Music Man Cutlass RS HSS and Stingray RS - GuitarPlayer.com

Review: Music Man Cutlass RS HSS and Stingray RS

Trying to improve a proven product can always be fraught with risk, but Ernie Ball Music Man has done just that with its new Cutlass RS HSS and Stingray RS guitars.
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Trying to improve a proven product can always be fraught with risk, but Ernie Ball’s Music Man division did just that with the recent release of the 2018 Cutlass and StingRay RS models. The RS stands for “roasted,” which has become an increasingly popular manufacturing process for very understandable reasons: Heating the neck woods to a high temperature over an extended period of time drives out the moisture, and makes the material harder and more responsive to string vibration, while also imparting a deep, dark coloration to the wood that reveals the grain in often stunning fashion.

Such is the case with both models on review here, and particularly the Cutlass, with its amazingly figured maple fretboard. Both models are available with maple ’boards when ordered in Vintage Turquoise, Firemist Silver, or Vintage Sunburst. Rosewood fretboards are standard with Ivory White, Coral Red, or Charcoal Frost finishes, and the Stealth Black option gives you an ebony fretboard.

CUTLASS RS HSS

As with the original Cutlass, the new RS HSS features an alder body that couples via a bolt-on joint to a gorgeously figured maple neck. The flawless Vintage Turquoise finish dictates a maple fretboard, and the 25.5" scale, 10” radius surface also shows off the deep tiger striping of the wood. Sporting a medium-slim carve and 22 highly polished stainless-steel frets, the Cutlass’s neck has an awesome playing feel. The guitar intonates well in all positions thanks, in part, to a compensated nut—and the factory setup provides for low action that allowed only minimal string buzz when bending above the 12th fret. The Music Man Modern Tremolo is butter smooth and returns to pitch very reliably once the strings are stretched out, and the Schaller M6 locking tuners and their 4 +2 arrangement—which provides straight string path over the nut—also helps maintain tuning stability. The resonant qualities are immediately apparent when strumming the Cutlass acoustically, and you can literally feel how the roasted neck is contributing to the uncanny sense of “aliveness” that this guitar provides. I’m sure the bent-steel bridge saddles are adding something as well over the previous Cutlass, but the single biggest enhancement for 2018 was bringing roasted maple to the recipe.

Cutlass RS HSS

Cutlass RS HSS

Pickups on this guitar include a Music Man HSS-1 Custom Humbucker in the bridge position and two Music Man Custom Wound single-coils, and the controls are Volume, Tone, and a 5-way selector. Note that this guitar is available with three single-coil pickups as the Cutlass RS for $1,999 street. Both models have Music Man’s wide spectrum Silent Circuit, which provides a buffered output to minimize noise and interference, while also preserving the high-end response at all guitar volume settings. It’s powered by a 9V battery that resides in a cavity on the back with a flip-open cover that makes changing it a snap. In use, the Cutlass HSS proved to be exceptionally quiet when playing in noise-prone environments, yet it retains all the sweet, ringing character of passive single-coils, which is super cool.

The range of sounds from this guitar is impressive. The fat-sounding humbucker sounded killer though a new Sound City Master Lead 50 head as well as a ’72 Marshall 50 (both driving into a Sound City 2x12 cab), and the bluesy wail from the neck pickup was a blast when pushing through various OD pedals into a cranked-up Fender Deluxe Reverb. The middle pickup and middle-plus-bridge, middle-plus-neck settings offer a wealth of chimier tones that work perfectly for rhythm or cleaner lead playing, and what a great variety of funk tones these positions provide.

The Cutlass RS HSS underscores the utility of the hum/sing/sing pickup configuration, and everything about this guitar is so well dialed that it could easily qualify as a “desert island” solid-body for the working musician—and one that is quite fairly priced for an American-made instrument of this quality.

STINGRAY RS

Also featuring the same spec, roasted-maple neck with incredible figuring and hand-rubbed oil and wax finish, the StingRay RS differs significantly in several ways: most notably by having an offset body made from lightweight African mahogany and a pair of Music Man HH-1 custom-wound humbuckers with alnico V magnets. Our review model, with its luscious Coral Red finish, also sports a rosewood fretboard with a 25.5" scale and 22 stainless-steel frets. As with the Cutlass RS HSS, the combination of neck shape and spot-on factory setup make for a guitar that plays awesomely and sounds in tune in all regions of the fretboard. The roasted neck brings a similar liveliness to the package, however the Sting-Ray’s mahogany body and rosewood ’board steer things in a warmer direction, and, in tandem with humbuckers, this guitar has a lot of appeal if you’re aiming for fat distortion tones.

Stingray RS

Stingray RS

Played though the same Marshall, Fender, and Sound City amps, the StingRay RS proved to be a righteous rock guitar that throws down tight, badass grind from the bridge ’bucker and sustains beautifully when driving a high-gain amp or pedal. It sounds ballsy and bright in all the right ways, and just slight tweaks of the Tone control were needed to bring everything into focus with our test rigs. The neatly wired and shielded circuit doesn’t shave off highs when you turn down either, which is a good thing with humbuckers. The definition was excellent in even the most viciously overdriven settings, and the StingRay had no trouble cleaning up for crisp rhythm sounds with the Volume backed off. The neck pickup is wound perfectly for the position—it has plenty of output for singing leads, and a warm, clear voice that’s great for rhythm comping—and with both pickups active, their richly textured sound fills out the spectrum for funkier grooves and smooth melodic lines.

All in all the StingRay RS is a fab rock guitar that can cop a wide range of tones, has a great vibrato, and is well suited for all sorts of things you may not think a twin humbucker guitar would do so well.

SPECIFICATIONS

CONTACT music-man.com

Cutlass HSS RS

PRICE $2,049 street, hardshell case included (RS model with three single-coils, $1,999 street)
NUT WIDTH 1 5/8"
NECK Roasted figured maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Roasted figured maple, 25.5" scale, 10" radius (rosewood available on certain colors)
FRETS 22 high profile, medium width, stainless steel
TUNERS Schaller M6 locking
BODY Alder
BRIDGE Music Man Modern Tremolo with Vintage Bent-Steel saddles
PICKUPS Music Man HSS-1 Custom Humbucker (bridge) two Music Man Custom Wound single-coils with Music Man wide spectrum Silent Circuit.
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 5-way switch. Buffered output
FACTORY STRINGS M-Steel Hybrid Slinky .009-.046
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs.
BUILT USA
KUDOS Roasted maple neck. Excellent playability. Great trem. Impressive tonal range.
CONCERNS None.

StingRay RS

PRICE $1,999 street, hardshell case included
NUT WIDTH 1 5/8"
NECK Roasted figured maple, bolt-on
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 25.5" scale, 10" radius (roasted maple available on certain colors)
FRETS 22 high profile, medium width, stainless steel
TUNERS Schaller M6 locking
BODY African mahogany
BRIDGE Music Man Modern Tremolo with Vintage Bent-Steel saddles
PICKUPS Music Man HH-1 custom wound humbuckers
CONTROLS Volume, Tone, 3-way switch.
FACTORY STRINGS RPS-10 Slinky .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs.
BUILT USA
KUDOS Roasted maple neck. Excellent playability and sound. Great trem.
CONCERNS None.

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