Review: Music Man Sterling StingRay Short Scale SS4 Bass

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Review: Music Man Sterling StingRay Short Scale SS4 Bass

Words by By Christopher Hockey

Music Man Sterling StingRay Short Scale SS4 Bass | CMC Music | RRP: $1795

I’ve always had a soft spot for short scale basses. There’s something about all that low end coming out of such a compact instrument that is eternally satisfying and almost feels like it shouldn’t be possible. The lower string tension gives them a distinctly looser feel when compared to a standard scale bass, something that classic players such as Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce and Bill Wyman all famously used to their advantage.

Needless to say, I was very excited to hear that Music Man’s affordable import line, Sterling, was releasing a short scale version of the brand’s iconic StingRay model, a bass that has been beloved by players for its unmistakable look and punchy sound since 1976. The SS4 is Sterling’s first ever short scale model, and it doesn’t fail to deliver as a fantastic new iteration of this classic design.

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For Bass aficionados, the StingRay is nothing short of iconic, prized for its aggressive tone and prominent midrange-a sound which was utilised to great effect, perhaps and famously by revered RHCP bassist Flea during the band’s artistic peak. Now, players such as myself who favour the compact playability of a short scale instrument, can get that same unmistakable StingRay tone in a more comfortable package, and at an affordable price to boot.

With this release, Sterling have nailed the high quality craftsmanship and massive sound that Music Man basses are known for, and all at a more accessible price point. Good news indeed for those who have always wanted a StringRay but haven’t quite had the budget to pull the trigger on one thus far.

The 30” scale and natural matte finish allows you to glide up and down with unparalleled ease, allowing you to push the limits of your fretting hand with the busiest lines you can muster, even if your digits are a little on the titchy side.
Aside from the shorter scale and more compact body, seasoned StingRay slingers will also quickly make note of another interesting change to this classic bass. Music Man has chosen to omit the active pickup in this model, forgoing the inclusion of a preamp and instead favouring a simple passive pickup. Players who prefer the purer vintage tone and touch sensitivity of passive pickups will be delighted with this change, but if you’re a fan of the aggressive zing that Stingrays are known for, fear not.

Although passive, the humbucking pickup in the SS4 sounds no less powerful than its active predecessor. This is largely due to the inclusion of Music Man’s innovative Neodymium pickup magnets. Compared to more traditional magnets such as Alnico, Neodymium possesses a stronger magnetic force, meaning that they generate a much stronger signal without needing to be as highly wound. Whilst this force is generally too excessive to be used for six string guitars, it is perfect for the big dense strings of a bass and helps to create the huge, clear sound that this model exhibits.

Complementing and expanding upon the Sterling SS4’s core sound are the three powerfully effective on-board controls. The volume control is as smooth and linear as one could hope, and includes the incredibly useful feature of a push/pull boost function. I found this to be a particularly exciting addition. Having such a powerful volume boost at your fingertips creates an opportunity for dramatic uses of dynamics on stage and is perfect for players who need an extra kick in certain sections or solos in a band setting. Upon discovering this tool I immediately lamented not having had it at my disposal before, thinking back to all the big moments in songs I could have accentuated perfectly with a simple movement of my hand.

The middle control on the SS4 is a three-way rotary selector. This brilliant function allows players to switch between three unique pickup modes with ease, making this bass extremely versatile for a single-pickup instrument. The first mode is the classic ‘series’ mode, providing the massive, balanced and clear humbucking sound the StingRay is revered for. The second position is a coil tap, creating a more refined, lower output ‘single coil’ sound more appropriate for old school bass tones. Finally, the third position on the rotary switch engages the ‘parallel’ mode, emitting a warmer sound with a bit less edge and more of a bump in the low mids.

The third and final control on the SS4 is a traditional tone knob, which effectively rolls off the zingy top end that the StingRay is known for in a pleasantly linear fashion. All in all, these three controls make it easier than ever for bassists to sculpt their tone on the fly, enabling them to find their place in any mix without having to rely on EQ pedals or other fiddly devices.

In retrospect the StingRay seems to have been crying out for a short scale iteration. The darker tone of a short scale bass, caused by a lack of upper harmonics, perfectly balances out the generous midrange and biting top end of the classic model without nullifying it. The lower tension allows players to indulge in more bending and vibrato than ever before, a factor that will likely be appealing to fans of the StingRay, which has long been associated with more aggressive and modern styles of playing.

The slinky playability of the neck, combined with the smaller body and wonderfully versatile tonal options of this instrument make it an excellent choice for beginners and experts alike. A small bass with a huge sound, the SS4 is somewhat of a marvel. If you’re looking for an affordable short scale bass that isn’t short on punch, this new offering from Sterling is a fantastic choice.

For more information, head to Sterling by Musicman. For local enquiries check out CMC Music.