REVIEW: Sterling By Music Man JP100

Ernie Ball Music Man scored quite the coup in the late 90s when they wooed Dream Theater’s John Petrucci over from Ibanez. Here was a guy who was strongly identified with another brand and had a well-established and well-selling signature model, jumping ship for a whole different signature axe that was very different in style from his ‘Picasso’ graphic Ibanii. The resulting EBMM JP models have gone through a few changes over the years (like the ultra-cool JPX, the 7-string version of which is right at the very top of my personal wish list). The Sterling By Music Man brand now has several Petrucci models available: the original, stripped back JP50 which was introduced a couple of years ago and, new for 2011, the JP60 (which has the inlays of the EBMM models, right down to the JP shield at the first fret position) and JP100.

The JP100 takes its inspiration from Petrucci’s original EBMM Ball Family Reserve JP6 model, although in contrast to that guitar’s alder/basswood/maple body combo, the JP100’s body is basswood with a quilted maple top and a transparent black finish which has a sunburst effect at the edges, hiding the exact thickness of the top and giving the guitar a sleek, aggressive look that really shows off the bevelled edge. The headstock matches the body finish – a nice touch that more companies really need to pay attention to – and the JP shield inlay seems to stand out even more when viewed in context with the grey of the headstock face.

The guitar features 24 medium jumbo frets on a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard. The headstock is EBMM’s iconic 4+2 setup, which is designed to make the company’s instruments small enough to fit into the overhead compartment on a plane. The headstock is topped off with extremely durable locking tuners which give you a real sense of ‘Yep, everything’s gonna be fine – these tuners have got my back.’ The neck shape is a semi-shallow D shape: not as thin as some super-shredder axes, but no baseball bat either. It’s very comfortable and won’t hinder you while you’re zipping around the fretboard at lightning speed. The back of the neck is unfinished, while the JP6 BFR had a glossy painted back. The neck joins the body with a secure five-screw setup.

The bridge is a floating two-point fulcrum affair which is a little different to the version found on the EBMM, although the body is still routed to allow back-pull as well as downward motion. The pickups are a pair of Sterling By Music Man humbuckers and the controls consist of a single 3-way pickup selector, a master tone pot and a master volume pot. The knobs themselves are the same Petrucci dome knobs as found on the other Sterling By Music Man JP models, and indeed the US-made EBMM Petrucci range as well.

I plugged the JP100 into a Sherlock Fat Head amp for testing. First I compared the pickups to Petrucci’s signature DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 humbuckers (read my review here) and found that they although they lack the midrange warmth and sense of ‘air’ of the DiMarzios, the JP100’s have a respectably high output with lots of crunch and detail, and are especially great for those taking a run at Petrucci’s Scenes From A Memory tone. The bridge unit is especially great for power chords and it has nice note separation if your’e playing wide-reaching arpeggios. It also does that ‘almost like a wah wah’ thing if you manipulate the pick and fretting hand a certain way. (Listen to the start of Petrucci’s solo in “Under A Glass Moon” to hear the type of phrasing I’m talking about). The neck unit has much of the articulation and razor-sharp tracking of Petrucci’s standard pickups, but the tone isn’t quite as fine around the edges or in terms of dynamic depth. It’s great for those super-fast “This Dying Soul” solo runs. Interestingly, the middle pickup setting selects both humbuckers at once, rather than Petrucci’s favoured split-coil middle switch selection. This means you’ll have to do a little bit of a rewiring job if you want those clear, bell-like clean tones, but give the humbucker sounds a fair go first, because whether clean or crunchy, this setting is pretty impressive, with nice low end and treble cut.

The JP100 is a worthy addition to any Petrucci fan’s arsenal, and proves itself to be a very versatile axe indeed. The stock pickups are quite good indeed – certainly better than most ‘own brand’ pickups – but I imagine a lot of players will tweak the wiring and pick up a set of Petrucci’s signature DiMarzios, just to complete the package and get the guitar that little bit closer to EBMM specs. Even so, straight out of the box it’s a great choice for metal and prog players looking for a playable, reliable axe that will really let them shred.

Now if only Sterling By Music Man would make a 7-string version!

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]CLICK HERE to buy the
Sterling by Music Man JP100 from Musician’s Friend.