THE FIRST 5-STRING BASS GUITAR, the Fender Bass V, was introduced in 1965 and featured a high C string and only 15 frets. It was far from a commercial success, and the 5-string concept went into hibernation for quite a while. But by the early 1980s, keyboards, synth bass, and detuned guitars began to exert a strong influence on popular music. Faced with these new pressures and enabled by significant improvements in low-end sound reproduction, bassists soon began to extend their range downward with low B strings.
Just as many manufacturers’ early electric basses were slightly modified guitar designs, most early 5-strings were essentially 4-strings with retrofitted bridges and nuts. String spacing was tight, and the B string’s tension was often floppy. The Music Man Stingray 5 was one of the first basses to be designed as a 5. More than 20 years later, it is remains a classic benchmark design.
Leo Fender’s first business venture after selling his namesake company to CBS in the mid 1960s was Music Man, founded in 1972. The early Music Man bass designs, including the Sting Ray 4, represented a logical progression from his work at Fender. Leo left Music Man in 1979 and went on to found G&L, and in 1984, string maker Ernie Ball bought the remaining Music Man assets. Ernie, who was an early Fender endorsee and beta tester, also the created the mammoth Earthwood acoustic bass guitar. He and his son Sterling picked up where Leo left off, and expanded the Music Man bass line over time, leading to the creation of the Stingray 5 in 1987.
This Stingray 5’s 3-piece body is a beautifully contoured variation of the classic bass guitar shape, with the trademark 3+1 Music Man headstock expanded to 4+1. The bridge is a more massive version of the traditional Fender style bridge, and is easily adjusted. The maple neck and fingerboard is wide enough to accommodate aggressive playing styles while still being accessible. The single pickup, carefully placed for maximum articulation, has the punch of a P-Bass with a preamp and bass, mid, and treble EQ. The 3-way switch has a fat tone in the first position, bright in the middle, and a scooped mid tone in the rear position. This is the quietest setting, as the first two can pick up hum. Later versions are hum canceling in all three positions, but some people still prefer the earlier version of the electronics. The B-string is as good as any I have heard, especially for a 34"-scale bass.
I have owned this instrument— nicknamed the “Sky Bass” for its seemingly limitless treble response—since the early ’90s, and aside from its replacement “cloud” pickguard, it is totally stock. It has survived years of sessions and gigs, having a ladder dropped on it by a stagehand, and my house fire in 2009, which charred the headstock and darkened the tuning keys. Still, the bass works and sounds great. It is perfect for any kind of music that needs the bass to cut, and its growl factor works great with bass distortion.
Music Man has offered up a number of cool variations of this bass over the years, with different pickup options and special limited editions, but this original version still kicks some serious booty! We are all now accustomed to basses with more than 4-strings, but back then this bass stood proud as an innovator, and it has definitely stood the test of time.