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

Guitarist - - Contents - CON­TACT Strings & Things PHONE 01273 440442 WEB www.ster­ling­by­mu­sic­man.com

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]

Pho­tog­ra­phy Neil God­win & Jesse Wild

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