Ultimate Guide To
Music Man Basses

Music Man bass guitars are admired for their punchy tones, versatile electronics and unrivalled playability. It’s therefore no surprise why so many established musicians use Music Man basses, for both live and studio applications.

In this guide, we’ve broken down the features of Music Man’s most popular bass guitars - to make their comparison as clear as possible!

Written by

Elliot Stent

A variety of models form the Music Man lineup, so you’re practically spoilt for choice when it comes to their bass guitars. However, there are some key differences between their offerings, sure to make certain models more suitable for your own personal requirements.

Music Man Bass Range

The tiles below show a number of Music Man’s current basses. Click on one to skip to a specific model, or scroll down to learn about the full history of Music Man and each model one-by-one:

History of Music Man

Early Years

Music Man was founded in 1974 by former Fender vice-president Forrest White and sales representative Tom Walker. Disillusioned by the management of Fender after their acquisition by CBS in 1965, the pair decided to set up their own musical instrument company.

Enlisting their former boss Leo Fender for creative guidance, the legendary innovator became a silent partner and assisted in the design of Music Man’s first amplifier - the ‘Sixty Five’. Ahead of its time, this particular amp featured hybrid solid-state/valve technology and was notorious for its incredible volume.

CLF Research Era

Leo Fender formed the CLF Research consulting firm shortly after his initial involvement with Music Man, as his 10-year non-compete clause with CBS had expired. Building its own dedicated factory by 1976, CLF Research essentially became contractors for Music Man and exclusively manufactured electric guitars and basses for the brand. The StingRay 1 guitar and StingRay bass (picture below) came first, both of which were co-designed by Leo Fender and Tom Walker.

The StingRay bass proved successful from the get-go, thanks to its ergonomic construction and forward-thinking electronics (we’ll get to that later). However, just a couple of years into the alliance; a toxic rift developed between Music Man and CLF Research. With Music Man finding faults with the instruments that CLF had produced for them, their quality control department failed many guitars and basses. And simply put, Music Man refused to pay CLF Research until their instruments were considered acceptable.

The relationship had fully deteriorated by 1979, and Leo Fender subsequently closed CLF Research to form G&L Guitars. Heading into the ‘80s, Music Man desperately sought help from other contractors in order to stay afloat, with the likes of Grover Jackson and Modulus becoming short-term replacements. It wasn’t enough though, and Music Man was on the brink of collapse by the mid-’80s.

Ernie Ball Acquisition

With a few interested buyers, the nearly-bankrupt Music Man sold its assets to the Ernie Ball string company in 1984. Ernie Ball, which had experimented with its own instruments in the early ‘70s, was keen to strongly enter the guitar and bass market by taking advantage of the appeal that came with the StingRay bass.

The production of Music Man basses resumed in 1985 at Ernie Ball’s factory in San Luis Obispo, California. In its joint guise, Ernie Ball/Music Man started to design original models towards the end of the ‘80s and beyond; many of which have become modern classics. With its own US-made offerings more popular than ever, Ernie Ball/Music Man’s affordable Far-Eastern instruments made under the ‘Sterling by Music Man’ name are also highly-regarded.

As we’ve already alluded to, the StingRay is arguably Ernie Ball/Music Man’s flagship bass guitar and by far their most recognisable. Produced since 1976, the StingRay is a go-to for thousands of bass players and is even held in as high-esteem as Fender’s Precision and Jazz basses.

Co-designed by Leo Fender’s CLF Research company and Music Man’s Tom Walker, the StingRay is distinctive for its smooth double-cut body and symmetrical, oval-shaped pickguard. Other unique aesthetic touches include a 3+1 tuner arrangement at the headstock, which was designed to eliminate the “dead spots” that often afflict bolt-on bass guitars. The large hardened steel bridge was also thoughtfully-conceived, ensuring maximum string vibration transference through the body for piano-like sustain.

The Music Man StingRay’s most appealing feature, though, is undoubtedly its thick-sounding alnico humbucker. Giving the instrument its signature sound, many bassists have used the StingRay’s powerful and punchy tone to great effect, most notably Tim Commerford (Rage Against The Machine) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers). Ideal for slap, finger-style and pick playing; the StingRay is surprisingly versatile despite just its single pickup.

