Steve Lukather is one of Ernie Ball Music Man’s greatest ambassadors. He’s been playing his signature line on stage and in the studio for decades now, on G3 tours, with Ringo Starr, as a solo artist and of course with his legendary band Toto. Luke’s EBMM models are all incredibly playable and they all have a rich, rounded tone – especially the most recent iteration, the Luke III line featuring Luke’s new signature DiMarzio Transition passive humbuckers. Now Luke’s design is more accessible thanks to the Sterling By Music Man LK100D, which includes his signature pickups as well as much of the LIII’s distinctively smooth vibe.
The body is made of basswood, with plenty of slinky and well-executed curves. The classic V-contoured neck features a 12” radius rosewood fretboard with 22 not-too-fat-not-too-thin frets and the distinctive Music Man 4+2 headstock with chrome locking tuners, and it’s anchored to the body with EBM’s 5-bolt pattern. The back of the neck is a very comfortable gentle V shape which might feel a bit alien to those who haven’t played this type of neck before, but if you’re a V fan you’ll definitely dig how this orients your hand for comfortable chording.
The bridge is a floating unit featuring vintage-style saddles and a slightly more modern two-point fulcrum anchor point. It’s set up to Luke’s personal preference which allows up to a full 1 1/2 steps of up-pull, so you’ll be able to pull off those cool Jeff Beck-style whammy tricks with ease.
The electronics consist of a pair of Transition humbuckers, master volume and tone controls, a special five-way pickup selector switch, and a push-push feature on the volume pot to engage a custom SBMM-designed active preamp which engages a gain boost. The pickup selections are a little unusual: position 1 is the bridge humbucker in series mode. Position 2 is the outside coils of each pickup in parallel. Position 3 is both humbuckers together. Position 4 is the inner two coils of each pickup in parallel, and position 5 is the neck pickup in parallel.
I plugged the LK100D into my Marshall DSL50 head for testing. Compared to an EBMM LIII, the L100D sounds very similar – maybe a little more compressed in response and resonance, and the playability is a little tighter than the EBMM (although a personalised setup and a little extra fret polishing would probably make it feel even more like an LIII). The Transition pickups are very ‘round’ in tone, with a smoothed-off high end, big fat midrange and tight low end. Even with a bright amp setting the treble is quite under control, which means this is a great rock guitar but might not have the teeth that you’d need for extreme metal. But that’s not what this guitar is for: it cuts extremely well within a mix and would really jump out on stage too, since it seems voiced so perfectly to hit those frequencies that aren’t eaten up by kick and hi hat. It’s kind of interesting that there’s no series option for the neck pickup, but honestly the guitar doesn’t suffer for it. The parallel option sounds great.
And the push-push nature of the boost function is really the ideal way to implement a feature such as this. It allows you to engage some extra volume or gain no matter where you are onstage, and it’s a very instinctive action compared to pulling on a push-pull pot or flipping a switch somewhere.
The LK100D is eerily similar to an EBMM Luke III. The finishing isn’t quite as finessed and the neck wood isn’t as nice, but in terms of looks and more importantly tone, it definitely captures what’s great about its more expensive big brother. If you’re a Luke completist you’ll want this, and if you’re a Luke fan who can’t afford an LIII you’d want it too, but this is a guitar that will also please those who don’t have any particular interest in doing what Luke does. It’s great for blues, rock, progressive, fusion… it’s hard to think of a genre that this guitar wouldn’t be applicable for (aside from the aforementioned ultra-doom-death-core).
For more info, visit sterlingbymusicman.com/lk100d