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Ernie Ball Music Man The Game Changer

January 30, 2014
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PICKUP WIRING PLAYS A MAJOR ROLE in the tone of an electric guitar, but changing it can be very time consuming. Imagine if you could rewire your pickup configuration on the fly and have 35 different setups available instantly. That’s what The Game Changer offers. This revolutionary guitar has a completely analog signal path with custom DiMarzio pickups that can be electrically reconfigured based on presets that you create on your computer. Select and combine pickup coils in series or parallel with the other coils, and place any of them in or out of phase. There are hundreds of thousands of possible combinations.

The presets are downloaded—individually or in banks—via USB to the guitar where they are saved digitally. Once you unplug the guitar from the computer, you select the presets using the instrument’s cleverly arranged controls. There is no modeling or DSP used on this instrument.

The Game Changer starts with an Ernie Ball Music Man Reflex guitar and is available in several configurations. The review unit was the HSH model with humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions and a single-coil in the middle. This model is also available with a piezo bridge and tremolo, as is the dual-humbucker version of the guitar. The pickup designs are different in the HH and HSH models.

 
The computerized switching system is housed within the control cavity. Power is supplied by three AA batteries.
The onboard controls are simple—a Tone pot, a Volume control, a 5-way selector, and a toggle switch. The Volume knob doubles as the Save knob, while the push-pull Tone control selects one of two preset banks (A and B). Each bank holds five pickup configurations, which you choose with the 5-way selector. The toggle switch steps through an additional 15 presets in bank Z. Guitars equipped with the piezo pickup get an additional volume control that serves as the pickup’s on/off switch when pressed.

Each preset bank can be set to active or passive output, and you can split the piezo signal from the magnetic pickup output by using a Y cable with the TRS end plugged into the guitar. The piezo Volume knob can act as a blend control for the two outputs.

In addition to the 1/4" output and USB port, the guitar has an 8-pin MIDI port for sending or receiving MIDI program and control change messages. This allows you to reconfigure your entire performance setup—amp and effects— from the guitar, or use a MIDI pedal to change presets on the guitar itself. You have to choose whether the guitar sends or receives MIDI data; it won’t do both simultaneously. The Game Changer does not send MIDI Note data, nor does it send audio over USB. The instrument would need a digital converter to do those tasks.

 
The Volume knob handles the saving of presets and the Tone control selects between preset banks A and B.
The Game Changer is surprisingly easy to program. Plug the guitar into your computer using the supplied USB cable, launch your web browser, then go to the company’s web page and click on Web App. The app immediately determines which instrument you have and which presets are loaded. Now you can reconfigure the pickup coils using a graphical interface or browse the presets in the library. If your guitar is plugged into your amp, you will hear the results immediately. Alternatively, you can use an Apple iPad with a MIDI adapter for auditioning pickup configurations offline.

Loading sounds is done with a drag-and-drop procedure, placing them in a specific bank and selector switch position. This is very helpful, because there’s no other way to tell what preset you’re currently using except by ear or by memorizing its physical position (bank A, B, or Z) on the guitar. But that’s a small price to pay for such a powerful, yet easy-to-use system.

Ultimately, it all comes down to playability and sound, and The Game Changer gets top marks in both categories. The differences between the pickup configurations are clearly audible, and it’s surprising how even a minor change in the wiring makes a major sonic difference that can lead you into certain riffs and musical styles. Whether you spend most of your time onstage or in the studio, you’ll enjoy exploring all the sounds The Game Changer has to offer. It’s one of the most inspiring guitars you’ll ever play.

 
The Web App interface showing a Steve Morse preset that has coil 4 in series with coil 3 out-of-phase.
MODEL

ERNIE BALL MUSIC MAN THE GAME CHANGER

PRICE $2,275 (as tested) to $2,345 street, depending on configuration

CONTACT ernieball.com

KUDOS Easy to program and audition sounds. Holds 35 presets. Prolevel build quality and sound.

CONCERNS Leaving the guitar plugged in drains the batteries.

SPECIFICATIONS

NUT WIDTH 1.625"

NECK Maple

FRETBOARD Maple or rosewood, 25.5" scale

FRETS 22

TUNERS Schaller M6-IND locking

BODY Chambered basswood w/mahogany tone block and maple top

BRIDGE String-through-body, w/optional tremolo and piezo versions

PICKUPS Custom DiMarzio

CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way selector, Bank select toggle

I/O Stereo ¼" output; 8-pin DIN port (for MIDI and more); USB port

FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball RPS-10 Slinky

WEIGHT 7 lbs

POWER 3 AA batteries; USB bus power when programming

BUILT USA

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