by Music Man
BY DAVID ABDO
Ever since Leo Fender designed and released them under his new brand in 1976, Music Man basses have been highly appealing to players the world over because of their combination of punch and presence, great playability, and an impressive price-to-value factor that caters to the discerning bassist. There’s no denying the impact Music Man has had on the bass community.
The Sterling by Music Man line of guitars and basses pushes the bang-foryour- buck envelope further with impressive imports that incorporate many of the trademark characteristics of their higherend counterparts. Their most recent offering for bassists is the Classic Active Series Ray34CA, a bass that tweaks the famous StingRay formula while still sporting an easy-to-digest price tag.
At first glance, the physical features of the Ray34CA look nearly identical to its U.S.- made cousin: Its ash body is coated with a nostalgic, mint-green finish (it’s also available in vintage cream, black, and a tri-tone sunburst) and is paired with a maple neck and rosewood fretboard. Furthering the vintage styling is the protective glossy tint on the narrowly tapered neck, which also features a 38 mm nut and 19 mm string spacing that facilitates quick string-skipping motion. The latter specs will likely be especially appealing to fans of Fender Jazz or Music Man Sterling basses
For electronics, the Ray34CA is loaded with a redesigned pickup with alnico magnets. The 2-band active preamp provides a boost in the bass and treble frequencies for altering that signature tone with everything from a slight sonic bump and edge to a full, high-mid bite.
Solid and Comfy
Strapping on the Ray34CA, I was pleased to find that it’s a well-balanced instrument that keeps its position at different angles without any strain on the shoulders or back. While it’s possible that some players might lament the bass’ lack of forearm or belly contours, I didn’t feel any noticeable issues in my arm or against my, er … well-padded abs.
The Ray34CA’s construction is solid, plain and simple. The neck felt smooth while I shifted from one playing position to another, and not a single fret protruded along the sides of the fretboard. And all the hardware—which, to be honest, is probably more “modern” than “classic”—was installed securely, from the top-load bridge up to the tuners.
Sonically, the Ray34CA sounded very familiar when I first plugged in. Compared to a 1977 StingRay, the signature sound was present, though it lacked a bit of that low-end punch and focus that the original produces. The bass knob didn’t quite bring the booty that one typically expects from a Music Man.
To put the Ray34CA through its paces in live settings, I took it to two contrasting gigs. Plugged into a Phil Jones D-600 driving a Glockenklang Space Deluxe 112, the bass fit in quite well with a jazz sextet. Although many bassists wouldn’t necessarily think of a StingRay-style instrument when going to a gig of this sort, the Ray34CA delivered warmth and a slight punch to walking bass lines when I rolled the treble knob down, slightly boosted the bass, and plucked close to the neck. Conversely, the brightness of the Ray34CA worked great on a funk/R&B gig—it enabled me to play tunes from Chic and the Brothers Johnson with authenticity: Slaps, pops, and plucks sat well within the mix, and the bass provided almost synth-like sounds when I employed a Boss OC-3 octave pedal.
According to Sterling by Music Man, the Ray34 Classic Active is for “the player looking for an older bass, but [who] needs higher fidelity and better playability.” And in that regard, Sterling by Music Man has delivered a pretty stellar product that both looks cool and feels great. While it might not replace the real deal, it’s an excellent option for players looking to get a bit of the StingRay sound and attitude at a very appealing price. Considering that you’d have to pay three times as much for the U.S.-made model, the Ray34CA gives you an awful lot of ‘Ray with very little sting to the wallet.
Watch our video demo: