Ernie Ball Music Man Caprice Review
Long known primarily for their classic active basses, the historic builder debuts a strong new passive 4-string.
Clip 1 - Neck pickup soloed, tone dial wide open (maxed)
Clip 2 - Bridge pickup soloed, tone dial wide open (maxed)
Music Man is one of those brand names that spark instant tone identity. From Flea punishing his basses into our hearts to Pino swelling his fretless magic like no other, we’ve all grown to recognize the high-end sparkle of those big-poled pickups, the fat bottom, and the slight mid scoop that is the quintessential Music Man tone. So, what would happen if Ernie Ball Music Man decided to save bassists a few dollars on batteries every year and develop a passive bass? For the first time in its storied history? It’s true. The Caprice—along with its single-pickup sibling Cutlass—represents the first fully passive bass offering from Music Man, and we recently had a chance to spend some quality time with one.
Primed to Play
Out of the case, the Caprice had a familiar look, yet it’s a departure from typical MM lines. Finished in a stunning white that matches up well with its mint pickguard, our test bass had an instant-classic vibe. The natural aged-yellow finish on the maple neck also adds to the moxie. And as if you need another reminder that you are holding a Music Man, the large-pole split humbucker and in-line bridge humbucker stare you down with ominous force. They just look ready.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most overlooked features in bass design that has been included on the Caprice. The thumb-saving engineers at Music Man rounded the plastic pickup covers where the screws pass through and, more importantly, where the thumb sometimes rests. This may not seem like a big deal, but I’ve often wondered why we bassists are too often forced to rest our curved thumb on a pointed surface.
Other design highlights on the Caprice are plentiful. The thin, maple neck (1-1/2" at the nut) felt amazing thanks to the ultra-light satin-poly finish, and fans of Jazz necks will feel right at home with its comfy 7 1/2" neck radius. The oversized headstock is still there and it’s loaded with Schaller tuners. This bass is a well-put-together machine with clean seams and tight joints, and at about 8 1/2 pounds, its weight speaks comfort for those long-gig nights.
Look Ma, No Batteries!
Unplugged, the Caprice sings. Even though the chrome-plated Vintage Music Man bridge is top loading, the bass resonated full and balanced across all four strings and through all 21 frets. The factory setup left our test model super-quick and even playing with no dead spots, so positive forces were already coming together before I plugged in. But let’s get electric.
I set up a big rig for this run-through: an Eden WTP900 pushing Eden 410XLT and 212XLT cabs. The controls on the Caprice are straightforward with a volume/volume/tone layout, and I started out with the neck pickup all the way up, the bridge pickup off, and the tone dimed. The bass hit just under MM tone, which is pointed and lively, and leaned a hair towards a P-like sound. The alder body and maple neck combo certainly helps achieve this snappy result. Pulling the tone back a little moves the bass into a more mellow zone, but the Caprice went completely dark only after the tone was rolled all the way down. So if you need a thuddy bass approach, go ahead and roll off a lot of tone, but I really liked the Caprice when it was wide open and allowed to sing.
To check out the other end of the spectrum, I soloed the bridge pickup and pushed the tone back up to full tilt. The snap that allows articulation and precision—and draws many to a Music Man instrument—is there, but with a bonus. A bridge pickup running by itself can generally be weak and thin, but I found the Caprice can be used in quite a few musical settings with just the bridge wide open. It’s very responsive and tight, which will speak to my fingerstyle friends and the R&B faithful.
With all the controls dimed to bring the two tones together, the Caprice sounded like what a bass should sound like in many situations: clear, rounded, and full with just the right amount of articulation and bottom. If one were to rip the knobs off the Caprice and leave it in this setting, this bass would still find a home just about anywhere.
Many revere the sound of a Music Man, but the company’s “traditional” tone definitely falls into its own category. It’s undeniably remarkable, but not for everyone. The Caprice isn’t necessarily meant to nudge aside anyone’s favorite passive bass, but it will allow players to get into a Music Man without, well, getting into “that” sound. It’s about as straight-ahead as a bass can get, and I like that. I can’t help but compare the Caprice to other Music Man offerings, but I feel they have successfully crafted an instrument for passive-bass devotees who want a more distinctive tone.
The meaning of the word caprice is “a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behavior.” That seems fitting enough for a company steeped in its own legacy that decides to break from their usual model. The body is different, the neck a little thinner, the feel is more traditional Jazz, and the tones are passive, but it is still a Music Man. The Caprice has made a strong entrance by both remaining true to its roots and setting itself apart to bridge the gap between the passive and active faithful. The Caprice may not have the shimmer or boom of its active cousin, but it can definitely hold its own in most any musical situation.
Watch the Review Demo: