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Music Man Bongo or Classic Stingray/Sterling?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by phillipkregg, Feb 4, 2016.

  1. phillipkregg

    phillipkregg Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I think I'm ready to bite the bullet and get my first Music Man bass - help me decide which one!

    Here are the top contenders so far (all 4 string):

    1) Bongo,
    2) Classic Sterling,
    3) Classic Stingray

    I'm a big fan of the "Classic" models because I like the 2 band EQ. However, I love the looks of the bongo and the tone when I hear them on youtube (although there are none nearby where I can try one out).

    A big selling point for me is weight and balance and I've seen some of the Bongo basses weighing in at around 8 lbs.

    Can any of you Bongo guys attest to the balance of those basses? Any neck dive issues? H, HH, or HS?

    Any classic owners that want to talk about what they like/dislike about theirs?

    If you could get any of these, what would you pick and why?
    wwwbassman likes this.
  2. 96Brigadier

    96Brigadier Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2015
    I have a Bongo 4HS, balance is great, no neck dive. I can't speak to tone comparison with an H or HH but I love the tone out of my HS.

    Not a classic but I also have a Stingray with the 3 band EQ. Personally I like the tone I get out of the Bongo more.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  3. cchorney

    cchorney Supporting Member

    Oct 21, 2010
    Meriden, CT
    I have a Bongo 4HH. It became my favorite gigging bass almost immediately, to the point where I sold my old number one and two (mij geddy and g&l l2000 us).

    • Great balance, no neck dive at all.
    • Jazz bass neck, almost geddy lee thin.
    • The 4 band eq is useful. I usually leave the bass eq at the center detents and manage my tone thru my bddi, but occasionally I need to mess with them. And having low, low mid, hi mid, and hi is more flexible than just having low and hi (or worse, just having a single tone pot)
    • The truss rod has a daisy wheel, making adjustments a snap
    • 24 frets!
    • Thinner neck means more frequent truss rod adjustments
    • humbuckers just don't sound like a precision pup, no matter how you eq it
    • Hardly any stores have them in stock to try
    • Active bass means you can't leave it plugged in all the time (it drains the batteries. It also means you need to carry a few 9 volt batteries around as spares.
    Overall I love my Bongo. Check around for Guitar Center "Premier" stores. Those might sometimes have one on the wall to try.
  4. Ken R

    Ken R Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2007
    Greater Knoxville TN
    FWIW, I have a Bongo with two humbuckers. Cardinal red metalliac. Perfect balance and no neck dive. I think it is fabulous!
    I have owned a 25th anniversary Stingray and a 30th anniversary Stingray. Both tremendous basses. They did nothing for me. I have played two Sterling basses. Nope, not for me. I put a Bongo in my hands and found my happy place.
    Having said that, have a look at the Big Al bass. They have the Bongo 4 band preamp and the playability is the same as any Musicman product, ie: great. The 3 single coil Al (sss) has a million tones and the single humbucker equipped one has a tone "kinda" like both the Stingray and the Sterling, because the Al has a Series-Parallel button that helps it get close. Not the same but close enough for me.

    As you asked
    #1 player--Bongo
    #2 player--Big Al sss
    #3 player--Big Al H

    Ken R

    PS-- If you buy a Bongo from GC and dislike it, return it. For the price of shipping, it's worth it.
    I didn't return mine!
    phillipkregg likes this.
  5. Yogi Bear

    Yogi Bear

    Aug 14, 2000
    I've had two classic Stingrays - both 5's. I now own a Single H 5 Bongo and it's here for good. It's a Neptune Blue, which is a mahogany body and a roasted maple neck - so while there is some small tonal variation in the wood choices the overall sound is, for the most part, the same.

    What struck me immediately with the Bongo was the comfort and how familiar it was to other Ernie Ball basses I've played. Also, the tonal variety with the 3 band eq is very powerful.

    I really did love the Classics for their simplicity, but from a pure comfort and versatility standpoint the Bongo has both beat.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  6. adivin

    adivin Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2009
    New Orleans, LA
    I just purchased a Sterling Classic. The right hand position over the single bridge pu is an adjustment for me. It didn't sit in the mix with my band as well as I hoped. Perhaps my ears are so use to hearing a P bass. It has a great slap tone.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  7. Bob Clayton

    Bob Clayton My P doesn’t have flats or tort Staff Member Supporting Member

    Aug 14, 2001
    Philly Suburbs
    I have a 2011 Classic Stingray 4, and I absolutely love it. It's got the perfect Stingray tone, and the roasted & birdseye maple neck/fretboard is absolutely stunning. The mutes on the bridge are a nice touch too. It's only one pickup with no switch, and a 2 band eq, but sometimes simple is better,
    phillipkregg likes this.
  8. Grooveline


