Ernie Ball/Music Man Steve Morse SM-Y2D

Ernie Ball/Music Man celebrates 20 years of having Steve Morse as a signature artist with the introduction of the Steve Morse SM-Y2D—a revamped, high-end version of the original Morse Signature, which is still in production. Legendary for his ability to handle a variety of styles with accuracy and precision, Morse’s resume includes a dazzling body of solo work, fusion forays with the Dixie Dregs, a late ’80s stint with the prog outfit Kansas, and his ongoing tenure as Ritchie Blackmore’s replacement with heavy-rock icons Deep Purple. Morse’s original Signature model was based on his “Frankenstein” Stratocaster/Telecaster hybrid, and it has earned a reputation for being an easy player with chameleon-like tonal capabilities. The SM-Y2D follows this tradition, while adding a few new twists.
Publish date:
Updated on

The Color Purple

The SM-Y2D is bold, beautiful, and, well, purple. Also available in Tobacco Sunburst and De-Purple Burst, the standard color (Purple Sunset) covers a majestic range of dark and light hues that radiate over the pillow-like patterns of the curly maple top (flame maple is also available). The clear plastic pickgaurd allows the translucent finish to shine through and provide contrast to the purple bobbins of the Steve Morse Signature DiMarzio pickups. All of this purple—plus the golden signature on the pickups—may be a bit much for some, but the instrument’s general vibe is classy.

Air Guitar

Playing the SM-Y2D hints at what it must feel like walking on the moon. The thin neck—which measures 1j" deep at the 7th fret—makes it easy to form fingerings that would be tough to grab on a thicker neck. The 22 wide, high-profile frets are smooth and uniform, and the fretboard is naturally fast with a low-action factory setup. The neck even feels broken in because Music Man took digital measurements of the guitar Morse has been playing for 20 years, and applied those nuances to the SM-Y2D’s neck shape. The SM’s poplar body has no contours, but it’s so thin and well balanced that it doesn’t need them. Resting on a knee in a seated position, the guitar stays put, and, in a standing position, it hangs evenly. I found the 4+2 tuner arrangement a bit inconvenient, but it’s probably a matter of getting used to it.

Tonal Versatility

The Volume and Tone knobs are well placed for on-the-go action, as Morse likes to work the latter control with his pinky to create wah-like effects. The Volume control is also configured to maintain a bright, consistent sound throughout its entire rotation. The single 5-way pickup selector on the SM-Y2D offers much more straightforward control than the dual 3-way switches found on the original Steve Morse Signature, which has one extra slanted single-coil pickup in the middle position. (“I didn’t use that pickup onstage,” says Morse, “and only rarely for soft rhythms in the studio.”)

Tested through a Marshall Mark II head and 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion 25-watt greenbacks, a JBL-loaded Fender Twin, and a new Fender Super-Sonic combo with a single Celestion Vintage 30, the SM delivered an exceptional range of quality tones. The bridge position humbucker is bright enough to make harmonics ring, low notes sing, and power chords punch without being overbearing in the treble department. Selector position two adds the single-coil, and this combination works well for a clean twang with a warm midrange emphasis. Position three is the single-coil alone, and while it’s rather wimpy compared to the other settings, this is by design so that the player can instantly switch to a lower-gain, lower-volume accompaniment setting with plenty of high-end clarity. Position four does not combine the single-coil with the neck humbucker as expected. Instead, it activates both humbuckers for a rather neutral clean sound. The neck pickup works well for upper register rock solos through a high-gain amp, or for clean tones that have a darker, jazzy vibe. Regardless of what pickup combinations you select, the SM-Y2D always delivers a refined sound that strikes a great balance between bite and brawn.

Morse code

Playing the SM-Y2D is akin to driving a quick-handling sports car that goes from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye. This instrument excels at smooth, sophisticated tones that work well for melodic metal, country, and contemporary jazz, and it has the tonal options to be driven in myriad other stylistic directions that call for a sleek machine. A guitar that beginners and intermediate players willappreciate for its easy playability and tonal flexibility, the SM-Y2D is custom made for technique- oriented types (such as Steve Morse) who will revel in the astonishing array of tones it puts at their fingertips. What a stunning guitar!