When I’m not assailing you, dear reader, with seemingly endless dross in these hallowed pages, I spend my days gainfully employed at your friendly, local guitar store. More often than not when people venture into Bass Corner, down towards the back of the shop, they pick up the P-Bass or Thunderbird that we have safely nestled back there and do their best Flea impersonation. Now, while Leo Fender’s Precision may be one of the most recorded basses in music history, these people are cruelly overlooking a machine that is much more suited to that particular style of playing: the Ernie Ball StingRay, whose honking high mid-range vivacity and balance sits perfectly in the pocket of the more percussive elements of modern music. While they may not sit well with the snobby, classic-rock crowd, there is more than enough colour in the StingRay to render it a welcome addition to any collection. Sterling pays tribute to the mainstay of the So-Cal revolution with their Ray 34.
Everything about the Sterling Ray 34 is cut from the same cloth as Ernie Ball’s flagship low-rider. The body is the familiar, super contoured, hip friendly shape and the hardware is the same hefty, rolled steel. The iconic oval shaped pick guard is bolted in place with the same cavalier attitude and for all intents and purposes, it’s as exact an imitation as the price point affords. The patented three-way EQ system, which is driven by active circuitry, is as wide and as malleable as in the original design and offers everything from rolled off woof to out of phase papery thinness to jagged, stabbing treble. Save for a few trade secrets, almost no quarter has been given in tribute to the original.
The StingRay has always been an achingly simple design as far as bass guitars are concerned. You almost always have a single pickup doing all the heavy lifting and, in the active models at least, three knobs render the trio of EQ segments either boosted or cut depending on your mood. From there it’s pretty simply a case of ultimate scale length carrying the note for days. Having said that, you would assume that trimming the fat for the sake of saving pennies would be a next to impossible task, insomuch as there is next to no fat to trim in the first place. Whether it’s simply by virtue of the reduced cost of labour in the different factory or some unseen concession in parts; there is almost no evidence of how they’ve done it. It is abundantly clear when you first pick it up that as faithful renditions of proven designs go, Sterling have raised the bar as much as they have dropped the RRP.
To a point, there’s nothing particularly original about Sterling’s Ray 34. Simply put, it’s a StingRay for people who haven’t yet saved up enough for the Ernie Ball version. That is by no means a derogatory statement though; it’s not a paltry facsimile of the original as much as it is an affordable variation on a theme. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the all American workhorse that The Music Man built must be blushing.
Hits and Misses
Conscious of its lineage
An ultimately affordable, working player’s bass
Feels a little undercooked around the edges