REVIEW: Ernie Ball Music Man Albert Lee HH

Country guitarist Albert Lee is a freak. One of the true greats able to play totally in the pocket in a very tasteful, rhythmic manner – as those who were lucky enough to see him at the recent Ernie Ball 50th Anniversary party can attest – then slice your head off with a seemingly impossible flurry of speedy yet purposeful notes. Lee’s longstanding signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar is much the same: both restrained and outrageous, traditional and exotic. The most common, three-single-coil configuration displays an obvious lineage to the Fender Stratocaster but to think of it as just a pointy Strat is to do the guitar a great disservice. And that fact is driven home even further by the EBMM Albert Lee HH model.

The twin-humbucker HH has the same basic outline as the triple single coil version, with its angular body horns and a very ‘designy’ forearm contour which follows the path set in motion by the slope of the top edge of the cutaway. The body is made of African Mahogany, finished in a high gloss polyester and available in all of EBMM’s Standard Classic Colours range. The company goes to great pains to ensure that all guitars weigh in within a specific range – around 2.95kg, give or take a little, or 0.2kg more for the tremolo version, ensuring consistency from guitar to guitar.

The neck itself is select rosewood with a select rosewood fretboard as well, featuring a still-curvy-but-not-note-choking 10″ fret radius and simple oversized position marker dots. There are 22 high profile, medium width frets, and the back of the neck is finished in EBMM’s special gunstock oil hand-rubbed special wax blend. Tuning machines are Schaller M6-IND locking units. The neck is attached with EBMM’s famous five-bolt join, and the truss rod is accessed through the base of the neck on the fretboard near the neck pickup, so you don’t have to remove a truss rod cover or the neck itself to tweak the setup.

The bridge is EBMM’s standard strings-through-the-body model, chrome plated, hardened steel with vintage steel saddles. Ditto for the trem option. Pickups are a pair of custom DiMarzios with chrome covers, and the controls are limited to a pair of 500k pots for volume and tone, and a 5-way pickup selector switch which selects humbuckers or various combinations of coils.

For testing, I plugged into my Marshall JCM2000 DSL50 head with DiMarzio cable. And the first thing that became really apparent was that although naturally the HH is capable of nice snappy clean tones, especially on its single coil settings, for me the really, really good stuff was in the full humbucker sounds. These aren’t particularly high output pickups, and that’s what allows them to push out such dynamically lively tone. The bridge pickup has a particularly dry character which works very well with overdrive (as distinct from full-on distortion), and it’s one of those pickups that really encourages you to vary your pick attack for some great Santana-esque phrasing or for warm but defined chordal work. But crank up the gain to full-on distortion levels and the pickup’s lower output and higher clarity translate to a very defined, lively hyperdrive sounds.

The neck pickup gets nice and juicy when you really dig in with the pick, and it sounds comfortably mellow when you play softly. A little slapback or analog delay and mwah! Amazing sophisticated lead tone with a creamy top end and full, supportive bass. But it’s wonderful for rhythm too – that perfect balance between note clarity and chordal ‘meshing together-ness.’ And when you palm the pick and play with your thumb, it sounds velvety and cooool.

I probably wouldn’t use this guitar for metal, and it wouldn’t be my first choice for super-spanky country, especially in a world where the SSS version of this guitar exists and is such a great fit for those styles, but it’s great for those who need a slightly fuller, girthier tone, be it for rock, blues, fusion, pop or various other in-between-super-clean-and-death-tone styles.