Ernie Ball Music Man is releasing a new John Petrucci model to mark 10 years of John’s collaboration with the company. In their own words:
This new signature model is being released to commemorate 10 years of collaboration with Dream Theater guitar player John Petrucci. The new body shape has a slightly thinner upper horn and a more symmetric bridge end profile. The body is also chambered for added acoustic resonance.
What I find particularly interesting about this model (aside from its slight resemblance to Ibanez’s new RGD line) is that it features 5-way pickup switching, unlike John’s other models which have 3-way switching. Note too that this model features John’s new DiMarzio signature pickup set, the Crunch Lab and LiquiFire. Check out my review of the pickups here. You can also hear my demo on the Crunch Lab 7 and LiquiFire 7 pages of DiMarzio.com. Of course the JPX 6 also has piezo pickups for acoustic tones.
Sterling Ball of Ernie Ball Music Man has confirmed on the company’s official forum that Johnny Hiland has left PRS (where he had a signature model) and shacked up with EBMM. Hiland is rockin’ the EBMM Silhouette model.
Here’s the post from Sterling Ball:
OK in a case where rumor ends up knowing this before me….As of today Johnny Hiland has joined our family as a valued endorsee. Johnny is over the moon with the Silhouette and will be playing them for a long time we both hope.
As for the earlier threads it was funny in that I had zero contact with Johnny until the next day after those threads when Derek called me and said that Johnny was interested in joining us.
As for some of the below the belt comments…Johnny is not doing this for money he is doing this because he likes our guitars. He will be supporting our original guitar the Silhouette which makes me very very happy.
Johnny will be at the NAMM show and has agreed to play at the Casey Lee Ball Foundation annual bash allong with Steve Lukather and Joe Bonamassa.
WElcome to the family…cant wait for the jam sessions with our team…Luke Albert SteveMorse , Steve Lukather, John Petrucci, and Johnny Hiland….Like the Yankees!
Here’s a cool video of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci talking about his new Ernie Ball Music Man guitar and working with DiMarzio on pickups. He also talks about his live rig and how he approaches his sound in live performance compared to the studio.
One of the big surprises for most visitors to the NAMM convention in Anaheim, California this year was the revelation that Ernie Ball Music Man were releasing a new sub-brand called Sterling which would recreate some of the iconic company’s best-known designs, while keeping costs down by using Asian manufacturing facilities. “Hang on,” I hear you saying. “Wasn’t that the point of those O.L.P EBMM copies?” Well yeah. Those O.L.Ps (which are quite playable and well-made for the price point) are pitched at the lower end of the market, while Sterling By Music Man is aimed more towards the middle (although the introductory prices seem extremely reasonable). So where does the additional money go, and what kind of guitar do you get for it?
OUT OF THE DARKNESS AND INTO THE LIGHT
The Silhouette is one of Ernie Ball Music Man’s longest standing models, and over the years variations have been used by no less a guitarist than the great Keith Richards, shredder Vinnie Moore and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden. That’s a pretty wide range of guitar royalty right there, and it gives you an idea of just how adaptable the Silhouette is. The basswood Silo20 has a humbucker-single-humbucker configuration, 5-way pickup selector switch (positions 2 and 4 split the humbucker’s coils into singles in conjunction with the middle pickup), volume and tone controls and a string-through hardtail bridge. The maple neck is attached with a 5-bolt joint, has 24 frets on a maple fretboard, and is topped off with locking tuners.
Construction is very solid for a guitar in this price range. Particular care has been taken with the fret ends. They’re not quite as finessed as a USA-built top shelf Ernie Ball Music Man instrument, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a rough spot along the fretboard edge. Combined with the asymmetrical neck carve, which slopes in towards the treble strings (picture an aerofoil kind of shape but fatter) and the result is a very comfortable, playable instrument which seems to mould to your body.
I AM THE MUSIC MAN
Sterling, meet Marshall. The words kinda sound like a couple of Connecticut guys being introduced at the yacht club, but the sonic results certainly don’t. The Sterling-designed pickups, which are based on Alnico magnets, are very hot and powerful. There’s a kind of dark vibe, with powerful bass and almost fuzzy highs, while with the exception of a little upper-midrange spike they sound quite scooped in the mids. This seems to emphasise the percussiveness of the tone, making the Silo20 a great choice for palm-muted pop-punk riffs or, with higher gain levels, all-out chugging metal. Digging in with the pick brings out some cool overtones, and the excellent upper fret access really shows off how good these pickups sound when you move up to the widdly end of the neck. The high end gets tamed a little and the pickups positively scream, in the best possible way. The single coil is definitely more spanky than sweet, and is especially good for country, funk and soul sounds. The output is high enough that it can hang with the humbuckers without breaking a sweat.
