There’s something ridiculously sexy about a rosewood neck. No, not a rosewood fretboard – we’re talking a rosewood neck.
Ernie Ball/Music Man’s Rosewood Axis Super Sport is a distant permutation of the original Eddie Van Halen signature solidbody from the early 1990s. But the Rosewood Axis features an abundance of that glorious wood – a rosewood neck, separate rosewood fingerboard, and a 1?4″ rosewood top on a basswood body. Wow!
The Rosewood features a 251/2″ neck scale, 22 medium frets, Schaller tuners, one volume, and one tone control, two custom DiMarzio humbuckers, five-way selector, and hardtail or tremolo bridge (it’s also available as a non-trem with MM90 single-coil pickups). The neck’s finish is the kicker – Music Man’s gunstock oil and wax-blend neck finish makes for a very sultry-feeling neck. You immediately know it’s not maple or mahogany. Rosewood has something that’s quite different, but hard to put into words. You just have to try it.
Like all Music Man guitars, the Rosewood Axis plays fast and lean. The action is amazingly low and the 10″ neck radius is fast, making for a supple fretting surface. The “dive-only” tremolo works very well and the placement of the volume knob provides easy access for swells. The guitar weighs 7.7 pounds, so after a night of heavy jamming, it won’t wreck your neck, either.
Tonally, the guitar is clearly meant to be a rockin’ machine, and a rocker it is. The dual DiMarzio humbuckers are more than potent enough for any heavy licks you throw at it, but distinct enough for your rhythm work or subtler blues playing. I particularly like the second notch on the five-way pickup selector, which splits the bridge humbucker. It has a warm, nasally sound that brings to mind that vintage Peter Green vibe.
The only issues one would have with the Rosewood Axis relate to the vintage-style tremolo; either you like “dive-only” trems or you don’t. I don’t care for them, but other players think they increase resonance and create a more direct connection between the bridge and body, which in turn improves tone. (Fortunately, you can get the guitar with a Floyd-Rose trem, if that’s your preference.)
Finally, while this isn’t a cheap axe, its price isn’t bad either; all-rosewood necks are rare enough and this guitar sells for a price that won’t make you choke, especially in an era when high-end guitars command outrageous prices.
Back in the celebrity arena, Music Man and Steve Morse are marking the 20-year anniversary of the Steve Morse signature guitar. The new Steve Morse SM-Y2D signature model is like a lot of Music Man guitars in that it’s a high-performance machine meant for serious technical playing.
The axe has a poplar body with maple top in flame or quilt, cream binding, clear pickguard, and a solid black finish on back. For pickups it uses two DiMarzio humbuckers (neck and bridge) and a new custom-wound DiMarzio single-coil in the middle position. A five-way lever controls various pickup selection options. The neck has a 12″ radius and 22 high-pro frets, though a slimmer neck profile will be standard issue, re-creating the neck of Morse’s number one stage guitar from ’85. Buyers also have a choice between a hardtail TonePros T3BT-C bridge or a Floyd Rose tremolo. Again, this guitar is all about performance.
Like the bearer of its signature, this SM-Y2D is a guitar for those interested in excelling at technique. Its neck setup is fast and sleek, ready for any high-speed licks you throw at it. And the volume knob is strategically located for easy swells – another Morse hallmark.
Sound-wise, the DiMarzio pickups deliver all the rockin’ goods. The interestingly placed single-coil pickup – flush against the bridge ‘bucker – serves up some Fender-like nuances when combined with the humbuckers – a dash of Strat when combined with the neck pickup and a touch of Tele with the bridge. It sounds great through a tube amp and, overall, is a very impressive guitar.
Of these two guitars, I gravitated to the Rosewood Axis, if only for the seductiveness of its rosewood neck. But true to form, both feature excellent construction, tone, and playability. They both display vintage roots, then add the element of high-octane performance, which you can see in most Ernie Ball/Music Man guitars. They’re for the guitarist who likes a traditional vibe mixed with hi-tech refinements. The best of both worlds, perhaps?
Rosewood Axis Super Sport
Price $1,775 to $1,945
Steve Morse Y2D
Price $2,095 (standard bridge) and $2,245 (tremolo).
Contact Ernie Ball/Music Man, 151 Suburban Rosad, San Luis Obispo, CA 93401; phone (800) 543-2255; www.ernieball.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.