In our recent best short scale bass review, we shone the spotlight on seven of the best instruments out there.
It was a closely fought contest but our deserved winner was the Sterling by Music Man Stingray short scale bass. In this review, we take a closer look at this great value instrument under the microscope.
Ernie Ball Music Man instruments occupy the top end of the market, but as with the vast majority of other guitar manufacturers, to appeal to a wider audience, a range of affordable, yet high quality instruments was introduced along the way.
Up until 2008, these manifested in the form of Music Man SUB basses. In 2008 and manufactured in Indonesia, the Sterling by Music Man range was conceived.
And that ladies and gentlemen is where the Stingray short scale bass guitar fits into the equation. It’s a Sterling bass, just smaller scale – 30” to be precise.
When we talk about the scale of a guitar, we’re referring to the distance between the bridge and the nut. The majority of short scale basses are around 30”.
The benefits of a short scale bass
There are several – and the first is somewhat obvious. Full scale 34” scale instruments are by default hefty so if you’re not built like a cruiserweight boxer you may just find the weight of a full size bass a bit intimidating. For the record, the Stingray chimes in at around 8lbs.
Or you might just have small hands!
These basses are just as fully featured as their full size counterparts – just smaller – which means they’re lighter and easier to play. It also means that revving up and down the fretboard is much simpler because the notes are closer together. Say goodbye to those wrist dislocating stretches once and for all.
Many bass players report that they’re just fun to play. You can concentrate on your playing rather than wrestling with the instrument. Once you’ve played one you may never look back.
Sonically, they tend to have a deeper, fatter tone and because shorter strings require less tension, they have an almost floppy feel which adds to the rich low end. If you’re a guitarist looking to try bass – this is probably the most painless way of doing it.
Let’s talk specifications
Historically, Music Man has offered these basses in a variety of configurations and materials – but in more recent times, choices are limited.
The color on offer at the time of writing is black with a parchment pickguard. More choice would be nice but supply chains are clearly stretched here.
What we have here is a Nyatoh body, maple neck and fingerboard with a 9.5” radius hard maple bolt-on neck. Nyatoh by the way is a durable hardwood that is gaining popularity with guitar makers.
Elsewhere on the short scale Stingray bass, from a specification perspective, you get a Sterling by Music Man designed bridge, the aforementioned parchment colored pickguard, open gear tuners and 22 frets to play with.
Inevitable corners have been cut on the hardware side – the tuners and bridge are nothing special but they’re OK and do the job. The open gear tuners are pretty stable. From the factory, the bass ships with Ernie Ball 2852 Regular Slinky Short Scale Bass strings.
Jewel in the crown
But the real jewel in the crown with the Stingray short scale is the wide range of available sounds courtesy of the controls/pickup configuration. Don’t let the fact that this is a single pickup instrument color your judgement – this is one versatile bass guitar. We’ll cover this aspect in detail next.
In the meantime, take a looks at this video. Note this is with a rosewood fretboard but function wise, both variants are the same:
A smorgasbord of sounds
The Music Man Stingray short scale is a passive instrument – so no battery changing to worry about – and output is via a Sterling by Music Man humbucker pickup featuring higher output neodymium magnets.
Let’s take a look at the controls. Moving from left to right, there’s a push/pull volume knob which when activated gives a really useful volume boost when you need to cut through a mix or be heard above the band.
Occupying the center position is the 3-way rotary mode selector switch which gives you three distinct output modes from the single humbucker.
Finally, the third knob is a regular tone control which is actually very responsive. Roll it all the way off for a deep resonant throb and all the way up for more attack and bite.
Humbucker output modes
Position 1 is parallel; position 2 is single coil and position 3 is series.
In Parallel, there’s generally a bit less treble and top end. The low frequencies are enhanced and sound rich and full.
In single coil mode, not surprisingly, the tone is slightly quieter, thinner and brighter, particularly in the upper mid frequencies. You can always ramp up the volume of course with the volume boost switch.
In series mode, finger style, it’s a full fat tone with deep low end and smooth mids. Using a pick adds a definite brightness. Quite a punchy sound – aggressive if you play hard – but it can also be deliciously funky.
Add an overdrive or distortion pedal into the mix and things get positively grungy! Series is the loudest setting of the three.
Collectively, the available sounds are excellent – providing a really convenient way of changing your sound on the fly without excessive fiddling or tweaking amp controls.
The Stingray short scale bass lends itself really well to finger, pick and slap styles and you shouldn’t have too many problems finding the sound you want from the various sound shaping options available.
And, we like the fact that this is passive. Not having an integral preamp we think only adds to the tonal flexibility of this instrument
So, let’s summarize:
- Solidly constructed, stays in tune well and comfortable to play
- Wide range of sounds availableExcellent sound shaping capabilities. Push volume boost is useful
- Finger, pick or slap – the Stingray will suit all styles
- Very accessible fretboard – easy access to all 23 frets (well the 23rd is a little challenging)
- Good value for money
- Classic Music Man signature look
- No case supplied or gig bag supplied
- A little fret buzz as supplied from the factory
- Lack of colors and material choice at the moment
Who should buy this bass?
If you crave the Music Man vibe but in a smaller package, this is for you. It’s ideal for bassists perhaps not blessed with hands like a bunch of bananas or smaller statured players that want a bass that won’t wear grooves in their shoulder blades.
The Bottom Line
This is a great example of just how comfortable a smaller scale length bass can be without sacrificing anything in the sound department.
We believe that at some point in their lives everyone should try one because it is a quite different experience to play. You soon realise that the lack of scale length brings new levels of playability and enjoyment.
Although this may not have the exemplary build quality of a US-manufactured Music Man (which costs about $2,200 by the way) it’s still a very high quality instrument. Recommended.