In 1976, Music Man introduced what became its signature bass, the StingRay. With its quirky rounded features, egg-shaped pickguard, and chunky steel hardware, they were built to last and look good.
The bass gained a reputation for its tonal versatility; with dynamics ranging from punchy growls to thunderous low end, it had something to offer people who played virtually any style of music. It was the first to feature Music Man’s active humbucker pickup, which ran into an on-board 3-band EQ and gave the player a ton of control right within the instrument.
The catch? A $2,299.00 price point. Until now.
This year Sterling by Music Man—the import line of Ernie Ball Music Man—has released a series of more affordable yet aesthetically identical StingRay options, offering bassists a way to get the sound of the StingRay for less than half the cost of the original. And since we know you’re wondering, yes, they offer the same alternative for the St. Vincent model.
I feel pretty lucky that the first time I heard one of these basses on a stage, it was being played by a bassist in a stoner metal band. My jaw hit the floor when I heard how beefy and clear it sounded. I’d never heard a bass bring that kind of sub power, and I’d never seen that pickup before—I was hooked. Now that I’ve got my hands on the Ray24CA, my mission is (obviously) to recreate that wall of bass.
First Thing’s First: The Active Pickup
The first thing to work with is the active pickup, powered by a 9v battery contained in a slot in the back. That ensures that plenty of signal leaves the guitar, and it means that less of the sound—from high end to low end—is lost between your bass and amp. It interacts with your pedals in a different way, too; it’s run into an active 2-band EQ (treble and bass), which allows you to cut but also boost where you see fit.
More Midrange and Fuller Tone
When I heard the StingRay through my amp for the first time, I could already tell it had much more midrange and a fuller tone than I had anticipated, which was rad! Its pickup makes an awesome difference compared to the passive sound I’m used to. You have so much more to work with, both in volume and frequency, and it feels like a force to be reckoned with.
When it came to my mission of creating a wall of sound, I had some luck with turning the middle knob (which controls the treble of the active EQ) all the way down, and then bringing it back in just a bit. It gives the tone more body but tightens up the sound when you’re playing lower notes, where the mids can get a little muddy. I boosted the low band because I can never get enough, and the tone ended up round but present. The pick attack was crystal clear, and the clarity gave it punch and balance with controlled low end.
Lightweight, Comfort, and Ease
The Ray24CA is comfortable, easy to play, and comes in Butterscotch and 3-tone Sunburst. It’s a great choice for beginners, but also for dancing around your room while rippin’ sweet Wye Oak bass lines. It’s lightweight and well made, and it came set up with low action that made it easy to fly around on the frets and play for hours. These days, I’m practicing on it for fun because I don’t want to set it down.
At $500, the Sterling Ray24CA is a powerful option at an excellent price, making it accessible and desirable for a wide range of players of any experience level. However, to unlock the full potential of this instrument requires knowing how to finagle EQ to shape your tone. That might be a lot to take on if you’re new to playing, but the potential is there. If you’re willing to take the time to learn, it only gets better. The bass provides a great opportunity to learn how to dial in the sound of your instrument. If you take the time to do it, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing tone when you find that sweet spot that suits your music best.