INVEST IN THE STERLING
The Sterling brand is a bold move for Ernie Ball Music Man but I think they’ve got it right. Is playing the Silo20 like playing a USA-made Silhouette? Nope. But taken on its own merits it’s a very well made, great-sounding mid-price guitar that gives a slice of the Ernie Ball Music Man experience without breaking the bank.
At the dawn of the 90s, Eddie Van Halen aligned with Ernie Ball Music Man to develop his first signature guitar. Though he was previously associated with his self-cobbled creations and some Kramer models, he’d never put his name on a commercially available axe, and the whole guitar world was looking. I’m sure at the time that the expectation was of a single-pickup Silhouette with a Floyd Rose tremolo, single volume knob and a red finish with black and white stripes. So when they unveiled the Edward Van Halen model, with its quilted maple top, Les Paul-meets-Telecaster shape and twin humbuckers, it was quite controversial.
BE A SPORT
Eddie’s association with Ernie Ball Music Man didn’t last, but his model lives on (with subtle changes) as the AXIS, and it’s upon this model’s Super Sport variation that the Sterling By Music Man AX20 is based. The AX20 has the same twin humbucker layout with a Music Man-designed fixed bridge, a 5-way pickup selector switch, and controls for both volume and tone (the Edward Van Halen model only had a single volume control, which was capped with a knob that said TONE, the joke being that when you turn it all the way up you get good tone. Arf). The body, as with the AXIS, is basswood with a maple cap. The decision to use basswood for the Edward Van Halen model was quite controversial back in the day: a relatively flat-sounding wood, it wasn’t typically associated with high-end guitars until Ibanez started using it in Steve Vai’s Jem models in 1987.
AXIS OF …AWESOME
Having reviewed an actual Ernie Ball Music Man AXIS last month in Mixdown Magazine, the first thing I did with the AX20 was give it the ol’ once over to see how closely it measured up. The neck shape is surprisingly similar, the 5-bolt neck joint is very stable and comfortable, and the fretwork is quite respectable. There didn’t seem to be any finishing blemishes or anything of the sort. Unplugged, the AX20 has a little bit of that steely high end and midrange poke that you tend to find on a new guitar that’s not yet broken in, and which seems more present on some new guitars than others. Now, being a big fan of the DiMarzio pickups in the AXIS, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the AX20. My fears were soon dashed though, because these humbuckers sound great. I imagine they’re the same design as the ones in the Silo20 model (see my review of that model here), but the addition of the maple cap on the AX20 adds more midrange and alters the characteristic of the high end compared to the Silo20. The result is a high-output pickup which screams with harmonics and has a powerful, cutting pick attack. The neck pickup sounds full but still has a nice sizzle, and the bridge unit… well it sounds pretty darn close to the famous ‘brown sound’ – certainly closer than one could be forgiven for expecting. By the way, the pickup selections are: bridge humbucker; bridge and neck (single coil); bridge and neck (humbucker); neck (parallel – kinda like having 2 single coils), neck (humbucker). The single coil modes are snappy and funky. For non name-brand pickups these units are pretty damn special.
AX YOURSELF: IS THIS THE GUITAR FOR YOU?
The AX20 is a great guitar for the money. In fact it’s a great guitar for any money. The playability and construction aren’t quite as finessed as its USA-made daddy, but the tones are very complex, it looks sharp as all get-out, and it’s very easy to play. I feel it’s especially important to point out this: often when one buys a mid-priced guitar with proprietary pickups the first thought is ‘what pickups am I gonna replace these with?’ Well you instantly save yourself a few hundred bucks with the AX20 because it already sounds that good. Is it as good as an Ernie Ball Music Man AXIS? Nope. Does it feel like one? Well the Sterling’s neck feels a little slicker and more mass-produced, and the fretwork isn’t quite as nice as the AXIS, but the similarities are striking in terms of neck profile and overall playing experience. The AX20 and the AX40 trem version probably aren’t going to steal away any sales from the AXIS, and in a side-to-side comparison the AXIS still of course comes out on top – with that kind of pedigree that’s a given – but the AX20 comes across as a better guitar than it needs to be for the price range it’s competing in, and it more than adequately fills the gap between the cheaper OLP copies of Ernie Ball Music Man designs, and the real thing.
