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Sterling by Music Man Mariposa and Cutlass CT50HSS review

These electrics might be more accessibly priced than their EBMM kin but the fit, finish and sounds will knock you out

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass
(Image: © Sterling by Music Man )

Our Verdict

In addition to being impressively close to their much more expensive Music Man counterparts, the Sterling Mariposa and Cutlass CT50HSS are outstanding, versatile instruments that far outperform their surprising affordability.

For

  • High-quality builds and cool finishes.
  • The tones are tip-top and there is plenty of range to them.
  • Locking tuners keep the tuning shipshape.
  • Excellent value.

Against

  • Lack of compensated nut makes intonation not quite as forensically bang-on as EBMM models.

The good news is that the quality of entry level electric guitars has improved dramatically in recent years. Many marquee USA brands now offer alternative lines produced overseas that benefit greatly from the know-how that went into producing a company’s flagship models. 

Even though these import brand guitars often cost significantly less than their upmarket counterparts, many offer similar playability and performance that will please all but the most critically discerning players. 

Two new models with street prices less than $600 recently introduced by Sterling by Music Man — the Mariposa and Cutlass CT50HSS — show just how much the gap between entry level and flagship guitars have narrowed in recent years. 

Both instruments provide features like roasted maple necks, locking tuners and custom-designed pickups usually found on much more expensive guitars. These Sterling guitars are close enough to their Music Man equivalents to fool most audiences and players, although your budget and bank account will certainly notice the huge difference in price

Sterling by Music Man Mariposa

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man )

Features

The Sterling by Music Man Mariposa features the same compact, angular body style of the Music Man Mariposa model designed by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta, At the Drive-In), and the Sterling Cutlass CT50HSS is the equivalent of the Music Man Cutlass RS HSS, featuring a humbucker/single/single pickup configuration and Strat-like asymmetrical double-cutaway shape.

Both models have essentially identical necks, but with a few differences. The necks are crafted from roasted maple and provide a 25.5-inch scale, 12-inch radius, 22 medium frets and 1.65-inch nut width. They're solidly attached to the body with five bolts at a smoothly sculpted heel, and the oversized 4x2 headstocks are equipped with locking tuners.

The main differences are that the Mariposa’s neck has a rosewood fingerboard with white pearloid block inlays and the headstock is painted to match the body, while the Cutlass CT50HSS has either a rosewood or roasted maple fingerboard both with dot markers and the headstock is not painted. Both models also include a vintage-style tremolo. The Cutlass has a poplar body finished in a selection of four vibrant colors: Dropped Copper, Firemist Silver, Rose Gold or Vintage Cream.

Sterling by Music Man Mariposa

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man )

The neck and middle single-coil pickups and bridge humbucker are Sterling by Music Man’s own designs, wired to master volume and master tone controls and a five-position blade pickup selector switch that provides bridge, bridge/middle, middle, neck/middle and neck settings.

The Mariposa’s body is crafted from nyatoh and finished either in metallic Dorado Green or Imperial White. The pair of custom artist humbuckers have chrome-plated covers, and the electronic circuit features individual volume controls for each pickup and a three-way toggle pickup switch.

While the Music Man Mariposa has a fancy laser-etched pickguard, the Sterling Mariposa has a more traditional three-layer white/black/white pickguard.

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man )

Performance

Although the Sterling versions of the Mariposa and Cutlass may not look quite as fancy as their Music Man counterparts to the trained eye, most players would not be able to tell the difference in feel and playability in a blindfolded comparison. Both have a smooth, fast playability and solid feel, and the attention to detail throughout the entire construction is impressive.

The finishes are dazzling, and the dark brown hue of the roasted maple necks gives the guitars a distinct upscale look. Both Sterling models have traditional nuts instead of the compensated nuts found on their Music Man counterparts, so the intonation, while excellent, isn’t quite as meticulously dialed in.

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man )

While the Mariposa and Cutlass are made from different tonewoods than their Music Man equivalents, which are built from okoume and alder, respectively, they sound surprisingly similar as well.

The Sterling Mariposa is slightly more aggressive and raw, which many players will find very desirable. The midrange is remarkably clear, providing outstanding clarity and definition whether played clean or with highly saturated distortion.

The Cutlass CT50HSS provides an attractive balance between harmonically rich humbucker and spanky, percussive single-coil tones with a sparkly-but-full-bodied treble. Both instruments have a ton of distinctive character, standing far above the generic character of most competing solidbodies in their price range.

Sterling by Music Man Mariposa

(Image credit: Sterling by Music Man )

Specs

Sterling by Music Man Mariposa

  • PRICE: $549 / £649
  • ORIGIN: Indonesia
  • BODY: Nyatoh
  • NECK: Roasted maple, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT WIDTH: 1.65” 
  • FINGERBOARD: Rosewood with white pearloid block inlays, 12” radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium
  • HARDWARE: Locking tuners, vintage Tremolo
  • ELECTRICS: 2x Mariposa Custom Humbuckers, 3-way pickup selector, individual volume controls
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Dorado Green (as reviewed), Imperial White

Sterling by Music Man Cutlass CT50HSS

  • PRICE: $499 / £619
  • ORIGIN: Indonesia
  • BODY: Poplar
  • NECK: Roasted maple, bolt-on
  • SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
  • NUT WIDTH: 1.65” 
  • FINGERBOARD: Roasted Maple with dot markers, 12” radius
  • FRETS: 22, medium
  • HARDWARE: Locking tuners, vintage Tremolo
  • ELECTRICS: 1x Sterling by Music Man humbucker, 2x Sterling by Music Man single-coils, 5-way pickup selector, volume, tone
  • LEFT-HANDERS: No
  • FINISHES: Firemist Silver (as reviewed), Rose Gold, Dropped Copper, Vintage Cream
  • CONTACT: Sterling by Music Man
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.