A Brief History
The Music Man story began in 1971 when Tom Walker (ex-Fender sales rep) and Forrest White (former Fender vice president) formed the Tri-Sonix company. Soon after, Leo Fender himself was persuaded to join and became company president in 1975 after suggesting the company should be re-named Music Man.
Music Man’s first product was the Sixty Five amplifier which featured a combination of solid state and valve technology. Shortly afterwards the Music Man StingRay bass and Music Man StingRay I electric six-string were introduced in the companies 1976 catalogue. These guitars and basses where the first production models to feature an active preamp which allowed boosting (as opposed to merely cutting) of certain frequencies. Other instruments like the Music Man Sabre bass and Music Man Sabre II electric six-string appeared as well as a comprehensive range of Music Man amplifiers.
Leo Fender parted with Music Man in 1979 and spent the rest of his life focusing on his G&L guitar company.
After Leo’s departure, Sterling Ball, son of guitar string entrepreneur Ernie Ball, saw the potential in the brand and suggested his father consider purchasing the company which he did in 1984. Ernie Ball was a former Fender endorser and Sterling grew up around the Music Man factory often testing the StingRay basses for his ‘uncle Leo’.
Music Man has continued to go from strength to strength ever since working in closely with musicians such as Steve Morse, John Petrucci, Albert Lee and Steve Lukather to produce innovative modern classics of impeccable quality.
StingRay and Cutlass
Music Man have resurrected two models from the Leo Fender era under their new Modern Classic Collection: the StingRay and the Cutlass. Rather than replicating the originals, Music Man have taken the feel and basic design and reinvented the models using the innovations and knowhow gleaned over the last four decades.
The first thing you might notice is the similarities in design to the Fender Jaguar and Stratocaster but these are in no way Fender copies. Both models feature a double cutaway, contoured body, select maple necks with an oversized 4 over 2 headstock. As with other Music Man models, the StingRay and Cutlass body designs ensure a perfect balance when wearing them with a strap.
Although these guitars have a classic vintage vibe going on they are equipped with the Music Man Modern Tremolo system that Leo Fender himself would have been proud of. Vintage-style bent steel saddles provide greater tone/sustain and a smooth chrome cover gives you a comfortable surface to rest your hand on without those annoying grub screws digging in. The other modern twist is the Schaller M6-IND locking tuners offering greater tuning stability and easier string changing. Just like the Music Man Axis, the 25-1/2″ scale neck has 22 high profile stainless steel medium width frets with a 10″ fingerboard radius. The necks are secured firmly and perfectly aligned with five bolts and the body is tapered for a smooth transition between the neck and body.
How do they compare sound-wise?
Although the Music Man Cutlass and StingRay guitars share a lot of the same features the body on the StingRay is made from African mahogany whilst the Cutlass is made from alder. Another major difference is in the electronics: The StingRay is equipped with two Music Man custom wound humbuckers which deliver rich, thick warm tones – think Les Paul but a little brighter and livelier. The Cutlass is loaded with three Music Man custom wound mid-Sixties staggered pole piece single coils. These pickups deliver those classic 60’s Strat-style tones with added dynamics and percussive attack but without the hum thanks to the impressive Music Man “Silent Circuit”.
The original seventies StingRay I guitar had a reputation for sounding too bright and tinny (possibly due in part to Leo Fender’s hearing loss). By contrast the revived StingRay and Cutlass produces full-bodied, wide ranging tones that cover many styles. They carry the vintage vibe of the original but feel and play like a modern guitar with full fret access, ergonomic body contour, perfect balancing, 10″ fingerboard radius and flawless attention to detail.
The StingRay’s mahogany body and custom wound humbuckers are perfect for driving a classic rock amp with a satisfying snarl and bite but will also dial back to a warm dynamic clean tone.
The Cutlass’s unabashed likeness to a Strat makes it a perfect alternative for anyone who loves those versatile Strat tones but never quite got on with Leo Fender’s original design.
Here at Guitar Village we are proud to be a Music Man Premium Dealer and look forward to sustaining a long and prosperous relationship with the company way into the future. Come down to Guitar Village to try out these and other Music Man guitars and basses for yourself.