Guitar Center Session’s Presents Ernie Ball Music Man’s 25th Anniversary tour
Guitar Center and Ernie Ball/Music Man proudly announce an evening of dialogue and music with guitar virtuosos Steve Morse and Steve Lukather. Hosted by Sterling Ball, this in depth conversation looks back on a quarter century of passion and commitment, building the finest instruments made exclusively in the United States. Steve Morse, Steve Lukather and Sterling Ball will discuss the development of their respective signature guitars, the latest Ball Family Reserve models, and the unveiling of 3 new Music Man Instruments, The 25th Anniversary guitar, 25th Anniversary 4 & 5 String basses and the Big Al bass. The Ball Family is the last of a dying breed crafting instruments in San Luis Obispo CA for the last 25 years. This dedication to excellence has culminated into a premier line of custom quality instruments played by some of rocks most iconic guitarists. Come celebrate with guitar legends Steve Lukather and Steve Morse for an evening of insight, inspiration and conversation.
May 25th 7:00pm
Guitar Center Orlando #777
12402 Orange Blossom Trail
Orlando FL 32837
May 27th 7 p.m.
Guitar Center Detroit #331
31940 Gratiot Avenue
Roseville Michigan 48066
May 29th 7 p.m.
Guitar Center San Jose #222
3677 Stevens Creek Blvd
Santa Clara CA 95051
Here’s another in my awkwardly-titled occasional series WILTOTWTWT, or “What I listened to on the way to work today.”
At the moment I’m preparing my articles for the next edition of Mixdown Magazine. I’m reviewing, amongst other things, four absolutely amazing Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, including an AXIS model which has completely changed my life. CLICK HERE to see EBMM AXIS models on eBay. The minute I picked it up I fell to my knees and cried like a little girl. Well maybe that’s an exaggeration, it’s probably more accurate to say I cried like a grown man. Anyway, this guitar was what was left after Eddie Van Halen ended his association with the company, and as such it totally reminds me of Van Halen’s ‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ era.
This was my first Van Halen album – I bought it with my birthday money when it came out in 1991 – and Eddie Van Halen was interviewed about the EBMM guitar in the very first edition of Guitar World I ever read. Between the ages of 12 and about 15 I was pretty much obsessed with Eddie Van Halen.
Anyway, eventually Van Halen released a live album and video (I got it on VHS for a different birthday) called Live: Right Here, Right Now, in which they played pretty much the entire album, with a few other tracks thrown in. Something like that is pretty unheard of today: a well-known band playing primarily their new album to a packed arena full of people singing every word. Most of the time when I go see a band touring behind a new CD they might chuck in between 2 and 4 songs from it, and stick to ‘the classics’ for the rest of the show. But I digress…
Eddie Van Halen played the hell out of his EBMM EVH guitars on that live video and CD (by the way, CLICK HERE to see EBMM Edward Van Halen models on eBay if you want the original version), and playing the AXIS last night inspired me to load the album up on my iPod this morning. What really struck me was not the obnoxiously bright mix of the audience noise (it sounds like rain on tin foil), or the overbearing snare drum sound (it sounds like hail on tin foil). It wasn’t even Eddie’s tragic over-reliance on a chorus-type effect from his Eventide Harmonizer. It was his so-in-the-pocket-it-might-as-well-be-part-of-the-pants rhythm playing. Listen closely during “In N’ Out” and “Man On A Mission” in particular for examples. I’ve always been more influenced by Eddie’s rhythm work than his lead stuff, and listening to this album again reminded me why. The dude knows how to make the guitar do exactly what he wants at any given time in minute detail, and manages to do it while rockin’ the scissor kicks and chain-smoking like a locomotive.
And that’s what I listened to on the way to work today.
I remember buying Van Halen’s Live: Right Here Right Now on double cassette the day it came out. A little while later it was released on video, and I begged and pleaded until I got it for my birthday (a much more successful birthday wish than my 10-year-old self’s need for Def Leppard’s Hysteria).
The Silhouette 6/12 doubleneck features a 6-string guitar on top with a 12-string guitar below. DiMarzio custom pickups, 3-way switching top and bottom, alder body and 24 frets.
This is almost as cool as Eddie Van Halen’s EBMM double necks with the six string bass on top and regular guitar on the bottom.
Thanks to Dan for alerting me to the new website for the new Sterling By Music Man brand, which will be priced somewhere around the same level as the now discontinued Ernie Ball Music Man SUB series.