Petrucci and Music Man come up with a road-ready hotrod. Words by Steve Henderson.
The StingRay is a bonafide classic. You’ll hear it booming out the bottom end of every style of contemporary music, because it gets the job done better than anything else. Released in ’76, it immediately became the bass of choice for funk and R’n’B players because of it’s round top end, solid and defined bass, and that sweet mid-range – perfect for the new slapping and popping techniques of the day.
Once the rock and pop guys locked onto it, the StingRay became a universal standard, equal to Fender’s mighty P Bass. Its humbucking pickup was ideal for both the stage and studio, and the hi-fi tone – punchier than the P Bass’ split humbucker – cut smoothly through a mix. It had style, balance, feel, tone… All the attributes of a great performance tool.
And four decades later, those are still the defining attributes of a great instrument. So, how do you update this classic without losing some of the legend?
SMALL SYSTEM, BIG SOUND
To begin with, the 2018 StingRay is lighter than its predecessor. And it’s not just in the swamp ash body material: the hardware, now aluminium rather than steel, has been redesigned to contribute to the lighter and more comfortable playing experience. For example, the machine heads no longer have that large steel six-sided plate and heavy cog and worm gear mechanism.
The new StingRay has a small, semi-circular plate with a much smaller gearing system, while retaining the normal buttons and large string posts. The bridge, too, has a much smaller plate and none of those funky mutes that no-one uses.
The body contours have been extended, but you really wouldn’t know it by just looking at it. As soon as you pick it up, though, the new StingRay feels a little more comfy and a little more balanced. Along with the deep treble cutaway, the new heel shape offers an easier reach up the neck, while retaining the five-bolt arrangement. Seated or standing, the StingRay is comfortable and accessible.
But it’s the neck on this StingRay that has the greatest weight loss – it’s torrefied. That means it’s been roasted (yep, in an oven), and this drying process eliminates a huge percentage of the moisture in the timber – which may or may not occur naturally over a few decades – in just a few hours. We’ve seen it previously on the new Luke models and it’s certainly the “latest thing” in electric and acoustic guitar construction.
There are quite a few brands that feature models with roasted necks, and on some acoustics, roasted soundboards. There’s even one brand that claims they can age just the braces via this method in order to produce, in new guitars, the voice of vintage instruments from specific eras.
A torrefied neck is dryer, stiffer, more stable, more resonant, and lighter than a traditional neck. It’s also much less susceptible to climatic changes, so you can rely on it to sound virtually the same today as it did yesterday, or last week, or last year. Because it’s stronger, a roasted neck can be made a little slimmer – when you play the new StingRay, you’ll immediately feel the difference. And the combination of a maple neck and ebony fingerboard is a dream to play.
PRETTY GOOD, AND PRETTY PRETTY
This particular StingRay is a finished in Cruz Teal, which looks fabulous with its black chrome hardware, signature oval scratchplate and twin pickups. It has two Music Man humbuckers, a five‑way switch, and a three-band active EQ.
The pickups are built around neodymium magnets for more headroom and a broader spectrum. The redesigned preamp is powered by 18 volts for enhanced output and a cleaner delivery, and the five-way switch accesses various combinations of the four coils – including a very woody (and very cool) out-of-phase option.
I AM STINGRAY, HEAR ME ROAR
Plugging into a number of bass amps, the StingRay (with its EQ knobs notched) produced that signature tone every time. Whether it was through a Hartke 410, a single 15, or a 410 Bassman combo (as the amp was originally intended), the StingRay voice was there. But there are also plenty of other options.
The three-band tone circuit and the new pickups combine to produce an extraordinary number of sonic flavours. There’s that P Bass thud, the sweet bite of a J Bass, the eccentric sounds of an Alembic, a pretty convincing approximation of a woody upright… All with the turn of a few dials and the flick of that five-way switch. The designers at Music Man have clearly gone after a do-it-all configuration that will deliver the kind of tones that a professional might require on any gig that could come up.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This StingRay is clearly the product of a lot of thought, by people who really care about the legacy of an iconic instrument. You can see their respect for the StingRay’s history, but also their enthusiasm for moving the design forward a little.
They’ve kept the short 3+1 headstock, the round pickguard, and the offset body shape with the stylish curves – in fact, making them even more stylish. This is a go-to bass by any standard, designed for the player who wants more than just a couple of stock standard sounds.
The 2018 StingRay is aimed at the musician who wants to find their own unique voice.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Five-way switch
• Three-band active EQ
• Torrefied (roasted) neck
• Chrome black hardware
• Semi-circular plate
• Great to play
• Superbly crafted
• Rich and punchy sounds
• There may be too many tonal options for some players
Ph: (02) 9905 2511