The guitars of the Ernie Ball/Music Man Company generally cater to “guitarist’s guitarists,” that is, those fretboard virtuosos we all stand in awe of. Over the years, players who’ve lent their names at one time or another to Music Man axes include Steve Morse, Eddie Van Halen (now with Peavey), Steve Lukather, Albert Lee, and John Petrucci, all of whom are musicians with chops to burn. The guitarmaker recently sent a Steve Morse Model and Silhouette Special for us to check out. Let’s have a look at their “awe” factor.
At first glance, the Silhouette Special looks very similar to a Fender guitar (Leo Fender was closely affiliated with Music Man in the ’70s), but the similarities are limited. Yes, both axes have a 251/2″-scale neck and, like some Strats, alder bodies, but this Music Man handles like more of a sleek, modern Lamborghini to Fender’s retro ’58 T-Bird. A spin around the block on the Silhouette makes you want to play all day long – this guitar is setup perfectly, with low action, 22 perfect frets on a rosewood board, a comfortable 10″ radius, and crisp, well-intonated tremolo bridge (alas, it dives only – a holdover from Van Halen’s old trem preference). Part of its great tuning stability also comes from a set of Schaller M6-IND locking tuners.
Aside from its superb craftsmanship and finish, the Silhouette Special packs a lot of goodies under the hood. For pickups you get custom DiMarzios (either H/S/S or S/S/S configurations)with Silent Circuit gadgetry, which they claim reduces hum and noise while retaining a single-coil tone. Much of this is subjective, of course, but I did like the tones of the neck pickup. It had a nice spank and quack. Again, use your own ears here.
I particularly appreciated the piezo pickup system, which dials in acoustic-like tones via the bottom knob. Blending in even a little piezo on top of your magnetic-pickup tones adds a dramatic new dimension – a subtle, but brilliant sheen of high-end brilliance. Or crank the piezo volume up all the way and play both of Pete Townshend’s electric and acoustic parts in “Behind Blue Eyes.” I admit, I have a fetish for hybrid guitars – I mean, who wouldn’t want two guitars in one? – and here at least, Music Man integrates it flawlessly into the Silhouette Special.
My only quibbles are the aforementioned dive-only tremolo (certainly a matter of taste) and its rather heavy alder body, again my own taste. Other than that, the Silhouette Special is a killer axe that anyone should be thrilled to own and play.
I’ve always wanted to get my hands on a Steve Morse model, first because I’m an admirer, but second to figure why he needs all those pickups! There are no less than four DiMarzios on the guitar; from the neck they are a DP-205 Morse Signature humbucker, DP-108 Vintage single-coil, a custom-wound single-coil, and a DP-200 Morse Signature humbucker. (Not to mention three pickup selectors. Yeesh!)
After fiddling around for a while on my own (no pickup-selector diagram was included with the guitar – I finally found it on Morse’s website), I finally understood the mindset behind this guitar’s elaborate electronics scheme. If you’ve ever seen Morse in concert, you were probably impressed how much he works his guitar’s controls during a given song, tweaking the volume and tone knobs and switching pickups constantly. The setup on his Music Man axe facilitates this perfectly, accommodating 11 different pickup combinations. Some of the combos were a little subtle for my ears, but there are a few that have that supercharged Telecaster sound which harkens back to the vintage Dixie Dregs era – picture a Tele pickup’s twang combined with the kick of a bridge humbucker. I also like the combination of the bridge and neck humbuckers, so you get the bite of the former and the fat warmth of the latter. Again, these are classic Steve Morse tones that you can still hear today in his work with Deep Purple and his solo projects.
There are more aspects to this fine axe than just the fancy wiring, however. It plays like a daredevil, with the kind of fast setup Music Man axes are famous for. With 24 frets, a super-flat 12″ radius, and rounded bolt-on neck joint, you can chop wood on the Steve Morse all the way from the bottom E string to the highest-bent E note, four octaves up. Also of note is its sexy, satin-finished neck made of birds-eye maple.
Hardware includes locking tuners, a tune-o-matic-type bridge and probably the simplest tailpiece I’ve even seen – just a block of chrome-plated brass, bolted to the body with string holes in it. Hey, it works for Steve. Another asset is the perfectly placed volume knob – it’s right where you need it for subtle volume swells. To me, every guitar should have this. It’s such a no-brainer.
Of course, the Steve Morse Model sounds great, too. It’s definitely a rocker’s guitar, made to produce everything from twangy Tele squeals to fat Les Paul-ish tones. Discernibly lighter than the Silhouette Special reviewed above, the popular body on this guitar is also kind on one’s shoulder.
Again, don’t be intimidated by the Nigel Tufnel-esque pickup configuration. The Steve Morse Model is another brilliant Music Man guitar and, after jamming on it for a while, the versatility of this pickup setup really makes sense. Great tone, supple playability… big thumb’s up.
Ernie Ball/Music Man Silhouette Special
Type of Guitar Electric solidbody.
Features Alder body, high-gloss polyester finish, maple neck with maplor or rosewood fretboard, five-way pickup select.
Price $1,665 for standard pickup config-uration; $1,965 with piezo pickup.
Ernie Ball/Music Man Steve Morse Model
Type of Guitar Electric solidbody.
Features Poplar body, high-gloss polyester finish, individual saddles, chrome plated brass tail block, three-way lever/two toggles with 11 pickup selections.
Price $1,765 with stop tailpiece; $1,950 with Floyd Rose tremolo
Contact Ernie Ball/Music Man, 151 Suburban Road, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301, phone 800-543-2255, www.ernieball.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.