STERLING BY MUSIC MAN JP MAJESTY
PETRUCCI AND STERLING BY MUSIC MAN COME UP WITH A ROAD-READY HOTROD.
After the release of the JP Majesty a short while back, it was only a matter of time before Music Man released a Sterling version to satisfy the needs of those who might dig the guitar, but not its hefty price tag. And let’s be honest, that $6K ticket is not for everyone – especially the average working muso. But that’s not to imply that the Music Man Majesty isn’t worth it. In terms of value for money, I made it clear in my review that every dollar is well spent and the Majesty will be played and treasured for a long, long time.
READY TO BEND, CHUG, SHRED AND NOODLE
So this is where the whole ‘product review’ business gets a bit complicated. It’s difficult to approach this instrument – the Sterling By Music Man Majesty – on its own merits when it looks so similar to the original, and even has the same name! I mean, how do they maintain the quality and vibe of the USA-made Majesty in an ‘off-shore’ guitar at a quarter of the price? For me, the process starts with playing the guitar and not worrying about its specs or origin. There’s plenty of time for all of that stuff later.
Without any set-up on my part, this Majesty feels great – it’s another Music Man instrument that leaves the factory ready for action. The unplugged tone is quite loud, with a nicely defined bottom E that isn’t flubby or dissipated. Chordal clusters hang together well, but there’s still clarity from string to string and each note can be easily identified. But it’s the feel that really drew me in: it’s slick without being slippery, with plenty of left-hand control, and the fret work is excellent. The neck is wonderfully comfy – slim, without being annoyingly thin – the rosewood fretboard facilitates control, and the 16-inch radius makes bends and vibrato so goddamn easy.
Plugged in and tested with a tweed Bassman and simul-class Boogie head with either a Mesa 112 or a vintage Mesa 412, the Majesty displays oodles of rich midrange, rounded treble and that defined bass tone. Switching between the two humbuckers offers lighter and darker shades of the same sound, except that, because of the 24-fret neck, the front humbucker isn’t found under the double octave node – as it is on most twin humbucker guitars – but a little closer to the bridge. This is creates a slightly brighter ‘rhythm’ pickup sound, and a really cool, throaty Fender-ish tone when the switch is placed in the middle. This sound even works well in the amp’s drive channel, or when using an overdrive pedal – I used a Hermida Zendrive and a Mesa Flux-Five, for reference. Add to this the 12 decibel boost, and there are plenty of sounds just waiting to leap out.
FAR BEYOND DRIVEN
The rear pickup is a killer. It has output for days and, into a drive channel, this translates into sustain and an expressive legato voice. And the tone is surprisingly rich for a bridge pickup. Into the Bassman, this pickup delivers a seriously good rhythm chunk without the usual edginess of a bridge pickup. It still cuts through a mix, but it does so with more mid presence and a springy
expressiveness. Into the Boogie’s clean channel, which has a Twin Reverb-ish weight to its delivery, there’s a spanky punch that is blistering with rich presence. This is an infectious bridge pickup tone: it’s toneful and versatile, and it doesn’t wear out your ears with brittle or limited overtone content. This particular back pickup sounds great.
So, how do they do it for the price? Compared to the Music Man Majesty, the Sterling has a basswood body (no mahogany, so it’s lighter), a standard two-point fulcrum vibrato bridge, no piezo electronics, and a standard nut (no nut compensation). They’ve also made it with a set-and-glued neck, not a through neck, but this Majesty retains the heel-free neck and body joint that makes for complete upper fret access. The back control covers aren’t recessed, but there’s still a flip-open battery compartment powering the boost function, and that clever, easy-access truss rod adjustment wheel. The machine heads are locking tuners, the headstock tilts back to eliminate the need for string trees and to (theoretically) even the string tension, and there’s a volute to strengthen the neck behind the nut. This particular Majesty is finished in ‘Ice Crimson Red’ with black hardware, and it retains that black section around the pickups and bridge for a touch of late-‘50s Corvette attitude.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This version of Petrucci’s ideal guitar is definitely stripped down to almost the basics (it still has the boost) but remains a versatile and stylish instrument. It has a very classy – even expensive – feel and tone without the requisite price tag, and the finish is impeccable – there isn’t a blemish in sight. I don’t usually like 24-fret guitars because of the repositioning of the front humbucker, but the Majesty pickups work well together. There are a bunch of interesting ‘middle position’ tones, depending on your pick attack, that make this guitar even more useful. If you’re after the acoustic tones of the full MM guitar, just remember that it doesn’t actually sound like a D-28 – it’s a flavour that is best used when blended with the humbuckers. The Sterling doesn’t have it, but quite frankly, it doesn’t need it. This is a serious rock instrument with a good palette of appropriate sounds, is simple to operate and is an absolute pleasure to play and hear.