With laurels the size of Music Man's, it wouldn’t be surprising if the company chose to rest on them—but they don’t. The StingRay is in an elite club: basses that are so iconic, an entire segment of bass design revolves around them. Much of Music Man’s history revolved around capitalizing on the StingRay’s superb design formula, with evolutionary updates like the 5-string and Sterling models, which added sleeker body shapes and electronics, but were still clearly based on the ’Ray. This formula was successful, but then Music Man blew everyone away with its Bongo bass—a bold leap forward in both design and intent. After this, the engineering floodgates opened, with new pickups, woods, and electronics working their way into the Music Man lineup to great acclaim. Now, with the new 25th Anniversary and Big Al basses, Music Man reinforces its commitment to new designs that integrate the brand’s classic touches in innovative and compelling ways.
The 25th Anniversary bass is a beautiful and refined-looking instrument; it’s a fitting celebration of Music Man’s 25-year history. It felt solid and rugged. The Telecaster-inspired single-cut body was beautifully topped with a bookmatched flamed maple top, accentuated nicely by a “Venetian Redburst” finish and cream binding. The ash body is coupled with a mahogany “Tone Block” under the bridge to enhance resonance and low-end response. The hardware was topnotch, featuring the familiar hardened steel bridge and less familiar (on a Music Man) Gotoh-style tuners. I loved the easy-to-use body-side trussrod adjustment wheel.
The Anniversary bass was exceptionally well balanced and playable. It arrived with a medium-high setup that I made a tad lower thanks to the smooth-turning Teflon-coated trussrod. The back of the neck was sanded and finished in gunstock oil for better thumb sliding. The solid 5-bolt neck joint was well contoured for improved high-register access. The neck contour was on the chunky-butcomfortable side, and its meatiness seemed to suit the bass’s solid vibe.
The Anniversary bass’s elaborate pickupswitching scheme is its blockbuster feature. Of the four push-button switches, three control the pickups. The other is the active/passive switch. It took me a bit to grok the system, but a lightbulb eventually went off, and I totally got it. Basically, each switch is an on/off for each of the bass’s three pickups. There is no fully off setting, though. Rather, when no buttons are depressed, the humbucker is soloed, with its two coils wired in series. Every other setting (there are seven more) uses parallel wiring if more than one pickup is selected. To augment this already flexible scheme, Music Man includes a robust 4-band preamp, with two bands of midrange control. Plus, passive mode activates a highcutting passive tone control. As I mention in my Enfield review, I like it when passive tones are engaged in both active and passive modes, but it’s not too big a deal.
The 25th Anniversary was flexible and blessed with a mighty array of strong and supportive tones. With the bridge pickup soloed, there’s the hallowed StingRay bite. Adding in the neck pickup rounds it out and beefs up the midrange, although the parallel wiring makes it a little less hot. The middle pickup is P-Bass-ish, while the barky neck can go smooth with the tone rolled off in passive mode, or slicing and authoritative with it rolled up. There’s an entirely new palette of tones in the 25th Anniversary previously unheard in a Music Man. For this reason alone, it’s worth your attention. It’s a beautifully constructed, elegant-looking instrument with impressive versatility.
The Big Al started as a one-off bass version of Music Man’s Albert Lee guitar, the axeof- choice for one of country’s hottest chickenpickers. The resulting bass was so cool, it had to go into production. It’s an obvious departure for Music Man, but from a visual perspective, it’s a success, especially if the “ooh! ah!” quotient of office visitors is any indication. I dug its geometric eccentricity, and its Strat-like three-single-coil pickup configuration added to its edgy appeal.
Construction-wise, it has a lot in common with the 25th Anniversary bass, especially the overall rugged and solid feel. It plays different, however: The thinner neck seemed to invite a quicker attitude and approach. Unlike the 25th Anniversary bass, Music Man offers the Big Al in a variety of finishes, with a multitude of pickguard options as well as an optional fretless Pau Ferro fingerboard.
The Big Al has the same onboard electronics as the 25th Anniversary bass, but for the bridge-position single-coil. The switching works the same, although with all the buttons off, the bridge and middle pickups are wired in a humbucking, series configuration. Sound-wise, the Big Al was substantially more aggressive and growly than the 25th Anniversary. The biggest variables are the Big Al’s alder body, maple fingerboard, and single-coil bridge pickup, so these are undoubtedly combining to lead to the more assertive voice. Nevertheless, the onboard electronics—especially that passive tone— ably tamed the Big Al. Combined with the pickup switching; the Big Al was capable of an equally broad range of tones as the 25th Anniversary. Both instruments prove Music Man’s ongoing commitment to thoughtful, solid design leavened with slick style.
MUSIC MAN 25TH ANNIVERSARY 5-STRING
Pros Beautiful and well-built with excellent versatility
MUSIC MAN BIG AL
Pros Distinctive look; excellent versatility
Weight 25th Anniversary, 9 lbs; Big Al, 9.8 lbs
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty 1 year limited