When it comes to guitar design, it’s kinda hard to do something new. Sure, there are brands out there doing something legitimately ‘out there’ – Strandberg comes to mind – but companies that have a well-established design style and a dedicated fanbase can often be locked into making the same guitar over and over again. Ernie Ball Music Man is a company who has often seemed to delight in pushing their designs just that little bit beyond what might be perceived as the limit of what their customer base will comfortably accept, with the groovily pointy Albert Lee signature, the Bongo bass, the Steve Morse model with its elaborate pickup setup and of course the Game Changer pickup selection system. But the Armada is possibly the boldest step yet by the company. Designed by Music Man’s Scott Ball and Dudley Gimple, it’s a neck-thru instrument with a single-cutaway design and a 24.75″ scale length. Continue reading
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.
I remember it as if it was yesterday. February 24 1992 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Baby Animals were out on tour as the support act for Van Halen on the last half of their F.U.C.K. tour. We had been on tour for about a month and were having a blast! We felt as if we were part of a travelling juggernaut, 10 semi-trailers, 8 tour buses, a production that almost needed its own postcode it seemed so huge… The venues were all arenas averaging about 10,000 people and because of the good airplay that Painless was getting on MTV, the audiences were very receptive. Our show consisted of 40 minutes of the rockin’-est stuff we had, played as hard as we could then run laughing offstage to do a Meet & Greet, get changed and then prepare to watch VH play… Continue reading
The Ernie Ball Music Man Bongo 4 bass is weird. If you’re used to more vintage-style basses, or even the legendary EBMM StingRay and Sterling models, the Bongo probably looks like it’s from outer space. It has an odd shape, unusual bevelling, a rather unique headstock… but as we’ve seen amply demonstrated time and again, Ernie Ball Music Man doesn’t make bad instruments, and they don’t make derivative instruments – everything they do has a purpose and a philosophy. And while the Bongo may have to fight extra-hard to win over some players due to the sheer force of its originality, you know before you even open the case that you’re in for something pretty interesting whenever you pick up an EBMM.
The Bongo 4 starts with a basswood body. Often used in hard rock and metal guitars, basswood has a relatively even tone with tight bass, and it tends to smooth over the edges of playing dynamics to a degree, which makes it especially prized by shredders who need even volume from note to note when playing at a bazillion miles an hour. The body is finished in high-gloss polyester, which will further even out the corners of the tone and dynamics if my limited understanding of physics is anything to go by.
Check this out, from the Ernie Ball Music Man forum. Sterling Ball writes:
“Ok Scotty Ball and Dudley were having a good old chat and it turned into…”What if” And guess what What if is what is….I will be feeding you info on a need to torture basis….This is not a Music Man….it is the first of a new line called Ball Family Custom Guitars. If you are a shorter scale neck through or set neck this is a absolutely stunning guitar to play and features Dudley’s pick ups that are crazy.”
Here’s another pic:
Steve Lukather is unquestionably one of the world’s finest guitarists, from his work with Toto to his countless studio sessions and his brilliant solo work. (He’s also a great interview and a hilarious dude). Luke’s guitar requirements are quite demanding and he swears by his Ernie Ball Music Man signature models. The Limited Edition BFR (Ball Family Reserve) True Gold is only available to dealers within EBMM’s Premier Dealer Network, a select international group of high-end retailers with access to special instruments. This guitar is limited to only 200 instruments, each hand-signed by Lukather himself. The thing abut Premier Dealer Network instruments is you really have to be on the ball (pun not intended but gleefully acknowledged) when it comes to ordering one before they’re all snapped up, but each instrument made available to the Premier Dealer Network is a fine showcase of EBMM’s craftsmanship and designs. For instance, this BFR Luke True Gold gives you a great overview of the Luke model as a series, as well as what you can expect from an instrument sold through the exclusive Premier Dealer Network. So if they’re all sold out by the time you scape together the cash, despair not – use this review as a guide to what to expect from a Premier Dealer Network instrument.
The Luke True Gold’s body is made of alder, with a high-gloss polyester finish bringing out the awesomeness of the finish. The bridge is the standard Music Man floating two-point fulcrum design, made of hardened steel with bent steel saddles. The tuners are Schaller M6-IND locking models. Unlike the first incarnation of the Luke model many years ago, there’s no locking trem: these days Luke feels that a vintage style tremolo bridge and locking tuners are more than stable enough for his whammy needs.
The Silhouette has been a mainstay of the Ernie Ball Music Man line-up for decades now, and over the years it’s found its way into the hands of players as diverse as Keith Richards, Vinnie Moore and Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden. (Personally I’ve had an unnaturally heavy crush on an all white one with a maple fretboard and Floyd Rose ever since I saw it in an issue of Guitar Player back in the day). It’s a workhorse design whose looks can suit shredders, rockers, blues and country players and fusioneers.
