Sterling Ray4

This gets a bit tricky, so bare with me. Originally there was Music Man, a company co-founded by Leo Fender which made instruments and amplifiers. One of their developments was the StingRay bass, which Sterling Ball helped to design. This company was eventually sold to Ernie Ball. In the noughties, Certain Ernie Ball Music Man designs were the basis for a budget line called OLP (which quite blandly stood for Official Licensed Product). They were great budget instruments but eventually that came to an end. Then there was (and is) Sterling By Music Man, which offers mid-priced (and brilliant) instruments based on classic MM designs. Now there’s SUB by Sterling by Music Man to cater to the budget end of the market again. These instruments were released at NAMM a couple of years ago and they feature several classic Music Man designs, one of which is the StingRay, in the form of the Ray4 four-string and Ray5 five-string.

The Ray4 is available in four colours: Black (BK), White (WH), Walnut Stain (WS), Transparent Red Stain (TRS) and the beautiful Transparent Blue Stain (TBS) of the review model. Whichever colour you go for, the heart of the instrument is a solid hardwood body (it’s not specified exactly what kind of wood it is, and it’s hard to tell through the transparent finish, but it appears to be made of up at least three pieces). The maple neck features a rosewood fretboard on the TBS, TRS, WS and WH models, or a maple fretboard on the BK and the Ray5. And all the key Music Man features are here: the split 3/1 tuning key layout; the curved control plate; the proprietary bridge design which adds mass and increases the amount of metal making contact with the body for better string energy transfer; the sturdy six-bolt neck joint. Even the neck profile feels unmistakably Music Man-derived.

The electronics include a humbucker which looks just like the ‘real deal’ Music Man model, joined to a volume control and a two-band active EQ (Treble and Bass, each capable of boosting or cutting its selected frequency). Battery access is through an easily accessible compartment in the back.

The Ray4’s playability is exceptional, not only for a bass in this price range but for a bass in general. A bit part of this is the fretwork. It’s totally flawless in terms of the fret ends, which plays a big role in enhancing playability. The frets themselves aren’t exactly polished shiny but they’re still quite good. And sustain is incredible. This bass has a really nice natural tone which translates well to the plugged-in sound. The EQ gives the humbucker a wider range of sounds than would otherwise be available, including great slap/pop sounds, and you can get some nice deep dubby tones by turning the bass up and the treble down. There’s not quite as much dimension as the top-dollar US-made Music Man pickup, of course, but because this version uses the same dimensions you could easily upgrade the pickup down the track.

The SUB Ray4 is a far better bass than you would expect at this price range, especially in playability and construction. The sounds, too, are better than you could honestly expect. The Ray4 sums up everything that beginning players or budget-conscious experienced ones expect in a Ray-spec bass, and it does so with Music Man’s own approval.