One step down from the US-made Music Mans, two steps up from the OLP imports, the Sterling series are great working guitars at the right price. Review by Martyn Casserly
If you’ve ever had the chance to play a USA Music Man guitar, you’ll know just how good they are – light in weight, with big tones and necks that are arguably the best in the business. You’ll also know that they cost a fair few bob, but the new Sterling by Music Man guitars sit in the mid-price range, share many of the appointments with their high-class siblings, and look like dead ringers.
The JP50 is based on Dream Theater‘s lead guitarist John Petrucci‘s high-end JP6 signature guitar. The basswood body is finished in a fetching pearl redburst and bears the Petrucci-designed forearm contour. Again five screws fix the maple neck to the body, but this time there’s a rosewood fingerboard with 24 frets.
The custom Petrucci neck carve feels like a modern Strat‘s C shape, but with a flatter back. It’s a fast, spacious playing surface – a dream for technical shredders. The non-locking Sterling Modern Trem and chrome locking tuners keep things nice and solid. Two high output humbuckers provide the sounds and are controlled via a three-way selector switch and volume and tone controls.
With most of Petrucci‘s playing involving distortion, overdrive and processing effects, the JP50 is voiced for clarity and power. On the clean side, the tone seems a little lacking in depth or real warmth: not bad, not bad at all, but if you’re looking for plummy Hendrix cleans then maybe you’ll have to work on your amp settings, though for shimmering notes in the middle of hard-rock epics, the JP50‘s your man.
With distortion, though, the clarity that may have robbed the guitar of personality now becomes the thing that releases it. Powerchords sound open and vengeful with a strident tone that’s both defined and aggressive. The neck has percussive bite and depth that make low-string riffing and chugging a joy. Drop D tuning only adds to the fun, and the E and A string sound huge and growly.
The well-judged neck profile allows for flowing runs and string-skipping escapades, aided by the ever-willing bridge pickup with its hard edge and brash, biting tone. The sustain is impressive, helped by the very firm five-bolt join and the hot pickups.
Music Man could be on to a winner. The Sterlings are instantly playable, sound good, and at under 600 they'll have a few other makers looking nervously over their shoulders. The AX40 is an out-and-out ballsy rock guitar giving chunky tones and screaming leads, with a neck that assists your playing rather than battling you. The single colour option might be a stumbling block, but hopefully Music Man will eventually expand the range. The JP50 is an impressive instrument with simple lines, powerful pickups and a thin/flat carved neck that encourages a more technical approach. You can dig in and thrash about, but you'll find that a more controlled and tempered playing style really brings the best out of the guitar - and quite possibly out of the player, too. Music Man has made professional-level instruments for a long time now, but at last there's an option for your average working musician. The Sterlings are the kind of guitars you can buy, beat up on stage without panicking about the resale value, and really grow to love. We'll take two.