The Sterling By Music Man Ray34 is based on the classic Ernie Ball Music Man Stingray, the legendary bass used by thousands of players and hundreds of megastars over the last 35 years or so. The Stingray is one of the most easily identifiable basses out there, with its distinctive circular pickguard, hulking humbucker and split 3/1 machine head array, but like all USA-made Music Man basses, it carries a rather large price tag. Enter Sterling By Music Man. These Indonesian-made, US set-up instruments allow players to access much of the design and tone mojo of the fully American version at a much lower price. All instruments are set up and shipped from Orange County, California. The Ray34 was introduced back in 2011, but Sterling has taken a leaf from the Music Man book of user satisfaction, offering a few limited edition, 2013-only versions: the Ray34-TWB (Translucent White Blonde) model on review here and a left-handed version in the same Natural finish as the right-handed Ray34NT model. Other available finishes are Black and Honeyburst.
GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
Whichever finish you go for, the Ray34 features an Ash body with a glossy Maple neck and a Rosewood fretboard (or a maple Fretboard on the Natural models). The nut is a narrow 38mm, but the strings fan out quite ergonomically as you travel towards the body, ending in a 19mm string-to-string spacing at the bridge. The neck joins the body via a very secure six-bolt set-up in a very tight pocket. The scale length is 34" with the strings terminating in a heavy duty Music Man designed bridge. The fretwork has improved upon the last Ray34 I reviewed (a Ray34CA model with a few different tweaks, but still in the same ballpark). That older bass's fretwork was a little messy - not enough to be a deal-breaker, but enough to notice when going over the bass for review purposes. This one is very neat. Electronics are simple but flexible: there's an SBMM Alnico-magnet humbucker pickup along with individual controls for treble, middle and bass as well as a master volume. Battery access is via a compartment in the back of the bass.
FIRST RAYS OF THE RISING SUN
I plugged the Ray34 into IK Mulimedia's AmpliTube 3 Ampeg models for testing. Much like the Ray34CA that I tested about a year ago through the same amp sim presets, the Ray34 sounded very punchy and clear, with plenty of air in the high end, a full but tight bass and a musical, woody-sounding midrange. The extra control afforded by the expanded EQ meant that I was able to summon a wider range of tones from this model: scooped mids, enhanced mids, slap-and-pop slickness, dirty gritty stoner rock, Green Day-like punk - it's all there, and all at your fingertips. This is also an exceptionally playable bass, with just enough meat on the neck to grab on to but not so much that it cramps your hand or slows you down. Whether you're looking for a bass that excels at driving eighth-notes or you're looking to wander all over the neck for more complex styles, the Ray34 will stay out of your way and let you simply play.
DON'T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN'T GOT THAT STING
The Ray34 - especially in this eye-catching Translucent White Blonde finish - is pitched perfectly as a mid-price bass that is worth the extra coin compared to an entry level bass. Y'know how some mid-priced instruments don't really seem to be that much better than entry-priced ones but they have more bling? Well that's definitely not the case here: it feels like every resource has been poured in to giving you value for money and an instrument that will keep up with you throughout your musical career.
Hits and Misses
More affordable than previous USA models.
Punch and clear tones.
Nothing worth mentioning.
Body Wood: Ash
Neck Wood: Maple
Fretboard Wood: Rosewood (TWB, HB, BK) Maple (NT)
Tuning Machines: Open
Pickups: Alnico Humbucker, SBMM
Bridge: Fixed, Sterling By Music Man Design