Review of Musicn Man Luke III Guitar -
Not only do we have an interview with the great Steve Lukather
in this issue but we also asked Lukather aficionado Michael
Casswell to review the latest of his signature Music Man guitars,
the Luke III. Can it maintain the incredibly high standard Music
Man guitars have set so far?
Any of you who know me, know how much I rate Steve Lukather as a
guitar player's guitar player. Our recent meeting on and off camera
for this issue's interview shed some light on how the guy ticks,
especially since, by his own admission, he has recently cleaned his
act up. He seems to have a new attitude to his playing, his music
and his gear, so what better time to launch the latest version of
his signature Luke guitar?
Back in the '80s and very early '90s Lukather was an endorser of
Valley Arts guitars. These were hand built custom Strat-type
guitars used by big guns like Larry Carlton, Jay Graydon, Steve
Farris (Mr Mister) and Luke himself, and were, in my opinion, the
best money could buy. Steve Farris gave me an introduction to the
main man, Mike Maguire, at Valley Arts, who built me my very own
swamp ash faded burst guitar with a black Floyd and EMGs. A guitar
I still use regularly today, and a guitar that makes most high-end
guitars available today, seem average. But in late 1992, a fire
tore through the LA Valley Arts factory and put the company out of
business. The company name 'Valley Arts' was bought by Korean giant
Samick, which carried on production in the Far East, making hideous
recreations of those pre-fire handbuilt gems, of which only 2,600
exist. Mike Maguire went on to run the Gibson custom shop, with
Gibson eventually buying back the Valley Arts name from Samick, and
Steve Lukather moved over to Ernie Ball Music Man, along with a
couple of the more influential Valley Arts employees.
Around 1993/4 the first signature Music Man Luke guitar burst on
to the market, copying a lot from Steve's favourite Valley Arts
guitar. The neck shape and feel, EMG slv and 85 pickups, single
volume pot, back routed Floyd, all owed a lot to what Steve had
played for years previously. Like all Music Man instruments, it was
a great guitar. The second generation Music Man Luke gained a tone
pot, locking tuners, lost the the Floyd Rose trem in favour of
Music Man's own superb, and more orthodox, system, and kept the
EMGs. I have owned four of this era Luke guitar and currently have
a great 2003 'black sparkle', which is the nearest thing out there
to my now bigger collection of pre '92 Valley Arts "Strats".
So with the history lesson over with, we now have the latest
version just out. The first example I played was Steve Latherer's
very own. Prior to our interview for this issue, Steve handed me
his guitar in its gig bag, while he quickly shot off to grab lunch.
I tuned it and set the Bogner combo we'd taken to the interview
with a Luke type sound, while the camera guys were setting up. I
was interested to note that his guitar was set up exactly the same
as most of my trem equipped guitars, which is with two springs with
a trem upward pull of a minor 3rd on the G string. His guitar also
sported a heavily flamed, 'roasted' look maple neck, which just
looked and felt epic. The colour was a sort of a grey, unlike our
review example which is called 'Olive Gold'. Initial examples on
the market are going to be this colour or gloss black.
The newest Luke (now sporting the logo Llll) has a three per
cent bigger body than the previous version, making the guitar look
more sensible on taller players. The body is alder, which is a
great all-round tone wood. There have been the Ball Family Reserve
versions of the Luke 2, with fancy flame and quilt tops, which all
look very pretty, but I would dispute they sound as good and as
consistent as a plain slab of alder.
The big shock is no more EMGs. Steve has used EMGs since 1985,
so swapping to passive DiMarzios for the Luke3 is a real big move.
I tried to ask him what brought this change about, but he simply
said 'some people prefer passive pick ups', which didn't really
answer the question. He has also talked about the DiMarzios being
more organic than EMGs, which I guess they are, but I have heard
him record some fine organic tones using EMGs. The custom wound
DiMarzios do sound very sweet and are helped greatly by the onboard
boost circuit on a push push pot, giving you a 12db boost, upping
the pickup power to what Steve might have got used to over the
years with EMGs. There is a battery compartment in the back of the
guitar to power that very transparent boost circuit and the LIII
comes in splittable hb/hb and hb/sc/sc pick up versions, the latter
being my preference. Our review example came with a beautiful all
rosewood neck which looked and felt stunning.
I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail in words about
how the LIII sounds or plays - that's what the video is for, but
suffice it to say that I can honestly say I have never played an
average Music Man guitar and I have played and tried many over the
years. They are always absolutely superb, as is this LIII. Music
Man is one of the few companies you could buy blind, without
trying, and be guaranteed a brilliant guitar. And the LIII is a
brilliant guitar. The version you buy in the shops will be exactly
the same as the one Steve plays, which is rare in the signature
guitar game, and whether you are into Steve Lukather or not, the
LIII, or any Music Man instrument, will always be a sound
On that score, we have decided to give the Luke III the extra
half star we award when an already excellent product is turned into
an outstanding one by its price. That might seem unusual on a
guitar costing not far off $3,000 list, but the actual street
prices of these guitars, both in the USA and UK, makes them really
fine value for money, offering an exceptionally high level of build
quality and attention to detail.
So that's decided. I am going to buy me one!
Check out the full review inc. video of the Music Man
III guitar by Michael Casswell featured in Issue
Guitar Interactive Magazine.