Music Man Ball Family Reserve Steve Lukather Model
Steve Lukather has been a good friend of the GP family for years—and he recently logged his third consecutive year as a judge for the magazine’s annual Guitar Hero competition—but if his signature guitar sucked, we’d publish the news without guilt or reservation. That’s our job. Of course, it’s easy to be a macho journalist when the guitar in question, the Ball Family Reserve Lukather Model ($3,500 retail/$2,450 street), is a superb example of guitarcraft. In addition, the stunning Lukather isn’t just a signature model in name only.
“If you buy a model off the wall, its setup is exactly the same as my personal guitar,” says Lukather, who was recovering from his 50th birthday celebration when I called. “The neck was precisely modeled after my favorite guitar neck—the one on the Valley Arts Robot that was my main guitar from 1983 to 1995—by [Ernie Ball’s] Dudley Gimpel. The pickups are EMGs, because I love them—they’re very versatile, and they’ve got a lot of meat to ’em.”
Now, I don’t know a Steve Lukather setup from an Elvis Costello setup, but I do know that this guitar feels wonderful the second you cradle it in your hands. The slim, satin-finished, V-contour maple neck (attached to the body with five bolts) and rosewood fretboard almost beg you to unleash frenzied note fusillades, or just sit down and write a song. From the nut to the bridge to the 22 polished frets, there are no sharp edges anywhere, and the 8.1-lb body (alder with a mahogany tone block) feels comfy whether you’re sitting or standing. The Music Man vintage tremolo is very responsive, and it absorbs at least a song’s worth of abusive wanking without going too far out of tune. Other features include Schaller M6-IND locking tuners, a 25w"-scale neck, a book-matched maple top, a 5-way pickup selector, single Volume and Tone knobs (25k ohms), two EMG SLV single-coils and an EMG-85 humbucker, and active electronics with an easy-access battery compartment.
With its hum-sing-sing pickup armament, the Lukather is designed to deliver a wide spectrum of tonal colors. I knocked back to the humbucker for a pop-punk raunch, flipped to positions 2 and 4 for a taste of Knopfler-esque bell tones, and used the neck single-coil for some chunk-heavy blues and hard-rock work. Whether run clean, overdriven, or massively saturated, the Lukather exhibits excellent clarity without sacrificing vibe. Lukather himself acknowledges that not every guitarist embraces active pickups, but this arrangement never sounded cold, clinical, or too “clean.” The only weirdness is that the output of the middle and neck pickups is a bit less than the bridge pickup, and the bridge pickup seems to sit pretty low under the strings. [Dudley Gimpel states, “The guitar is set up this way because that’s the way Luke likes it. The EMGs are pretty potent, and the bridge pickup has considerably more output than the neck and middle, so the height difference helps dial in some balance. It’s easy to raise the pickups closer to the strings using washers as shims if that’s desired by the user.”] While the Lukather gets me as close to playing Luke’s guitar as I’ll ever get, I was disappointed that it didn’t help me play as fabulously heroic as he does. Arrggh. But, at least, it helped me play much better Molenda stuff, and I guess that holding a guitar that makes you play better is one helluva victory.
Kudos Beautiful construction. A delight to play. Versatile tones.
Concerns Lukather’s pick-up arrangement makes the middle and neck single-coils noticeably lower in volume than the bridge pickup.
Contact Ernie Ball Music Man, (800) 543-2255; ernieball.com
Music Man Ball Family Reserve John Petrucci 6 Signature
Co-designed by Dream Theater’s shred-eriffic guitarist, the John Petrucci 6 ($3,999 retail/$2,799 street) is a high-end instrument with the tone-enhancing feature of a mahogany block that runs inside the alder body from bridge to neck pocket. The 252"-scale mahogany neck is gripped in a razor-tight 5-bolt joint and features a rosewood board with 24 polished, high-profile frets. The shield-style pearl position markers look classy, and the short headstock with its 4+2 tuner arrangement helps keep the instrument at a compact 37" length. The “C”-shaped neck plays amazingly easy—though fans of vintage “baseball bat” necks will probably find it too thin—and the slick fulcrum vibrato bridge is buttery smooth, light to the touch, and stays in tune very well.
The Petrucci’s electronics include two humbuckers and an active piezo bridge system. A Magnetic/Stereo jack is provided for sending a blend of passive magnetic and buffered piezo signals via a TRS-enabled cable (not included). There’s also a Piezo/Mono jack that can deliver either a mix of mag and buffered piezo signals (when a mono cable is connected) or a piezo-only signal when you’ve got a separate mono cable connected to the Magnetic/Stereo out (in which case it provides only a passive mag signal). The 3-way pickup selector gives you a choice of neck humbucker, inside coils of both pickups (in series or parallel via the push-pull Tone pot), or bridge humbucker. A Mode switch on the upper horn provides magnetic, piezo, or “both” selections. You also get Volume and Tone knobs for the magnetic pickups and a separate Volume control for the piezo pickup.
Sonically, the Petrucci is extremely cool. The piezo sound is very warm and free from plasticy artifacts, and the magnetic pickups offer a surprisingly broad spectrum of sounds. In particular, the middle setting absolutely sparkles with the coils in parallel, while the blended magnetic and piezo sounds are amazing in their richly detailed stereo presentation. If you want big tones from a multi-amp rig, the John Petrucci 6 is a most worthy starting point.
Kudos Superlative quality. Huge spectrum of cool tones. Excellent vibrato. Perfectly setup for fast fingering.
Concerns Ultra-thin neck will be an issue for some players.
Contact Ernie Ball Music Man, (800) 543-2255; ernieball.com