Thursday, August 15, 2013

2008 Ernie Ball MusicMan Sterling 5 HH Electric Bass Review

Aloha!

My friends know that I am not a 5-string bass kind of guy, but that does not keep me from getting one every year or so and giving it another go. This 2008 Musicman Sterling 5 was a failed experiment from a few years back.

Ernie Ball got a good grip on the 5-string bass market after they introduced the Stingray 5 back in 1987. Since then, it seems like every country band I have seen has a bassist that uses one.

Despite the popularity of the Stingray 5, there were folks out there that liked MusicMan’s Sterling aass more (different playability, tone and ergonomics) so in 2008 the company Introduced the Sterling 5 bass. This company is always innovating, and they pretty much are able to provide whatever a guitarist or bassist needs. This is yet another example of their efforts.

Visually, the Stering 5 is not a lot different, except that it has a more normal looking pickguard, but the body does have different contours than the SR5. This one is coated in a lovely coat of Graphite Pearl poly, with a matching headstock. The pickguard looks like they made it by cutting slices of a black and gray swirled bowling ball. Love it!

The neck is similar with a 34-inch scale, 1 ¾ inch compensated nut and 17.55mm string spacing at the bridge. But, due to the body contour, this neck is attached with five bolts instead of six, allowing access to that one extra fret that the Sterling 5 gets (22 versus 21). This one was built with a rosewood fretboard, but maple is also available; fretless models get pau ferro and stealth models get ebony boards. Hmm. The neck has a silky coating of gunstock oil and wax on the back, and it has the familiar truss rod adjuster wheel at the heel. I wish all bass makers did this.

The hardware is not terrible different than other Musicman basses, which is a good thing because it is high-quality stuff. This includes tapered post Schaller BM tuners and a high-mass bolt and screw on bridge with stainless steel saddles.

The electronics are where the Sterling 5 diverges the most from the Stingray 5. The same pickup configurations are the same (H, HS and HH), but that is where the similarities end. For starters, the Sterling uses ceramic instead of alnico pickup magnets. Right off the bat, this gives the sterling a more aggressive tone, keeping in mind that the Stingray has a fairly gnarly tone as it is.

Also, this HH model is wired with the pickups in series (instead of parallel), so the instrument gains some output from this as well. The pickups and preamp are voiced so that each position on the 5-pole switch provides a unique sound, and each one of these sounds is very usable: from a bluesy thump to an aggressive jazz bass tone, and everywhere in between. I will not describe all of these tones in any sort of detail, but if you ever get to try one of these basses, be sure to give it a run in each of the positions.

The controls are simple and include a three band EQ and a volume knob. These bases have a 9-volt pre-amp, so there is plenty of output to go around.

Ever since Ernie Ball bought out MusicMan back in the mid-1980s, their quality has been fantastic, and their products are among the best built bolt-neck instruments you can buy. This Sterling 5 is no exception.

The finish is flawless and very durable. I see no evidence of finish cracks or imperfections, and it Graphite Pearl is really quite a pretty color. The frets ends are perfect and the frets are level. I was able to get the action amazingly low with no buzzing or untoward playability issues.

At 10 pounds 6 ounces it is pretty heavy, but then again I’ve owned Les Pauls that weighed a couple pounds more. A friend of mine picked one up that was around 9 pounds, so I know they are out there, and it you are picky about weight it might be worth it to shop around a bit to find a lighter one.

As far as 5 string basses go, this one is a real winner. The B string is tight, and I like the narrowed string spacing at the bridge. I don’t know where all those whiny internet forum guys are coming from with their whining that they cannot get a MusicMan 5-er with 19mm spacing. They need to spend less time on the computer and more time playing their basses.

And lastly, the Sterling 5 tone just kills with amazing low mids. It is suitable for everything you can throw at it: jazz, blues, funk, rock, metal, reggae or whatever. It is truly a jack of all trades.

As I said earlier, I am not a 5-string guy, and this one disappeared shortly after I got it – I think it went wherever my old fretless basses go. Shudder.

Anyway, if you are looking for a MusicMan Sterling 5, they are a very nice instruments and are priced accordingly. The list price for a Sterling 5 HH with a rosewood fretboard and a matching headstock is $2700, and the street price is around $1890. If you are a 5-string guy, you really have to give one a try!

Mahalo!

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