REVIEW: Ernie Ball Music Man Silhouette Special

The Silhouette has been a mainstay of the Ernie Ball Music Man line-up for decades now, and over the years it’s found its way into the hands of players as diverse as Keith Richards, Vinnie Moore and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden. (Personally I’ve had an unnaturally heavy crush on an all white one with a maple fretboard and Floyd Rose ever since I saw it in an issue of Guitar Player back in the day). It’s a workhorse design whose looks can suit shredders, rockers, blues and country players and fusioneers.

A few Silhouette Special specs are standard: alder body, high-gloss polyester finish, a 25 1/2″ scale length, select maple neck with a 10″ neck radius, 22 high-profile medium width frets; gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax blend finish on the back of the neck; Schaller M6-IND locking tuners; adjustable truss rod wheel down at the body end of the neck; five-bolt neck attachment for extreme stability and transfer of vibrational energy; and 250kohm volume and tone pots (which soften the treble a little compared to 500kohm pots).  But because this is EBMM there are plenty of options available. The Silhouette Special can be ordered with either a standard string-through-body bridge or an optional two-point Music Man vintage tremolo, each with bent steel saddles. Or if you wish you can order a piezo bridge with solid steel saddles and an extra volume control for adding an acoustic sound to your sonic arsenal. You can also choose between a select maple or rosewood fretboard and a matching painted headstock, and you can select between HSS (humbucker/single coil/single coil) or SSS pickup configurations. If you go down the HSS route, your pickups are a DiMarzio Virtual PAF and two custom DiMarzio single coils. If you choose a SSS model, you’ll be rocking three DiMarzio custom singles, my friend.

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Music Man Silhouette Special HSS Tremolo Electric Guitar Black Maple Fretboard
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Aside from the very handy and easily accessible truss rod adjustment at the base of the neck, the Silhouette Special (and several other EBMM guitars) have a few more player-friendly tricks up its sleeve. Perhaps the least noticeable but most useful is the exclusive patented Music Man Silent Circuit, driven by a 9v battery accessed through a compartment in the back, which is designed to drastically reduce the 60 cycle hum normally associated with single coils. It works incredibly well, yet you don’t notice it because it works so well.

Another handy player-friendly feature is that the tremolo arm can be left free-swinging or you can access a hex key adjustment by pushing the bar down and looking towards the neck from the back of the guitar. Also, the guitar is shorter at both the headstock (it’s only 14.9cm long) and body ends, for enhanced portability, comfort and balance. Legend has it that these instruments in their cases are even small enough to fit in an aircraft overhead luggage bin.

And there’s yet another useful feature that you won’t notice if it does its job: the nut is a compensated design which improves intonational accuracy across the neck – each string has its own specific entry point to the nut, so chords ring out tunefully no matter where you are, but especially in the lower frets, where it also happens to be most useful.

Upper fret access is exceptional. There is simply no restriction whatsoever in hitting the 24th. Some guitars have great access to the 24th if you’re just grabbing that note at the end of a solo but the treble side cutaway gets in the way of the back of your hand when you’re playing wide licks. Not so here. Whether you’re squeezing the life out of the 24th for a big sustained wail or you’re hitting it in amongst a flurry of 64th notes, it’s easily get-to-able.

As for the pickups, the DiMarzio Virtual PAF, in combination with the 250kohm volume pot, is a fat-sounding pickup with a big midrange – great for ringing open chord tones and stabbing single-note lines when you’re running a lightly overdriven tone, but becoming darker and bigger at higher distortion settings. High gain settings result in huge power chords and harmonically charged lead lines. The treble that makes the cleaner tones stand out so well becomes overpowered (in the best possible way) by the midrange and low end when you turn up the gain, and it sounds and feels great. The single coil settings all exhibit a very clear treble ring, which becomes progressively restrained but never muted as you make your way towards the neck pickup. The bridge/middle combination is great for country, the middle unit by itself is a monster for rock soloing, and the neck/middle and neck-alone settings are built for blues. Each setting also also works great for indie jangle of varying degrees. In fact, despite the Silhouette’s reputation as a guitar for virtuosos, it’s so perfectly voiced and so easily playable that it is also well-suited for purely rhythm-based styles. Surely part of this must be credited to the compensated nut, which makes it a sheer pleasure to just jam out on open chords and arpeggios. And the hum-reducing circuit also encourages the player to explore the single coil sounds more – especially the often-overlooked middle pickup.

The Silhouette Special is a real players’ guitar, an ideal instrument for musicians who need to cover a wide variety of styles, and despite its reputation as a soloists’ machine it’s also a great investment for even strictly rhythm players.

LINK: Music Man.

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review originally published in Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]