In 1971, Fender employees Forrest White and Tom Walker, unhappy with the way CBS was managing the company, left their positions with Fender to start their own venture. First known as Tri-Sonic and then later Musitek, Inc., the new company eventually settled on the name of MusicMan, Inc. by 1974. The company began producing a hybrid tube-solid state amplifier co-designed by Tom Walker and Leo Fender, who was participating as a silent partner to the firm due to a "no compete" clause in the sales contract Fender had signed when he sold his original company to CBS in 1965. After the clause expired in 1975, he was made president of MusicMan, Inc., and by 1976 his consulting firm CLF Research had begun producing instruments bearing the MusicMan name.
Designed by Fender, Walker and Sterling Ball (Sterling was a beta tester for the instrument), the StingRay bass appeared in 1976 and, though physically similar to a Fender Precision Bass, was a highly innovative instrument. It employed a "soapbar" humbucking pickup and an active pre-amp powered by a 9-volt battery. The early versions had 2-band EQ (i.e., bass and treble controls), and the range was later augmented by the addition of a 3 band EQ (bass, mid and treble) model, and then piezo pickups located in the bridge became an option with the 3-band model. The StingRay's 3-band equalization system was highly innovative; making it possible to boost midrange frequencies as well as low and high, something which had not been possible on basses without active preamps. Along with its electronic advancements, the StingRay had physical attributes that set it apart from other Fender-inspired designs, such as a heavy satin finish on the back of the neck to allow players' hands to slide effortlessly up and down during play, a symmetrical egg-shaped pickguard and separate chromed "boomerang" control plate, and its distinctive "3+1" headstock (on which three tuning machines are situated on the top and one on the bottom) made it an instantly recognizable and distinguishable instrument.
Early models have through-body stringing at the bridge, which is fitted with adjustable string mutes. Later models omit both features, except for the 30th Anniversary model of 2006, which uses the string-through-body design and features a solid mahogany body finished in a Crimson Red Transparent finish.
Later advancements on the StingRay included a 5-string version (the StingRay 5), which has a 3-way blade switch that allows the player to split the humbucking pickup's coils, and a unique truss-rod neck adjustment system that incorporated a Teflon washer which made it highly resistant to rust and corrosion and made adjusting the neck of a StingRay relatively easy.
In the early 2000s a budget version of the StingRay known as the S.U.B. was produced, featuring a textured body finish and diamond plate pickguard. This model was discontinued in 2007 due to rising production costs.
In 2005, two-pickup versions of the StingRay (known as "HH" and "HS") were introduced, following the success of the Bongo Bass, one of Ernie Ball's latest bass designs, designed by Sterling Ball, Ernie's son and now CEO of Ernie Ball. This dual-pickup version includes a 5-way switch, allowing the user to select different combinations of pickup coils and thus greatly increasing the diversity of available tones. The dual-pickup configuration was also adopted on the StingRay 5 and the Sterling that same year.
After the discontinuation of the S.U.B, more marketing emphasis was placed on licensed OLP budget versions of the StingRay 4, Stingray 5, StingRay 4 HH, and StingRay 5 HH. However as of 2009 the entire OLP brand has been retired. Since then, the Ernie Ball produced Sterling by Music Man range of mid-priced basses and guitars have been introduced (not to be confused with the Music Man Sterling bass guitar). The Ray 34 (four string), and Ray 35 (five string), are offered at nearly half the price of their Music Man counterparts.
StingRays are generally known for the punch of their sound, making them very suitable for rock/funk applications and excellent for slapping, and for being of extremely high build quality. The 6-bolt neckplate is an example of this. The neck is also quite wide, especially compared to that of Fender Jazz Bass-type models (although a neck with a narrower nut was optional in the 70s), as well as having the above-mentioned truss-rod adjustment mechanism that allows players to adjust the truss-rod without removing the neck. Some users have also noticed an audible difference in volume between the lower three strings (E, A, D) and the highest G string, with the G string suffering from a lack of volume - conversely many users do not experience this, and recordings demonstrate an even volume across the strings, suggesting EQ choice in a live setting may be responsible. This problem has not been observed in 5-string StingRays.
Read more about this topic: Music Man Sting Ray
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