Looking back upon things, 1984 was a pivotal year in some respects: mullets and spandex reached the pinnacle of fashion for the MTV set, and Eddie Van Halen was playing killer licks from VH’s new hit album 1984—on a synthesizer! For the Ball family, 1984 was a keystone year, as Ernie Ball, Inc. acquired the Music Man trademarks. The company tells us that it was actually Ernie’s son, Sterling, who conceived the idea to buy Music Man from his godfather, former Fender Instrument veteran and Ball business associate Tom Walker. Working with Scotty and Brian Ball, and newly hired luthier Dudley Gimpel, they took the reins as the next generation design team, creating a series of well-regarded guitars and basses from their San Luis Obispo, CA, headquarters. Testimony to their success is a substantial roster of professional endorsees and associated signature models that includes Steve Morse, Albert Lee,Steve Lukather, John Petrucci, and (at one time) Eddie Van Halen. These well-regarded guitar designs have culminated in the 25th Anniversary model guitar, which turned a lot of heads at NAMM 2009 in Anaheim, picking up a “Best in Show” award.
Right out of the case, the 25th Anniversary model is a stunning guitar, with its quilted maple top (flame maple top is standard) and matching quilted headstock finished in a high-gloss polyester Venetian Redburst finish. The body shape resembles that of the Tele-esque Music Man Axis model with some significant differences. The body is slightly larger than the Axis and has a proprietary mahogany center tone block surrounded by a chambered basswood body that features individual oblong oval cutouts—instead of large hollow chambers typically used on chambered guitars. This unique design provides weight relief and added resonance to the instrument. The body is top bound with a strip of flawlessly applied single-ply cream binding and features both a top arm contour and “tummy cut” on the back of the guitar, which is finished in black high-gloss polyester. The guitar has an attractive maple neck with ample birdseye figuring, which is finished with the ever-so-comfortable gunstock oil, handrubbed special wax blend. The neck carve is borrowed from the Silhouette Special model, which is best described as a slightly offset medium C carve. The neck is topped off with a 12" radius fingerboard—a generous cut of beautiful, dark brown rosewood (maple also available) that contrasts nicely with the 22 polished, high-profile, wide nickel frets and mother of pearl dot fret markers. The matching finished headstock features the classic Music Man compact (only 5-7/8" long) 4+2 tuner design, with the added touch of a high-gloss clear finish applied to the back. The truss rod can be easily adjusted at the base of the neck without the need for string removal.
The appointments and hardware selection for the Anniversary model represent that of an experienced design team. The guitar is voiced with a pair of chrome-covered DiMarzio pickups and feature Alnico V magnets. The proprietary pickups are wired in a clever fashion to a 5-way switch and chrome 2-way series/parallel toggle that together offer a total of 10 distinct sounds: Pos. 5 (Neck Humbucker), Pos. 4 (Inside coils both pickups), Pos. 3 (Both pickups full humbucking), Pos. 2 (Outside coils both pickups), and Pos. 1 (Bridge Humbucker). All positions can be voiced in series or parallel. Equally clever is the design of the 3-point leveling black plastic pickup mounts that allow you to adjust the pickups parallel to the strings. Given the tonal variations available, it would be interesting to add the option of blending various dual pickup combinations with another volume knob. The guitar features well-placed chrome “dome” style volume and tone knobs wired to a 500k pot and .022μF tone capacitor.