Review: Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen

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Review: Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen

Music Man Kaizen
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen | CMC Music | RRP - see your local Ernie Ball Music Man dealer

The Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen is, literally and figuratively, a lot to unpack. Designed in conjunction with Tosin Abasi, of Animals As Leaders fame, the Kaizen is a streamlined, modern design that harnesses Abasi’s contemporary take on guitar overall. Building off of Abasi’s expansive catalogue of music that pushes music, guitar, syncopation and rhythm forward, it only makes sense to equip him with an instrument that can keep up, and who better to collaborate with than Ernie Ball Music Man, who’s artist roster spans the entire world of guitar. If anyone can deliver, it’s them.

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Tosin Abasi

Tosin Abasi started Animals As Leaders and the debut, self-titled album was recorded in 2009 by Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, and Animals As Leaders exploded onto the international scene. Their sound expanded beyond metal, incorporating Abasi’s experience with jazz, fusion and rock, and Abasi is widely known as an avid player of 7 and 8-string guitars. This gave way to a range of uniquely spec’d guitars, experiments and successes, with all of this culminating in the Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen.

Tosin Abasi

The Kaizen is an alder-bodied electric, featuring a “decidedly contoured” body, multi-scale fretboard and unique “infinity radius” fretboard that is intended to provide better visibility of the fretboard from any playing position. The Kaizen includes a pair of Music Man humbuckers, Music Man multi-scale bridge and Steinberger gearless locking tuners.

Music Man Kaizen specs

The Kaizen is a multi-scale electric, meaning the fretboard has varying scale lengths for a more ergonomic playing experience. The closer to the low E side of the fretboard you get, the more your hand splays out, and the multi-scale helps to place frets in a position that feels more natural to an open (or closed at the higher strings) hand. The multi-scale fretboard shifts from 24.75″ on the low side to 25.5” on the high-side for six string versions, and the 7-string version we’re reviewing here is 25.65 on the low B string. To ensure everything tunes and intonates correctly, the Kaizen has an angled (and covered) multi-scale Music Man tremolo bridge, while the neck pickup is a slanted mini-humbucker to help keep the tone balanced. The bridge pickup is a Music Man designed custom HT (Heat Treated) humbucker, notably one of the hottest pickups on the market, while managing to retain startling clarity in the low end. Perfect for emulating Tosin’s unique ‘thump’ technique.

A three-way switch controls the two humbuckers, switching between either, or a custom middle position gives a split coil of each pickup wired in parallel. The electronics are isolated thanks to a graphite acrylic resin coated body cavity, and coupled spring dampeners in the bridge, do their bit to keep the entire guitar hum, resonance and overtones free for a truly clean and clear tone.

Music Man Kaizen 2

The alder body is covered in a satin finish, in this case Apollo Black, and a roasted figured maple neck and ebony fretboard complete the bulk of the construction. The Kaizen is also available in a metallic Indigo Blue, Mint or Chalk White. Steinberger Locking Gearless tuners make for a smooth and super accurate tuning experience. Similar to banjo-style tuners, the mechanism and tuning itself felt stable, even with repeated expression on the tremolo bridge.

Multi-scale guitars

The body carve, shape, cutaways and multi-scale design all speak to the ergonomic focus of the Kaizen. It all feels very easy, notes from any fret just spilling off the fretboard, the infinity radius somehow seeming to bend space and time, allowing you to see what you’re doing from just about any angle. Even for those unfamiliar with multi-scale guitars, myself included, all of a sudden the multi-scale design makes sense. Guitars with straight, normal frets (boring) feel clunky and difficult to wrap my hands around. The multi-scale design makes fretting complicated chords, bigger stretches and intervals easier, with lead lines easily leading from one note to another.

The pickups themselves offer clarity and depth, the low-end feeling controlled and teetering on the edge of being too much, but settling themselves into a comfortable position. Even for six string players, the seventh string didn’t go astray, the Kaizen inspiring much more than just bottom-string riffs. Little additions like the satin finish, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed special wax blend neck finish and stainless steel frets make for subtle but welcome additions to playability, and the multi-scale design, robust Music Man tremolo and Steinberger locking tuning machines keep the whole instrument in tune.

The Kaizen is a meeting of minds of sorts, Abasi’s forward thinking designs, contemporary style and a technique that pushes guitar playing forward, while Ernie Ball Music Man are steeped in history, with the tools at their disposal to create something like the Kaizen. Taking some classic designs like mini humbuckers, tremolo bridges and … well that’s about it for the Kaizen. But then combining those assets with modern technology and innovation like stainless steel frets, multi-scale fretboards, an “infinity radius” and ergonomic thinking behind the body shape and layout, Music Man have truly broken new ground with the Kaizen. It’s a futuristic looking guitar that somehow feels familiar, comfortable, and refined all at once, harnessing the best of decades of electric guitar innovation, and a sprinkle of whatever magic Tosin Abasi manages to impart onto everything he does.

For local enquiries, visit CMC Music.