I’ve always had a soft spot for Leo Fender’s
bass designs. His early basses set the standard
for functional simplicity. His later models added
some beef, sparkle, and versatility. And with
the Classic StingRay 4, Ernie Ball Music Man
has gone back to the StingRay’s original 1976
roots, while retaining a few touches of the
So What’s It Made Of?
The Classic StingRay is built from, er…classic
materials. No exotic tropical hardwoods here.
Ash body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard.
Pulling the bass out of its case, the glossy,
amber-finished, flame-grained headstock
jumped right out at me. It even had the old
Flipping the classic over revealed a deep,
3-D flame along the back of the neck. The
fingerboard has a 7.5" radius, with a solid
yet comfortable profile. Many contemporary
instruments have a larger radius and a flatter
profile, but those often feel a little alien
after having played old-school basses for
most of my years. With a neck width of 1 5/8"
at the nut, the Classic StingRay felt right at
home as soon as the neck hit my palm. Most
basses today have big, beefy frets, but not
the Classic. The choice here was high-profile,
narrow frets. They were nicely crowned and
polished, with no hint of protruding ends to
ding up your fingers.
The ash body had an artful, two-tone tobacco
burst finish with dark edges that blend
smoothly into the lighter stain. It’s slab cut,
with edges that are rounded but not tapered
back to flow into your arm or your belly.
Music Man says it weighs 10 lbs, 4 oz—nearly
a pound heavier than the contemporary version—
but this one felt lighter. On a strap, the
Classic balanced nicely. I expected the slab
body to be uncomfortable, but it felt fine.
Same goes for playing while seated.
Hardware and Such
A few nice touches brought the whole thing
together, especially the six-bolt neck joint on a
tried-and-true rectangular plate. The truss rod
has the easiest-to-use, most fool-proof design
of any I’ve run across—a little slotted wheel
recessed into the body on the neck-heel end.
That choice avoids problems with rounded
Allen wrenches, stripped corners on a bullet, or
a nut recessed deep in the headstock.
The big, sturdy bridge on the Classic
was a real treat, with vintage, hollow-barrel
string saddles and foam string
mutes that rest on folded spring
metal and are individually adjustable
using a thumb screw. Music
Man brought this bridge style back
because they’ve been receiving lots of
customer requests for it since switching
to top-loading bridges in the ‘90s.
The battery cavity features a surface-mounted
chrome plate rather than
a plastic popup box, so on-the-fly
changes will be a challenge. I
commend Music Man for using
machine screws and threaded
brass inserts rather than wood
Getting to the Guts
Look at a contemporary
StingRay in a shop or on a
gig, and you’ll more than likely
see a three-band preamp,
a pair of humbucking pickups,
and a selector switch. The Classic
version shuns all those trappings
in favor of its throwback roots: one pickup—that mighty Music Man StingRay
pickup with the huge pole pieces just daring
you to coax out a big, fat sound—a
two-band EQ, and no switches. Yes, it’s just
those three chrome-dome knobs and a jack
on that boomerang-shaped chrome plate.
Taking off the eight screws on the boomerang
revealed one of the tidiest wiring jobs
I’ve run across. Wires were twisted together,
and the preamp was attached to the bottom
of the volume and tone pots. However, I was
surprised that the cavity wasn’t fully shielded
with a brass plate on bottom—or even with
black conductive paint.
So…What’s It Sound Like?
Playing fingerstyle riffs, I soon found that the
bass-and-treble EQ hit its stride with both
knobs at halfway, perhaps with a slight tweak
in either direction. There’s no center detent
to help you find your way—and no pointer
line, either. That means you can’t preset a
tone before you start playing—or even visually
assess where you’ve set the EQ.
Nonetheless, I was able to dial in a range of
sounds that belie what you’d expect from a
single-pickup axe. Take the bass knob down
a bit, bump up the treble, and it sounds like
it has a bridge pickup. Go the other way with
some added bottom, and you get the sound
of a neck pickup. Maybe that’s why players
call the StingRay’s pickup location the
“sweet spot.” Dialing the treble all the way
up got a little noisy, and dialing both tone
controls all the way down produced a quiet,
muffled tone. Stay away from the extreme
settings and you’ll be fine. Overall, attack
was both rounded and punchy when playing
fingerstyle. The bottom end was nicely
defined, yet fat. If you turn to slapping—
which I don’t—the bass has a well-controlled
snap to its top edge.
Finally, the foam mutes: Just barely touch the
strings with them, and they roll off a bit of
highs. Crank the mutes up closer and you can
create an old-school thump. Because of the
thumb screws, though, this isn’t something you
should try on the fly—it’s a little awkward reaching
under each string to turn the tension knobs.
The Final Mojo
The Classic StingRay is a great bass that’s
nicely designed and carefully built. It can get
nearly any sound with definition and authority.
If you’re considering a four-string StingRay,
the big choice is between the contemporary
model and the Classic. The Classic streets for
around $1800, while the contemporary model
is about $400 less. Feel might be one point,
with the Classic’s slightly rounder fretboard
and skinny frets. Another aspect of feel might
be the lack of body contours. Or maybe you
just like the idea playing a bass that’s a re-creation
of the original’s roots. Regardless, the
Classic definitely deserves consideration.
you want a straightforward, versatile
bass, and you lean toward retro styling.
you want contemporary options
such as a three-band preamp, piezo
pickup, or dual pickups.