Reviewed: Ernie Ball Music Man James Valentine ‘Valentine’ Guitar

CMC Music | cmcmusic.com.au | Expect To Pay: $4895

Ernie Ball Music Man has long been regarded for making ‘players’ guitars. They are a guitar manufacturer that never shies away from breaking new ground, always tapped into the way people play and the guitarists that matter. With a history of pioneering, player-endorsed design that spans over 40 years, Music Man has developed signature models for the likes of Steve Morse, Eddie Van Halen, Albert Lee, John Petrucci and St. Vincent. With the James Valentine ‘Valentine’ guitar – an instrument made to meet the playing demands and design brief of the modern Maroon 5 guitarist – this proud lineage of Music Man signature guitars continues.

The body shape, construction and overall aesthetic of the Valentine draw from a Gibson 335 and a Tele. The ash body and high gloss polyester finish (the reviewer’s is Trans Maroon colour) make for a simply stunning guitar. It’s complemented by a roasted maple neck and fingerboard, both of which exude a rich earthiness that’s easy on the eye. While drawing on traditional design points, the Valentine is very much underlined by a modern sophistication and flair. The slab body is tapered and thus, slightly thinner at the top than it is at the bottom. The result is a compact shape that hugs your body, and feels lightweight and sleek. This level of comfort is then mirrored by a C-shape, 10-inch radius neck, finished with an oil and wax rub that delivers a smooth playing experience. Rounding out the guitar’s construction is a Music Man Modern hardtail bridge, locking tuners and an oversized 4-over-2 headstock, all of which provide exceptional tuning stability.

 

With a custom single-coil, Tele-style bridge pickup and a custom humbucker neck pickup, this guitar offers tons of tonal versatility. On board is a three-way custom wired level switch, tone and volume controls (both of which have an extra kicker, which I’ll get to later). Across the board the tonal quality of this guitar is very responsive, lively and sonically rich. When working on the bridge pickup brighter frequencies come to the fore – with extra tone you can really make chords pop and bounce. It dials in on funky and jazzy tones with ease, and there’s no doubt that Music Man have done a wonderful job in producing a guitar that captures Valentine’s versatile style. The middle pickup is similarly sweet, but with a rounder body. Then we have the neck pickup, which offers greater breadth on the low-end and rich low and mid frequencies. There’s enough depth here to clearly articulate clean open chords, or to conversely purr and pulse when dialling in a hotter crunch. Extending the guitar’s tonal capabilities is a push/push volume control that offers a 20dB active boost, and instant overdrive. Then we have the push/push passive tone for coil splitting. This makes moving between warmer and hotter tones a breeze, the electronics on board the Valentine a truly rewarding feature.

 

For a signature guitar to be successful, it needs to fully engage with the guitarist at hand while remaining open to a diverse range of players. This is what Music Man has achieved with the Valentine – a guitar that is expressive and vibrant. From rock to pop, jazz, funk and anything in between, the Valentine boasts the tone to make it happen.

 

Hits and Misses

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Push/push level and tone controls

Humbucker and single-coil pickups

Sleek and slender design

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Not a damn thing

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