Review of Sterling By Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4 bass
You can get a lot of basses for surprisingly little money these
days. But can you get one that you'd take on a professional stage?
Dean Veall checks out a real contender from Music Man's Sterling
Here's a bass that really needs no introduction at all. The
original Music Man Stingray has been making its mark in all genres
of music since its inception back when - well around the same time
as I entered the world too actually! 1976 was obviously a very good
Designed by Leo Fender, Tom Walker and Sterling Ball, this new
and exciting instrument with a nod to Fender's original Precision
design, in terms of outline, brought some innovative feature
'upgrades' such as active electronics, a chunky soapbar pickup,
shorter 3+1 headstock and one of my favourite additions, the tasty
chrome boomerang control plate. Oh and let's not forget that
identifiable Music Man bass tone!
Over the last 37 years and counting, the Stingray has spawned a
whole host of model variations. We've seen left hand
versions, limited editions, 5-string versions not to mention up to
date with the latest 'Reflex', 'Sterling', 'Big Al' , 'Bongo' and
hi-tech 'Game Changer' instruments, currently advertised on the
Music Man website.
Today we look at a family subset that Music Man describe as 'a
new level of quality and value for the beginning or intermediate
player'. They go on to say, ' we feel all players should have
access to affordable guitars and basses that feel, sound and play
like a refined, crafted professional instrument.'
First of all, before any confusion ensues - the Sterling By
Music Man family of instruments is further split up in to USA/
Canada instruments and International Instruments. The options for
each 'outlet' vary, so it's worth taking a closer look first.
From the international range there are five models to chose
from. Three 4-string models and two 5-string models. Starting with
the 5-string versions, there is a black one with a maple
fingerboard and a walnut satin version with a rosewood fingerboard.
Over to the 4-string models, again a black version with a maple
fingerboard but also a white model (with the same black pick guard)
with rosewood for the fingerboard instead. Finally, there's the
model we are reviewing today, the walnut satin version which, as
you can see, has a rosewood board. The USA models have a sumptuous
honey burst finish 4-string instead of the Walnut Satin and only
one 5-string model. There is, as far as I know, no left hand option
available in this range.
Here we are then, and immediately there is little doubt that a
great deal of effort has gone in to making this instrument a worthy
member of the Music Man family. Yes, it comes in at a far lower
price point in comparison to the premium USA models, but you'd not
mistake where this bass gets its heritage..
The walnut satin finish is really tasty indeed. Just take a
closer look at the video and images. There's a great close up on
the Sterling By Music Man website too showing off the solid
hardwood body grain. Speaking of which the 'hardwood body',
although not advertised, I understand to be jabon, an Indonesian
wood similar to basswood.
Top to bottom, the instrument features chrome tuning keys with a
good action and a small string tree for the A and D strings to give
them a better break angle over the nut.
On to the neck and fretboard - well! What a joy! The nut width
is more akin to that of a 'Jazz Bass' profile at 38mm, something
that I prefer. A little unexpected, perhaps, as my main instruments
are usually 6 and 7-string beasts! The rosewood fretboard on this
model looks well finished with medium jumbo sized frets and the
back of the neck is smooth and comfortable, featuring a satin
tinted finish. I like the large dot markers too; easy to see on
darkened stages. Six bolts fix the neck on to the body.
Moving on down the body, the familiar Stingray layout greets us.
On to the blemish free body surface is a three-ply oval tear-drop
pickguard and characteristic 'MM' humbucking pickup. The pickup
does not have any coil switching options and is wired directly to
an active two band circuit comprising treble and bass boost and cut
controls. The third knob on the control plate is the master volume,
furthest from the top mounted jack socket. There's a battery
compartment that is easy to access on the back of the instrument -
a standard 9v battery provides power to the active circuit. I'm
always a bit wary of plastic battery compartment doors and have
seen many a bass with bits of electrical or gaffer tape holding
broken lids in place. I hope the type on these basses will
Modelled on the original Stingray, anchoring the strings to the
body is a 'large heavy duty and fully adjustable bridge'. Yes,
another part of the Stingray design that has always remained. I
like that aspect actually; not my own personal taste in bridges,
but it's part of the Stingray design that even the budget models
can enjoy. So that's got to be a good thing for those working up to
a top of the range model.
Sometimes, it's the smaller details that 'make' a bass. Here's a
couple I like about the S.U.B. There's the truss rod adjuster
for one: OK, so it shouldn't need adjusting much at all, but I am
really pleased to see that even on a bass of this price, there's a
tidy cut out in the pick guard to access the adjuster wheel. You
don't even need an Allen key to adjust the neck either. A straight
bar is tool is included, or indeed a small screwdriver will
suffice. I like that a lot. I also really like, if I may bring
attention back to the metal control plate, the top mounted jack
socket. I get to work in environments such as schools where shared
kit gets...ahem…'severely tested' by students and have seen
so many plastic pickguards split around the jack socket. I think
this is a welcome inclusion and should certainly help to extend the
life of the instrument's hardware through daily usage.
Plugging in, although the S.U.B. has only one fixed pickup and a
two band EQ, there's a lot of tone variation on offer. The EQ has a
smooth boost and roll off of both the treble and bass end. I hope
that comes across clearly in the video. Boosting the lows and
pulling back the top end gave the bass a great 'dub' sound whereas
boosting the top end back up we were in to unmistakeable Stingray
rasp territory. Slap bass sounded vibrant and zingy and fingerstyle
seemed even enough across the fretboard.
Some may feel that such an instrument is a bit of a one trick
pony but I think that actually, there's much more value in this
instrument than the price tag suggests. This is a great little bass
for not a lot of money that I am sure would be a great addition for
the beginner or indeed, even the gigging professional who, perhaps,
wanted a spare, or only occasionally needed a 4-string bass. Don't
expect the S.U.B models to be equal to the USA premium models -
however, do expect to find that the Music Man vibe is there, albeit
in an understandably diluted version. I'd certainly recommend this
instrument along with my other budget favourites reviewed in G.I.
to my students.
Check out the full review inc. video of
the Sterling By Music Man S.U.B. Ray 4
bass by Dan Veall featured in The
Bassment of Guitar
Interactive Magazine Issue 17.