A few Silhouette Special specs are standard: alder body, high-gloss polyester finish, a 25 1/2″ scale length, select maple neck with a 10″ neck radius, 22 high-profile medium width frets; gunstock oil and hand-rubbed wax blend finish on the back of the neck; Schaller M6-IND locking tuners; adjustable truss rod wheel down at the body end of the neck; five-bolt neck attachment for extreme stability and transfer of vibrational energy; and 250kohm volume and tone pots (which soften the treble a little compared to 500kohm pots). But because this is EBMM there are plenty of options available. The Silhouette Special can be ordered with either a standard string-through-body bridge or an optional two-point Music Man vintage tremolo, each with bent steel saddles. Or if you wish you can order a piezo bridge with solid steel saddles and an extra volume control for adding an acoustic sound to your sonic arsenal. You can also choose between a select maple or rosewood fretboard and a matching painted headstock, and you can select between HSS (humbucker/single coil/single coil) or SSS pickup configurations. If you go down the HSS route, your pickups are a DiMarzio Virtual PAF and two custom DiMarzio single coils. If you choose a SSS model, you’ll be rocking three DiMarzio custom singles, my friend.
When Mike Portnoy quit Dream Theater a year ago, it could have been a disaster for the band. Instead they went into audition mode, recruiting former Extreme/Steve Vai drummer Mike Mangini to record A Dramatic Turn Of Events. The new album is classic Dream Theater, with odd time signatures, clever arrangements, genre-hopping, long instrumental sections and plenty of shred. Mangini proves he’s the perfect man for the job, and the entire band sounds energised and inspired by the new, more democratic approach to composition. It’s their most varied and creative work since 1999′s Scenes From A Memory.
The first impression I had of this album was “This reminds me of something. What is it? Oh! Dream Theater!” It really brings back the things I really loved about the Images & Words era.
Cool! We were definitely conscious to look at our goals for the new album and really talk to each other beforehand. I had a lot of conversations with Jordan (Rudess, keys) about the compositional direction, and trying to hone in on the elements that make the band special in our eyes. We had a conversation with James (LaBrie) about where we wanted to take the vocals melodically, and conversations with John Myung (bass) not only about the album but each song. We had a very focused general outlook of the entire writing process. And not only that but as a producer what it was going to sound like when it was all said and done. So that probably helped keep it in that direction.
John Petrucci has always played bitchen’ guitars. His old Ibanez signature models were pretty cool, but his new Ernie Ball Music Man JPXI has gotta take the cake. I spoke to John a few days ago (look for the interview closer to the release date for Dream Theater’s new album, A Dramatic Turn Of Events), and he told me he used JPXI six and seven-strings exclusively on the new album.
So what’s different about the JPXI? It features a combination of top appointments from JPX and BFR Petrucci signature instruments. The neck has been streamlined to a symmetric, extra slim profile with a flatter 20″ radius, medium jumbo stainless steel frets, a finished mahogany neck and an ebony fingerboard. The solid (i.e: non-chambered) alder body has a mahogany tone block and a maple top. The controls are similar to the JP BFR line, with two three-way toggles, Dimarzio LiquiFire and Crunch Lab humbuckers (see my review of them here) and a Piezo bridge pickup.
The Ernie Ball Music Man Albert Lee model guitar is one of the company’s most unusual instruments – and that’s saying something for the company that also gave us the wacky yet awesome Bongo bass. While the Lee model takes certain obvious design cues from the Stratocaster, it’s also unmistakably EBMM. For starters there’s the split 2/4 headstock, the five-bolt neck joint, and the matte feel of the back of the neck (a gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax blend) which ends abruptly at the back of the headstock. Then there’s there’s the angular body shape, which is unlike anything else out there. (Personally I’ve often fantasized about this shape being used for a Floyd Rose-loaded, aggressive metal machine, maybe with seven strings). Lee may be a country player, and a freaking amazing one at that, but that doesn’t mean his signature guitar design isn’t cool enough for other styles too.
And that leads us to the Big Al bass. Albert Lee isn’t a bass player, but his angular, pointy signature guitar design makes a cracking bass. Interestingly, the bass version started life as a gift to EBMM’s Sterling Ball. The Big Al’s body is made of African mahogany, finished in a high-gloss polyester. (The pickguard is available in black or white as standard, but options include shell, white pearloid, vintage white, pearloid or black pearloid). The bridge is a Music Man chrome-plated, hardened steel bridge plate with stainless steel saddles. The scale length is 34″.
Ernie Ball Music Man released their Sterling By Music Man line about 18 months ago to offer a price-effective alternative to their very high-quality, high-price-tag US-made models. The Sterling line-up is made up of models that are based on popular EBMM axes, but with a few little concessions made here and there in the name of cost-effectiveness. That said, they’re by no means budget models in terms of quality, and shouldn’t be thought of as such. I was pretty damn impressed by the AX20 a while ago, so I was psyched to get my hands on the new AX30, a new model for 2011.
Ernie Ball Music Man scored quite the coup in the late 90s when they wooed Dream Theater’s John Petrucci over from Ibanez. Here was a guy who was strongly identified with another brand and had a well-established and well-selling signature model, jumping ship for a whole different signature axe that was very different in style from his ‘Picasso’ graphic Ibanii. The resulting EBMM JP models have gone through a few changes over the years (like the ultra-cool JPX, the 7-string version of which is right at the very top of my personal wish list). The Sterling By Music Man brand now has several Petrucci models available: the original, stripped back JP50 which was introduced a couple of years ago and, new for 2011, the JP60 (which has the inlays of the EBMM models, right down to the JP shield at the first fret position) and JP100. Continue reading