Ct50 Cutlass & sr50 stingray
We test the best of the rest of the month’s new gear STERLING BY MUSIC MAN CT50 CUTLASS & SR50 STINGRAY £499 EACH
While it’s arguably still best known for its high-end basses, Ernie Ball Music Man has produced some killer guitars over the years, not least the highly prized Eddie Van Halen Signature, now known as the Axis. The retro-styled Sterling Cutlass and StingRay here are the affordable Chinese-made versions of the new USA-built Cutlass and StingRay (both priced from £1,599).
These guitars share a master volume and master tone control layout and a twopoint ‘Vintage Tremolo’ – a substantial if incorrectly named vibrato unit with a push-in/pull-out arm. The differences come from the basswood body and three-single coil/five-way switch spec at the heart of our Cutlass, and the StingRay’s African mahogany and twin-humbucker/ three-way toggle format. Finish options are Black and Three-Tone Sunburst on the StingRay, and Three-Tone Sunburst and Fiesta Red on the Cutlass. While the StingRay is only available with a rosewood ’board, the Cutlass comes with a maple option in three additional body finishes: Black, Seafoam Green and Olympic White.
Moving on up, our CT50 and SR50 also share 648mm (25.5-inch) scale maple necks bolted to their bodies’ sculpted heel with five screws. They’re topped with the four-plus-two Music Man headstock, and a set of locking tuners. Each neck has a 305mm (12-inch) radius fingerboard and 22 medium frets that offer choke-free string-bending, plus a little surprise in store.
What really gives these guitars some individuality is their neck profiles. The Cutlass has a pronounced V shape (like a ’56-era Fender) from the 1st fret, before levelling out to a C shape at the octave. The V end of the profile is addictive, making chords easy to fret and providing plenty of meat to grip when you’re playing lead.
The StingRay has an asymmetric neck profile. That means while the neck is chubby on the bass side, it tapers to a thinner profile on the treble side. The asymmetric shape fits the hand like a glove, although it takes some getting used to. It feels like it lacks meat on the treble side at first, but the neck is so fast that the unusual profile soon starts to make sense.
Plugging in, the CT50 sounds like any three single-coil-loaded classic should. In all positions, the pickups have that much-loved ‘glassy’ edge, and while the bridge unit’s treble overflows just the right amount, the in-between sounds are ideal for SRV-inspired blues. The neck pickup’s depth – the perfect partner for some reverb and vibrato – completes a tonal palette with no surprises, in the best possible way.
The StingRay’s humbuckers work well with the guitar’s mahogany body, producing plenty of grunt in the bridge position and bags of bass at the neck. Like many HH guitars, a bolt-on maple neck and vibrato unit seem to provide a clarity you don’t get with a set-neck model. Therefore, string separation is good even when you pile on the gain. We like the chunky persona of the ‘middle, both-humbuckers-engaged’ position. Back off the gain a touch and you get a great Southern rock flavour – you can really hear the strings sizzle. We’re surprised there is no coil-split option on the StingRay, but frankly, there’s enough tone on offer to keep anyone happy.
We’d love to say the Cutlass is a cut above, but at the expense of a weak pun, the truth is the price tag is bang on target. Same goes for the StingRay. Choose either guitar and you’re getting a decent tone machine with good playability and rock solid tuning.
If you put the Cutlass and StingRay in a ring with evenly matched opponents, the Mexican-built three single-coil-loaded Fender Standard Stratocaster (from £440) and the twin-humbucker Standard Stratocaster HH (£485) could go toe-to-toe with the Sterling brothers. But don’t forget that the CT50 and SR50 have a horseshoe in the glove: those brilliant and very different neck profiles, which make these guitars serious contenders. [EM]