INTRODUCED IN 1978 AND DISCONTINUED IN 1982, THE MUSIC MAN Sabre has for years languished in the land of discontinued basses, not quite popular enough to warrant a full-on rebirth, and not yet a coveted vintage collectable. It’s puzzling why the bass didn’t take hold in the first place; when the StingRay—the first production-model electric bass with active electronics—was released in 1976, it immediately caught the attention of players as varied as John Deacon and Louis Johnson, as rockers and funkateers alike loved the upfront grunt of the single-pickup StingRay. Isn’t there more to love in the two-pickup Sabre, which promises all that and more? The Sabre may not have cut it back in the day, but we’re nonetheless pleased to welcome it back. After a limited release through its Premier Dealer Network last year, Ernie Ball Music Man has now primed the Classic Sabre Bass for wider release.
Like the StingRay before it, the Sabre features bolt-on construction and active electronics powering a 2-band EQ. Vintage-style accoutrements such as bridge-mounted string mutes point back to the original Sabre design, but Ernie Ball has updated the pickups and wiring; the neck-position pickup is an 8-pole Alnico humbucker, while the bridge-position humbucker is a 16-pole affair. Numbering the dual humbuckers’ coils from the bridge, the 5-position pickup switch offers the following combinations: coils 1 and 2; coils 1, 2, and 3; coils 1, 2, 3, and 4; coil 3; coils 3 and 4.
Unplugged, our tester Sabre’s ash body, figured maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard complement each other beautifully. Construction is top notch, there are no noticeable dead spots, the transparent white finish is sexy as all get-out, and the instrument’s acoustic resonance is remarkable. The Sabre’s body contours, D-profile high-gloss neck, and medium-wide string spacing give it a familiar feel. Plugged in, the Sabre’s versatility is immediately evident. Starting with the bridge pickup, the Sabre has every bit the bite and growl of a Stingray. Bringing in the back coil of the neck pickup into the mix begins to take the Sabre into J-Bass territory, opening up the high end while retaining that midforward grunt, while dual humbucking mode turns the Sabre into a burly beast. Soloing the back coil of the neck pickup (position 4) further explores the airy highs available on a J-style bass; in humbucking mode, the solo’d neck pickup takes on a warmer quality reminiscent of a Precision. Aided by Music Man’s “Silent Circuit,” the pickups have minimal hum when in single-coil settings.
Sonically and ergonomically, there’s just nothing quite like a J-Bass, a P-Bass, or a Stingray, and if one of those is the sound you’re after, your shopping list can write itself. But if you’re a fan of all of those vibes and looking for expert craftsmanship, quality components, and familiar look and feel, the Classic Sabre Bass certainly makes the cut.
ERNIE BALL MUSIC MAN
Pros Stingray grunt with hints of P- and J-style buoyancy
Bottom Line The resurrection of this bass from Music Man’s late-’70s catalog begs the question: What else have we been missing?
Neck Birdseye maple
Pickups Ernie Ball 16-pole (bridge) and 8-pole (neck) Alnico humbuckers
Controls Volume, treble, bass
Width at nut 1.625"
Scale length 34"
Weight 9.85 lbs
Made in U.S.A.