Review: Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Through-Neck 4H

December 4, 2015

Some insist certain cocktails should be shaken, not stirred, or always garnished with a twist, never cherries. But no one developed an individual sense of taste and style by always sticking with the should-be’s. That’s one way of considering the Music Man StingRay Through-Neck from Ernie Ball. The California company has added a page to the bass-cocktail bartender’s book, which previously prescribed that the punch-packing StingRay bass should always be concocted with a neck bolted onto a body blank. The StingRay Through-Neck has classic neck-through-body construction, with an instrument-length neck piece that reaches from head to button, and body wings laminated onto the sides. Devotees tout the enhanced sustain of neck-throughs, and prefer the smoother thumb transition at the back of the neck when reaching toward the uppermost notes on the fingerboard. I gave it a spin to see how the new setup affected the StingRay’s sting.

And the StingRay is all about the sting. Since its introduction nearly 40 years ago, players as diverse as Louis Johnson, Pino Palladino, Flea, and Sade bassist Paul Denman have established the StingRay’s full-bodied, snappy-zappy tone as one of the standard electric bass voices. Co-designed by Leo Fender, the Sting-Ray has always had a thick sound that’s harmonically rich and undeniably present. Its active EQ and the massive polepieces of its humbucker pickup no doubt contribute to this unique voice, but it’s reasonable to suspect that its bolt-on construction added to its plank-spanking skank.

Like a perfectly crafted Manhattan with flavorful Luxardo cherries, our test instrument’s handsome vintage sunburst finish radiated warmth from beneath the familiar oval pick-guard out to the slightly contoured body edges. On the back of the body, both the sunburst coloring and the high-gloss polyester finish extend up the neck and onto the headstock. The wood grain is visible through the stain, and it took fairly close inspection to spot the seams where the three-piece maple neck’s tight grain patterns smoothly join the more spacious grain lines of the ash body wings. Overall the instrument feels singular and solid, with practically the same weight and balance as my early-’80s StingRay.

Of course the biggest differences are with the neck itself. The smooth curve at the body–neck intersection slopes gradually toward the upper range, but since the neck gradually thickens as it approaches the body, it actually felt thicker then my bolt-on, when I compared them with my thumb behind the 15th fret and my index finger at the 17th. The glossy finish on the neck was the most unfamiliar aspect, but it didn’t hinder my playing at a late-night jam in a hot rehearsal studio.

Otherwise, the Through-Neck felt like a true StingRay in its natural habitat: same meaty hardware, signature 3+1 tuner configuration, and comfortably knurled knobs. My favorite StingRay aesthetic note is the curvy control-cavity cover, like a little chrome-plated brass boomerang of tone. Beneath it, all four pots are integrated into a circuitboard, which is secured to the bottom of the plate, in part by the knobs themselves. There’s no hand-soldering, but this ain’t your old Mustang: You won’t be tinkering under the hood. On the back of the bass is a quick-change battery compartment, so if you find yourself scrambling for a 9-volt, you won’t also have to scramble for a screwdriver.

As with any StingRay, the Through-Neck speaks with stout clarity and a mildly menacing upper midrange. It always seems to be edging its way forward, even with the treble rolled all the way back. With the knobs flat, it settles into solid low end with strong mids and a slightly sneering top. Each of the 3-band EQ knobs has a center detent, which is helpful, because these pots aren’t playing around. They’re less about subtle changes; think course corrections. It’s one thing to dial in a perfect tone—driving rock mids, say, or slappy scoop with massive lows and a sizzly top. It’s another thing completely to be able to immediately solve a problem of not blending well or not being heard. But that’s unlikely to be a problem; if you play a StingRay, you’re no wallflower.

And yes, the Through Neck does indeed have sustain for days. In a distinctly unscientific test controlling for no other variables, the Through Neck held notes almost twice as long as my vintage bolt-on StingRay. So if you regularly need to play multiple tied whole-notes at very slow tempos, this could be the solution for you. Mostly, though, if your affinity for neck-through-body construction has been keeping you from exploring a Music Man StingRay, let it hold you back no more.

SPECIFICATIONS

Ernie Ball Music Man

StingRay Through-Neck 4H
Street
$1,975
Pros Classic StingRay sound and feel with the comfort and sustain of a neck-through
Cons Glossy neck finish feels unfamiliar
Bottom Line Genuine StingRay sting for neck-through lovers.

SPECS

Construction Neck-through-body
Body Ash
Neck Three-piece maple with adjustable trussrod
Fingerboard Rosewood
Fingerboard radius 11"
Frets 21 high-profile wide
Nut Plastic, compensated for intonation
Neck width at nut 1.625"
Bridge Music Man chrome-plated hardened-steel bridge plate with stainless-steel saddles
Scale length 34"
Pickup Music Man humbucker with Alnico magnets
Controls Volume, treble, mid, bass
Tuners Schaller BM
Weight 10 lbs.
Also available as a 5-string, with an added single-coil pickup or a second humbucker, and in a variety of finishes with different pickguard colors.
Made in USA
Contact music-man.com

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