The ‘Music Man’ portion of the Ernie Ball Music Man name was a company founded by Leo Fender in 1974, and the earliest bass and guitar models were new instruments that showed an evolution from what Leo had designed before. Since then - and especially under the guidance of Ernie Ball - the company has taken things pretty far from those original design styles, but they bring it right on back with the Cutlass. Available in EBMM and the more affordable Sterling By Music Man models, the Cutlass is a bolt-on, three-single-coil guitar that feels a little more ‘Leo’ than anything EBMM has released in years.
The Sterling Cutlass is made of basswood with the standard EBMM 5-bolt neck joint leading to a hard maple neck with rosewood fingerboard on the Three-Tone Sunburst and Fiesta Red models (maple is available on the Black, Seafoam Green and Olympic White versions). There are 22 frets and a flattish 12” fretboard radius, giving this guitar a little more modern feel. There are locking tuners (four on the bass side, two on the treble) and a two-point fulcrum vintage-style tremolo, and a five-way pickup selector switch with a master volume and a master tone control. The pickups are a trio of vintage-voiced single coils with a reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup for hum-cancelling operation in positions two and four.
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the Cutlass is its super-comfortable neck profile. It forms a soft V shape at the headstock end which orients your hand very comfortably for extended periods of first-position chording, but flattens out to a softer curve as you progress towards the higher notes. Along the whole way it’s a little thinner than you might expect from a guitar that looks like this. In fact, it almost reminds me of the necks on EBMM’s John Petrucci models. Sonically, this is certainly a vintage-voiced guitar: the three single coils have plenty of spank and quack, leaning more towards the 1950’s ideal of clarity and definition rather than the darker, fatter 60’s style. This gives you plenty of edge and bite when you’re playing with medium or high gain, and an acoustic-like zing when playing clean. All five pickup selections are quite usable but the neck pickup setting sounds particularly bell-like; many players might find themselves using this one most of all.
This is an extremely playable, great-sounding guitar with just enough of its own personality to set it aside from the legion of similar-looking SSS guitars out there. EBMM and Sterling By Music Man have been able to put their own spin on a classic design without alienating their own fans, or fans of guitar history.
Hits and Misses
Comfortable ‘soft V’ neck carve
Two tone controls would be nice