Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci’s Ernie Ball Music Man signature guitar is a real pro-level piece of kit, and one of those sig instruments that is even able to transcend its association with a particular artist and instead become adopted by players at large. Besides Petrucci you can often see them in the hands of Joe Bonamassa and Periphery’s Mark Holcomb, for instance. But the asking price – although well worth it – is out of the reach of many players. Sterling By Music Man to the rescue! After successfully offering six-string JP-60 for a few years, the brand has now released its first seven-string version, the JP70.
[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]
The JP70 doesn’t attempt to ape a particular EBMM Petrucci model. Instead it’s really its own thing, while keeping in the spirit of a JP guitar. The body is made of basswood (and it’s the heaviest chunk of basswood I’ve ever picked up), with a maple neck with rosewood fretboard, 24 big chunky frets, a five-bolt neck joint, 25.5″ scale length, and locking tuners. The neck joins the body with a typically EBMM five-bolt system, and the intonation adjustment is at the base of the fretboard. The back of the neck is relatively deep but quite flat, positioning your hand perfectly for complex fretting no matter whether you’re attacking the high or low strings. It has higher, squarer shoulders than, say, an Ibanez Wizard neck, but feels a little thinner than an American Deluxe Strat.
The tremolo bridge is a two-point non-locking type which is back-routed so you can pull up as well as down while maintaining the correct knife-edge angle on the trem posts (rather than floating the bridge at an angle like you might do for a Strat bridge), and the two humbuckers are a pair of ceramic-magnet, high-output models. The locking tuners are configured in a ‘5/2’ style just like JP’s EBMM guitars. Hints that this is a John Petrucci model include the JP shield inlay at the first fret, his signature on the headstock, the distinctive ‘pointy dome’ control knobs and the forearm bevel, which is much more of a scoop than the typical angled slope.
The humbuckers are quite lyrical-sounding, with great articulation for lead work and plenty of punch for heavy rhythms. They have a pronounced upper midrange character, and while they’re not voiced to sound like Petrucci’s signature DiMarzio set (the Crunch Lab and LiquiFire – read my review here), they will definitely get you in the ballpark of his various tones from the Scenes From A Memory album onwards: that mid-heavy, clear-bass kind of tone with immense clarity. The neck pickup tracks very well for speedy alternate picking and it’s quite nice clean too, while the bridge pickup screams with harmonic overtones when you really lay on the distortion and start bending and whammying. And the low B string remains clear, punchy and fat. The middle pickup setting doesn’t have the sparkle and ring of the EBMM version though, so if you’re after that, you might want to consider an eventual pickup upgrade.
The bridge maintains its tuning quite well but doesn’t feel as smooth as the EBMM version. The fretwork is good – the fret ends aren’t rounded or overly finessed but at least they’re clipped at a comfortable angle that won’t dig into your hands – and once you get used to the weight the guitar feels exceptionally balanced.
Like the EBMM Petrucci models, the JP70 is more than capable of holding its own as simply ‘a cool guitar’ rather than ‘a cool John Petrucci guitar,’ so even if you’re not a Dream Theater fan but you happen to be in the market for an articulate, well-constructed seven-string, it’s well worth a serious test-drive.