A smooth performer with real muscle. Words by Steve Henderson.
Note #1: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Note #2: This review initially went to print with images of the JP Majesty in a Tiger Eye finish – not the Red Sunrise, as shown here – which isn't yet being shipped by Music Man. Our apologies for any confusion!
For 45 years, Music Man has held a most unusual position in the industry. They produce, arguably, the best “all‐rounder” bass on the planet (the versatile and still‐incredible StingRay) and yet their guitars have struggled for acceptance against more established and significantly less consistent products from Fender and Gibson.
While Fender’s flagship Tele/Strat/P Bass combination has managed to weather various fluctuations in production quality, and Gibson is just now coming out of many years of misdirection in design and manufacturing, Music Man has consistently built guitars of serious quality and tone, focussing on the player rather than their own bottom line.
They’ve listened to players who know about tone and technique to produce guitars that facilitate both: players like Steve Morse (Steve Morse models), Eddie Van Halen (now called the Axis models), Steve Lukather (various Luke models), and John Petrucci – who’s latest collaboration is on review here.
It’s strange that a company that produces the industry standard bass has never had similar traction with their guitars – but, in an interesting way, this adds a perception of boutique‐ness to their guitars. And that’s a good thing.
AS MAJESTIC AS IT LOOKS
Every time I get to play a Music Man guitar, I’m amazed at the quality and facilities; this new Majesty is no different. The superb materials and craftsmanship are exceptional. The full gloss finish, chrome hardware and tonal options all demonstrate the attention to detail of enthusiasts, not manufacturers.
The Red Sunrise is an (almost) all‐mahogany guitar. It has a through‐neck construction style: a mahogany neck extending right through to the back strap button, with mahogany ‘wings’ creating the finished body shape (similar to a Firebird). The only other timbers are a large flamed maple ‘shield’ on the face and an ebony fretboard that is so smooth it feels glossy but is, in fact, unfinished. The tilt‐back headstock is scarf jointed at the first and second frets.
Other features are 24 medium frets, piezo pickups, two tapped DIMarzio humbuckers (the front one a Rainmaker and the back a Dreamcatcher), and enough switches and pots to create some wicked cool tones.
Simply put, the Red Sunrise plays superbly. The neck is slim, fast and surprisingly resonant. The fret work is perfect, with the frets having a medium crown, and upper fret access is dream due to the lack of bulk at the neck/body joint (mostly because there is no neck/body joint). The low notes feel positive and have strong fundamentals, and the high end is bright and full. Across the spectrum, there’s no overly prominent frequency – it’s a smooth ride from the lowest notes to the highest, and ascending chord clusters speak with an equally even voice. Overall, the Majesty’s voice has the warmth of a mahogany guitar (which you can even hear unplugged).
And that warmth really kicks in through the drive channel of a Boogie and those DiMarzios speak clearly through the mix with distinctly different voices. They are clearly designed for maximum melodic presence. Re‐combining the coils doesn’t seem to affect the output much, but the tonal change is very effective. Through a single 12, the focus is on the mids and low‐mids, blending with the highs for a lyrical vocal quality.
Pulling an early Santana tone is a snack, but the Majesty will also do the more controlled tones of Carlton and Ford, and then some. Plug the Boogie into a 412 and all those lovely big bottle subsonics bloom from the cab with ease. The Majesty’s DiMarzios seem to love a big cab with a lot of level, but even at lower volumes through a closed‐back 212, the subs and their overtones are the real deal.
SWITCH IT UP
The controls allow for combinations of the magnetic and piezo pickups, and these can drive a single amp or separate dedicated amps, for example: using a simple splitter box (stereo jack in, two mono jacks out), I ran the humbuckers into a tweed Bassman and the piezos into a Fishman Loudbox Artist. The piezos offered a credible acoustic tone, but the combination of the Artist and the Bassman created a mighty rhythm sound – plenty of presence, plenty of smooth magnetic warmth, and plenty of woody attack.
Inserting a Zendrive, a Mesa Flux‐Five, and an old Boss DS‐1 into the “electric” channel just increased the options (and the fun), and balancing up the output volume of each pickup system allowed for plenty of nuanced tweaking. Adding a chorus pedal to the “acoustic” line also created another layer of tonality, and placing a DD‐5 in each line offered even more options, depending on which echo was on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Majesty Red Sunrise has a load of feel. It’s an expressive, touch‐sensitive experience that draws the player towards more controlled bends and hammer‐ons, responding directly to the attack of the pick and fingers. The long scale neck and the comfy, light‐weight body provide plenty of snap and tension, and the whammy bar works perfectly.
A cursory glance at this guitar might suggest just a twin‐humbucker guitar, but the Majesty offers a lot of options while remaining a simple guitar to control. Like so many other Music Man guitars, the Majesty will cover a lot of styles – but mostly, it’s an expressive rock and fusion guitar that takes the effort out of playing to allow more time for creating.
• Neck-through body design
• Mahogany body and neck
• Two octave neck with a 25.5-inch scale and 17-inch radius
• Magnetic and piezo pickups
• Artisan level build quality
• Plays superbly
• Incredibly versatile
Ph: (02) 9905 2511