Music Man looks to serve up a cool new look and attitude. By Steve Henderson
I must say, test-driving Music Man instruments is a real kick. Right out of the box, they always look great, sound great and are set up perfectly. But getting first shot at a brand new model is even better, and the Valentine - with its new body shape and longer headstock - is still every bit in the Music Man guitar. It’s the body shape that first grabs the eye – a little larger than other MM models: wider, rounder, and high-waisted, but all very elegant. It’s kind of trad and modern at the same time - familiar while, refreshingly new. And resonant? We’ll get to that.
The next thing is the gloriously stable neck. Kiln-drying maple necks is the latest trend, and as I’ve said before, is sure to be a standard feature on all maple-neck guitars in the future – it just makes so much sense: bake it in an oven to take out the moisture and impurities, and you have a neck that is stronger, straighter, prettier, lighter in weight, more resonant, more stable, requires less treatment (lacquer) and is less susceptible to changes in climate. And it feels great to play. This particular roasted maple neck is nicely figured (the process enhances the flame) and super-resonant. Touch the end of the headstock and you’ll get the idea. It plays superbly, and the fretwork is absolutely faultless, providing a positive, confident “connection” for every note.
PLUG IN (OR DON’T?)
Playing the Valentine ‘unplugged’ reveals a loud (seriously loud, for a solid-body) and toneful sound that could be mic’d easily in the studio. Yeah, it seems like a ridiculous idea, but you have to hear it for yourself to understand how big the Valentine’s acoustic sound really is. Dig in with a pick for some big chords and there’s none of the usual rattle associated with unamplified solid-bodies. The 25.5” scale length keeps everything tight, and although 11-48s aren’t anywhere near my first choice, they feel great on the Valentine.
While the single coil/humbucker combo has been done before, the Valentine flips the usual order around, locating the twin coil at the neck and the single coil at the bridge (a la Telecaster Custom). The single coil pickup is a chrome-covered, humbucker-sized device with a distinctive diagonal row of slugs. It sounds very single-coil, with some of a Strat’s brightness and cut combined with some of a P-90’s woody midrange roundness and presence. This new Music Man pickup sounds great in the back position, the extra mids tempering the natural brightness of that location. It’s a great compliment to the neck humbucker - a traditional double coil that sounds big, round and warm. Clean, this humbucker has a broad midrange presence; through a drive pedal or a cranked amp, there’s a great lead tone – harmonically rich, with plenty of sustain.
HEAR EVERY STRING
String definition within chords is clear and articulate, and even complex chords hang together well. With the Valentine, chord shapes with internal dissonance don’t mush-up: try an Emin/maj13 (1, 7, b3, 13, 9) and you’ll get the idea. Chords with their own resolving suspension - like an Amin11 (1, b7, b3, 11, 5) - sound especially sweet. Pop the coil tap and select the middle of the 3-way for some throaty expression. At the other end of the harmonic spectrum, power chords have solid fundamental tones and strong overtones – they readily slip into controlled, sustained feedback that’s both musical and very cool.
In the same way, single note lines have a strong, rich flavour. This front pickup is loaded with character: an absolute first-choice lead tone. Clean or distorted, it has a voice that cuts through the mix with an effortless presence. Roll off the tone a little for some variety, or roll it off a lot for that ‘60s “woman tone” or to dig into Europa. Vary the pick attack and this pickup responds with all of the nuances a player might want to present.
ONE HOT BODY
The Valentine’s larger, wedge-shaped body and headstock are very stylish. It has some bonus features hidden away: a really useful gain boost activated by a fast push/push volume knob, a coil split push/push tone knob (for custom twin-pickup tones) and Schaller locking machine heads. The large ash body is still lightweight and resonant, the maple neck is beautifully figured, and the oiled finish is quick but controlled.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Valentine is a well-thought out, well-made instrument that will play almost any gig you can conceive of, and without ever lacking in authenticity. Its new shape rivals the timelessness of the Strat and the Les Paul, and it’s great to see Music Man continuing their tradition of quiet, sensible innovation.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• High gloss ash body
• Roasted figured maple neck, oiled
• 25.5” scale, 10” radius, 22 frets
• Music Man single and double coil pickups
• Schaller locking machines
• Easy to play
• Great sounds
• Very stylish
• Could break the budget