While the humbucker is an essential component, the Music Man StingRay’s active EQ also contributes to its stellar sound. In fact, it was actually the first production 4-string bass to feature onboard active equalization! While the active circuitry adds tonnes of clarity and definition, the 3-band EQ gives players easy control over the lows, mids and highs. Many bass brands have since adopted this technology, as it gives bassists more freedom to adjust their sound on-the-fly.

Music Man StingRay - Key Features

  • Alnico MM Humbucker - Powerful pickup with lots of mid-range punch.
  • Hardened Steel Bridge - Ensures maximum resonance and sustain.
  • Satin-Finished Maple Neck - Bright-sounding material with slippery feel.
  • 6-Bolt Neck Joint - Extremely stable construction, maximum wood contact.
  • Onboard Active 3-Band EQ - Control your sound on-the-fly.
  • Compensated Nut - Near-perfect intonation across the fingerboard.

Music Man Stingray Basses on Andertons T.V.

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The StingRay 5 was the first bass designed by Music Man after their Ernie Ball acquisition - introduced in 1987. Based on the shape of the Silhouette electric guitar that was released a year prior, the StingRay 5 was created as a 5-string alternative to the standard StingRay; as its name indicates. But the StingRay 5 was much more significant than that, as it arguably set the precedent for extended range basses; becoming one of the first production 5-string bass guitars available on the market.

In-keeping with the DNA of the original StingRay, the 5-string model does have some noteworthy aesthetic and feature differences. With a comfortable contoured body, the StingRay 5 is slightly more ergonomic than its 4-string counterpart and exerts a look that is more fitting for the modern bassist. The Music Man StingRay 5 also has a slightly different pickguard design, extending to the lower section of the body and encompassing the instrument’s control section.

Of course, the powerful alnico humbucker that is synonymous with Music Man is a mainstay on the StingRay 5, projecting a huge bass sound that gives the low B string lots of clarity. However, unlike the 4-string version, the StingRay 5 boasts a 3-way pickup switch for series, single and parallel sounds. This makes the StingRay 5 more tweakable than the standard StingRay, especially when used in conjunction with the active 3-band EQ section. And if you’re worried about encountering hum when using single mode, the Stingray features a hum-cancelling "phantom" coil for effective noise reduction.

Music Man StingRay 5 - Key Features

  • Contoured Body - Provides greater playing comfort.
  • Alnico MM Humbucker - Potent mid-range sound with plenty of projection.
  • Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch - Enables series, single and parallel combinations for the powerful humbucker.
  • Hum-Cancelling "Phantom" Coil - Added as standard in 1992; reduces noise when using single coil mode.
  • Neck-Through Construction - As of 2015, the StingRay 5 was made available with a neck-through construction for increased sustain and a more elegant feel.
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Unveiled at the 2003 Winter NAMM Show, the Bongo bass was a huge departure for Music Man. Created in conjunction with BMW’s Designworks team, the distinctive Bongo model was built to epitomise exactly what a modern bass should be; even giving us a glimpse of what future instruments could look like.

Boasting unconventional curves and contours, the Music Man Bongo sticks out like a sore thumb in the brand’s catalogue - but that's not a bad thing. That’s because the Bongo is designed to offer unparalleled playing comfort, making it immensely popular with professional bassists for live performance. Dream Theater’s John Myung is a long-time user of the instrument, and many consider him as one of the world’s greatest bass players. Now that’s a heck of an endorsement!

Although different pickup configurations are available, Music Man Bongo basses generally feature dual humbuckers. Delivering uncompromising power, the pickups installed in Music Man Bongo basses are made using neodymium magnets, which have a far stronger magnetic force than traditional pickup materials. In conjunction with the Bongo’s 18V active preamp, these basses have heaps of headroom and a wide dynamic range. Making them ideal for lots of styles, their 4-band EQ sections are also worthy of note; allowing you to sculpt the perfect bass sound.

