If you want to add a little of Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci’s sonic mojo to your tone – a rather worthy goal, if you ask me – you could do a lot worse than to check out Petrucci’s line of signature guitars through Ernie Ball Music Man. They occupy a unique niche among shred-friendly guitars because their construction feels much more “serious-persons’ guitar” than the average shred plank. But Music Man guitars come with a price tag that reflects their quality. i.e.: they’re pretty dang pricey. So with the Sterling By Music Man line, the company has endeavoured to bring more affordable versions of some of their designs to players who might not have the financial wherewithal to walk home with the California-made stuff. The JP70D is based on Petrucci’s first Music Man model (there are a few other shapes now including the JPX and Majesty), and it’s made in Indonesia.
Sterling has quite cleverly designed its Petrucci models to be their own instruments, rather than mirroring any one Music Man model too closely. What you get here is a basswood body with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard, 24 frets, a five-bolt neck joint, 25.5″ scale length, and locking tuners. The truss rod adjustment is at the base of the freeboard, and the neck shape is quite flat but a little deeper than many shred-oriented axes. This makes it great for positioning your hand just right for the complex chord voicings, speedy alternate-picked licks and slithery legato.
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, ather than floating the bridge at an angle like you might do for a Strat bridge. There’s some untidy rout work and some painted-over wood chips inside the trem cavity but other than that very minor flaw the construction seems to be quite high quality, especially in this price range. 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. As for the electronics, this model is an upgrade from the JP70 model; the ‘D’ in this one’s model name denotes the use of DiMarzio pickups – in this case Petrucci’s signature Crunch Lab and LiquiFire hubuckers. They’re wired to a three-way pickup selector switch which provides a split-coil voice in the middle setting.
The Crunch Lab and LiquiFire are very midrange-friendly pickups with tight bass and slightly reigned-in treble. The Crunch Lab has a warm, woody kind of vibe and an interesting frequency quirk where it almost sounds like you’re playing a downtuned guitar even on the higher strings. It sits really well in recordings and has great cut onstage, and it’ll hang in there even when you’re playing those really fast unison guitar/bass/keys lines that punctuate various Dream Theater songs. The LiquiFire sounds ‘noodly’ – it loves to blast out bluesy licks and super-fast alternate-picked lines way up on the higher frets. And interestingly, the in-between setting with both pickups on in single coil mode sounds grittier, bluesier and more organic than Petrucci’s various earlier pickup sets.
This is an incredibly versatile, great-playing guitar that you don’t need to be a Dream Theater fan to appreciate. In some ways it’s a lot more traditional than it looks, and its tones really feel well-sculpted and musical. Even the tone knob – often a weak point on guitars like this – is carefully voiced and very usable.