Traditionally the word Sterling refers to a particular grade of silver. A silver medal is bestowed upon second place finishers in Olympic events which, in turn, unfurls ideas of mediocrity and diminished quality upon most audiences. This last part is where the synonymy ends for Ernie Ball’s faithful subsidiary, the Sterling range. As opposed to using this arm of the empire to churn out sub-par variations on a theme, Orange County’s favourite modern guitar manufacturer clearly sees it as an opportunity to put more guitars in more hands without sacrificing any of the unmitigated finesse that players have come to expect from them. Almost every EB branded signature model has a parallel at Sterling whose price tag is rendered more wallet-friendly by several clever design adjustments and a simple shift in factories.
Assuming the St Vincent moniker, Annie Clark is easily one of the most fiercely individual players pushing the boundaries between pop, indie rock and futuristic merriment. She has channeled her meticulous attention to detail and abundant creativity into one of Ernie Ball’s most talked about builds of recent years - her very own STV60. The rubric ‘designed by a woman specifically for women’ struck a chord for female players everywhere as soon as it landed. As such, bringing out a more affordable version that doesn’t skimp on the success of the original is a huge step in the right direction. Every inch of the design is so specific to the said players’ needs, from the lightweight, narrow body shape to the fast and lean neck to the flexibility of the tonal fingerprint. The series of three mini humbuckers render an astonishingly rich mid-range focus that puts your standard Strat spank to shame while cleaning up any and every jot of ground hum and earth noise inherent in standard single coil designs. If you want high gain there’s plenty of chunk in those skinny magnets to fatten up what you’re putting down.
Invariably when a guitar is built as a diminution of a more expensive build there has to be some concession given in order to meet the price point. The success and failure of a design lies in the ingenuity of those behind the pruning shears. Given that the original design is so chock full of blissful inclusions, the Sterling version has plenty of elbowroom for streamlining without losing too much sheen. The first big difference is that the neck is two-piece rosewood on maple as opposed to the solid rosewood log of the Ernie Ball version. This means that both necks have the dark, smooth playability of that most contentious of tone woods, just one is lighter. From there only a few noticeable differences are present, but far from obvious. The pointed, unparalleled brilliance of the voicing is equal in both, as is the unbridled playability that has a hint of, ‘You weren’t expecting this much from little ol’ me, were you?’ attitude about it.
Ernie Ball, and to the same extent the Sterling line, keep the pleasant surprises coming for me. I’m constantly proven wrong when I assume that their ultra-modern visage belies little more than a shredder’s shredder. With the St Vincent design, both factories have delivered a guitar that not only serves as a game changer in the male dominated world of axe-wielding but a profoundly enjoyable, well crafted and unique ride in anyone’s hands.
Hits and Misses
Faithful rendition of its progenitor
Supremely playable neck
Not as refined as its more expensive counterpart