardware and the more understated Olive Pearl with black hardware (a current Bohdi Blue finish is still available). 

Additionally, the Luke III is available in a maple top and Okume body in Luscious Green and Cherry Burst finishes. Our Ocean Sparkle test example has black knobs with chrome tremolo and tuners, but catalog photos show chrome knobs so YMMV. 

The Luke III is constructed with a lightweight, highly resonant alder body with deep belly and forearm contours and a bolt-on figured roasted maple neck that’s attached to the body with Music Man’s signature five-bolt attachment and sculpted neck heel that provides full, comfortable access to the highest frets. 

The pickups are all voiced with a distinctive midrange that is a soloists dream, with fat body and expressive dynamics that clearly articulate every attack and picking detail

Neck specs are a 25 ½-inch scale, rosewood fingerboard, 12-inch radius, 22 low-profile wide frets, 1 5/8-inch nut width, shallow C-shaped profile and gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax blend finish. 

The headstock is Music Man’s classic short version measuring 5 7/8 inches lone with their signature 4x2 tuner arrangement. The tuners are Schaller M6-IND locking, which helps keep the floating vintage-style tremolo made of hardened steel and bent steel saddles perfectly in tune while the tremolo’s heavy brass block provides bold, full-bodied tone. 

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Finish options include the dazzling Ocean Sparkle and Fuschia Sparkle and the understated Olive Pearl finishes.

Finish options include the dazzling Ocean Sparkle and Fuschia Sparkle and the understated Olive Pearl finishes. (Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)
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(Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

In addition to the master volume knob with push/push control for the active boost function, other controls consist of a master 500k ohm passive tone control with .022 uF tone capacitor and five-position blade pickup selector switch. Pickup settings are: bridge humbucker series, bridge/middle parallel, middle, neck/middle parallel and neck.

The control cavity is coated with graphite acrylic resin and enclosed with an aluminum lined cover to provide noise-free performance. An easy-access battery compartment for the 9-volt battery that powers the boost circuit is located on the back.

Performance

The latest Music Man Luke III is a beast with a bold, assertive voice. The pickups are all voiced with a distinctive midrange that is a soloists dream, with fat body and expressive dynamics that clearly articulate every attack and picking detail. 

This is a guitar that cuts right to the front of the mix without excess knob twiddling on an amp or mixing board. Chords are rich and voluptuous, with each note ringing out loud and clear even when playing through an amp or pedals with extremely high gain. 

Our example was perfectly dialed in at the factory for consistent volume levels across all five pickup settings. Music Man guitars are revered for their extraordinary craftsmanship and playability, and the Luke III is no exception. 

The low-profile frets provide a fast “fretless wonder” feel but with enough meat on the metal to maintain body when bending notes. The floating vintage tremolo has a slinky but firm action, and all notes can be pulled up a whole step except the high E, which goes up a half step. 

With tone and playability this stellar, the Luke III brings the best out of a player and might even encourage you to push beyond your usual comfort zones.

The Luke III is available in HSS formats as reviews and as a dual-humbucker model as pictured above.

The Luke III is available in HSS formats as reviews and as a dual-humbucker model as pictured above. (Image credit: Ernie Ball Music Man)

Specs

  • PRICE: from $2,549 / £2,349
  • ORIGIN: USA
  • TYPE: Double-cutaway solidbody electric guitar
  • BODY: Alder
  • NECK: Roasted figured maple with gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax finish
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT WIDTH: 41.3mm
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood, 12” radius
  • FRETS: 22, low-profile wide
  • HARDWARE: Chrome Music Man floating 6-saddle vintage vibrato, Schaller locking tuners
  • ELECTRICS: Music Man high-output humbucker (bridge), 2x Music Man Cutlass single-coils (neck and middle), master volume with push-push +20dB boost, tone, five-way pickup selector lever switch
  • RANGE OPTIONS: Maple-capped okoume Luke III from £3,199. HH dual-humbucker Luke III (same price)
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Ocean Sparkle (as reviewed), Budhia Blue, Olive Pearl, Fuschia Sparkle, [all high-gloss polyester]
  • CONTACT: Ernie Ball Music Man