If a non-bass-playing layperson were to look at the original 1976 Music Man StingRay and a single-humbucker-equipped 2010 ‘Ray 4-string, they’d struggle to notice any difference. Us bass geeks know better, though. The contemporary StingRay may look superficially similar to the original, but the changes are in fact numerous, ranging from subtle, like the updated headstock decal, to more substantial (no more string mutes or through-body stringing). Even though newer StingRays enjoy a fervent fan base, Music Man has long fielded requests to reissue a ’70s-era-style bass.
The Classic Collection basses are Music Man’s long awaited offering to players seeking a vintage-style StingRay. Rather than a note-for-note reproduction, though, the new ’Ray combines a few welcome modern innovations with much of the definitive characteristics of the original. Unlike its modern counterpart, the Classic StingRay has a slab ash body, through-body stringing, a 7 1/2" neck radius, 2-band EQ, string mutes, and a polyester-finished maple neck. Unlike the original, the Classic bass has Music Man’s nifty truss rod adjustment wheel, 6-bolt neck, and is made from lighter wood. It’s also available as a 5-string and in the smaller Sterling body size and a variety of classic-looking new colors.
Both of our test basses looked fantastic. I loved the 4-string’s mint green and the 5’s coral red finishes and their beautifully figured maple necks added to the basses’ aesthetic impact. The Classic 5 was perhaps the most striking, if only because it’s weird seeing a 5-string StingRay with the 4-stringstyle oval pickguard and string mutes. Each bass boasted excellent construction, with beefy well-installed hardware, excellent fretwork, and the overall solid and buzz-free feel characteristic of Music Man instruments.
The basses arrived with a slightly high setup that I easily lowered with my alltime favorite trussrod adjuster, Music Man’s handy poke-and-twist wheel. Playability and ergonomics were excellent on each, and A/B’d against a current model, I didn’t find myself missing the backside body contour. Even though Music Man touts the basses light weight compared to the vintage originals, they’re still on the heavy side. Another observation: the 5- string’s string spacing at the nut between the B and E strings was unusually narrow. Those that prefer more roominess between first position fretted notes on those two strings should be aware.
Whenever I spend quality time with a single- pickup StingRay, I’m struck by the variety of tone available from the lone humbucker. The Classic ’Rays 2-band EQ is a Baxandall-style circuit that offers highly interactive boost and cut over bass and treble frequencies and, when both are turned down, a relative boost in the midrange. The knobs have no center detents, and though this would usually bug me, I think the StingRay’s imprecise onboard EQ is better thought of as an overall tone sculpting circuit rather than a pair of notch filters. Coupled with changes in hand position, the EQ’s tone spectrum can range from big and boomy lows to aggressive and insistent upper mids. The overall StingRay personality is ever present, with the punchy texture and slightly scooped low mids that make it a quintessential slap and in-your-face pickstyle bass, but still, there’s a remarkable array of tone within that general spectrum. The 5-string sounded much like the 4, but for the rich and throaty B and a subtly brighter attack, likely due to its finished maple fingerboard.
I was especially jazzed about the return of the nifty string mutes to the Classic StingRay. Muting is courtesy a series of foam-topped cantilevered springs held down with knurled thumbscrews. I love elegant and simple solutions to vexing problems, and the Music Man mutes are an excellent example. With the mutes engaged an entirely new thuddy sonic palette emerges, and it was cool being able to play muted fingerstyle passages without having to palm mute and compromise speed and precision.
The Classic StingRays were beautiful, with tons of vibe and archetypal tone. If you’re just discovering the StingRay sound, they’re an excellent new entry to the roots of a definitive instrument.
MUSIC MAN CLASSIC STINGRAY
Street StingRay 4, $1,799; StingRay 5, $1,974
Pros Classic punchy StingRay sound; ultracool finished; solid and rugged construction
Cons Narrow spacing between B and E on the 5-string
The cool Music Man mutes return on the Classic StingRays.
Weight 4-string, 10.46 lbs.; 5-string, 10.48 lbs.
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty One year limited