Music Man Bongo - Key Features

  • Ergonomic Shape - Designed with BMW’s Designworks team; epitomises what a modern bass should be.
  • Basswood Body - Lightweight construction, perfect for live performance.
  • Rosewood Fingerboard - Adds mid-range warmth, provides smooth feel under the fingers.
  • 24 Frets - Full 2-octave range.
  • HH Neodymium Pickups - Strong magnetic force for uncompromising power.
  • Onboard 4-band EQ - Flexible control over the key areas of your bass’ tone.
  • 18V Active Preamp - Incredible headroom and a wide dynamic range.
  • Pickup Blend Control - Alternative to traditional selector switch; find the tonal sweet-spot.
  • Lightweight Tuners - Keeps the instrument balanced; not susceptible to neck-dive.

Music Man Bongo Basses on Andertons T.V.

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Music Man’s Cutlass bass harkens back to one of the brand’s early guitar shapes from the ‘70s that was originally designed by Leo Fender - the Sabre. Brought back to life and now a part of the company’s Modern Classic series, the Cutlass boasts a stylish body shape and features a pickup configuration akin to Fender’s classic P-Bass.

The Cutlass certainly has plenty of vintage charm, and with its passive electronics, it’s designed to appeal more to traditionalists than modern masters. Its control layout is also far more modest than what you’d find on most Music Man basses. Sporting just master volume and tone knobs, this instrument definitely suits plug-in-and-play bassists that prefer simplicity.

Music Man kept things traditional with the construction of the Cutlass too. With a smooth, beautifully-contoured Alder body, this classic tonewood choice ensures a balanced mid-range with punchy lows and crisp highs. Paired with a bright-sounding, bolt-on Maple neck; the Cutlass is available with either Maple or Rosewood fingerboards - the latter of which has a warmer character and a silkier feel.

Music Man Cutlass - Key Features

  • Passive Electronics - Timeless and traditional sound.
  • Lightweight Alder Body - Balanced response, perfect tonal foundation for MM offset humbucker.
  • Top-Loading Bridge - Old-school design, made from hardened steel for maximum resonance and sustain.
  • “C”-Shaped Neck Profile - A thicker and more substantial shape; similar to older Music Man models.
  • Oversized Headstock - A unique aesthetic touch, featuring classic MM logo.
Shop Music Man Cutlass Basses!

The Music Man Caprice bass is very similar to the Cutlass, and likewise is included in the brand’s Modern Classic series. With a similar body shape, the Caprice is just slightly more offset and compact - a feature that modern bassists will perhaps prefer.

With a P/J pickup configuration, the passive-powered Caprice is arguably more versatile than its Cutlass counterpart with its additional MM Inline humbucker near the bridge. Speaking of the bridge, the Caprice is equipped with the very same top-loading design found on the Cutlass; offering increased sustain with its hardened steel material. Featuring master tone and volume controls, the Music Man Caprice boasts an extra blend knob that allows you to balance the sound of the pickups.

Music Man Caprice - Key Features

  • Passive P/J Pickups - Versatile configuration with bold and traditional sound.
  • Offset & Compact Alder Body - Contemporary shape with an even tonal response.
  • Pickup Blend Control - Carefully craft the perfect bass sound.
  • Top-Loading Bridge - Old-school design, made from hardened steel for maximum resonance and sustain.
  • Oversized Headstock - A unique aesthetic touch, featuring classic MM logo.

Music Man Caprice & Cutlass Basses on Andertons T.V.

Shop Music Man Caprice Basses!

Sterling, often phrased ‘Sterling by Music Man’, is essentially Ernie Ball/Music Man’s outlet for budget-friendly instruments. Although they’re far more affordable than Music Man’s US-made instruments, Sterling basses still boast the same key features that musicians love so much about the brand's offerings.

Sterling by Music Man Basses - Key Features

  • Accessible To All - Affordable alternatives to US-made Music Man basses.
  • Classic Features - Sterling basses sport key Music Man appointments for unmistakable tones and a premium feel.
  • Trusted Music Man Quality - Produced in the Far East by highly-experienced luthiers. Carefully and proudly inspected by Music Man team in Orange, California before reaching musicians worldwide.
Shop Sterling by Music Man Basses!

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