    Jan 24, 2012
    If your really into the sound of the stingray then the classic would be the best way to go for you imo. Sure the bongo and sterling can get close to the stingray sound but the two band classic nails that stingray tone that you hear on albums from the 70s and 80s. There's plenty to like about the classic series but what stands out most to me is the neck. Not the birdseye (or flame if thats what you got/get) but the actual feel of the neck. It pretty much has the characteristics i prefer with a 7.25 radius, vintage size frets, and a gloss finish. Some find the gloss stickier but i find it comfortable and fast. Absolutely no neck dive (the head of the neck is smaller than a fender) with quality tuners. The truss rod wheel introduction, while not being historically accurate to the original, is a great addition in terms of ease of use. Two band eq is plenty flexible (much more responsive than my passive p) while always keeping that baked in Stingray sound. Fit and finish should be flawless and if you are dilligent/lucky enough you can get a stingray classic that weighs around 8.5lbs.

    You will get mostly get kind things said about all three basses but what I would ask you is what exactly are you wanting from this MM bass? If its to create your own sound or have a swiss army type bass then the bongo would easily be the best choice for you imo. If its to cop that classic tone then the classic is the only choice. If its for an aggressive take on the MM tone then I can see the sterling shining for you.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  9. adivin

    adivin Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2009
    New Orleans, LA
    With the Sterling Classic you get the same two band eq, 7.25 radius fretboard and finished neck except 1.5 at the nut. Single pickup but it is ceramic not alnico and is wired in series.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  10. Bob Clayton

    Bob Clayton My P doesn’t have flats or tort Staff Member Supporting Member

    Aug 14, 2001
    Philly Suburbs
    Why is the Classic Sterling not on the website?
  11. phillipkregg

    phillipkregg Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I've heard that they were phasing the classic sterling out.

    Right now the instrument section of Ernie Ball's website seems to be down. Looks like somebody checked in some bad code with syntax errors.

  12. Bob Clayton

    Bob Clayton My P doesn’t have flats or tort Staff Member Supporting Member

    Aug 14, 2001
    Philly Suburbs
    Weird, I was on it not 20 minutes ago looking for it, which is why I asked. GC's website seems to be anticipating more Classic Sterlings in stock around June.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  13. BIGEJ2

    BIGEJ2 Supporting Member

    Jul 29, 2009
    Happy Valley, PA
    Musician's Friend and Guitar Center sites have been notoriously bad for showing EBMM product on order that are out of production. For example, EBMM hasn't made the coral red ones in years.

    Back to the OP - All three basses you are considering are completely different. Classic Rays are warm/rich while the Sterling is more on the aggressive side. Bongo is much more modern sounding. Of the three, Bongo would be my choice simply because the preamp is monstrous. I have only ever had HH and H 5-string Bongos. The HH is my favorite. The pan controls works very well and 4-band EQ can really dial in. The H sounded just as good but different. It was closer to a Ray. All single H Bongos have a 3-band EQ. Balance was not a problem on any of them.

    My two favorite EBMM's right now are the HH Sterling and H Big Al. A close friend of mine played a HS Sterling for a number of years and loved it as well. He also tried a Classic Ray but felt that he was getting lost in the mix. It sounded good from the audience but he wasn't convinced.

    All are excellent choices, it just comes down to which one fits you better.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  14. Bob Clayton

    Bob Clayton My P doesn’t have flats or tort Staff Member Supporting Member

    Aug 14, 2001
    Philly Suburbs
    Oddly enough I feel like my string classic ray fits in perfectly with the sound I want, while with my 3 band SR5, I've yet to be able to find the sound I want.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  15. mdogs

    mdogs Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2010
    Constant state of flux
    I have a Classic Sabre that I think just kills. I am not a Sterling fan, but you can't go wrong with a Stingray and from my minimal exposure to Bongo's they seem great as well. I also had a PDN Reflex HSS that soundwise was the king, great classic MM sounds and the single in the middle position made P basses run home to their mommies!! I could not get along with the small body otherwise it never would have gone anywhere.
  16. phillipkregg

    phillipkregg Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Thanks for all the feedback folks...

    The Bongo seems to really be calling out to me. Just found one that looks to be a good deal, now I just gotta wait for the tax return check to show up :bassist:
  17. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    A lot more versatility in the Bongo than the Sterling or Stingray. The only trade off IMO is that the Bongo doesn't get that funky burpy sound that the other 2 do.

    I've owned HHs, HSs, and single Hs of Sterlings, Bongos and a Stingray. HS is my favorite as I believe you get the most versatility out of them. They can be tamed in ways that I couldn't tame the HHs... and my Sterling (only single H I ever owned) sounded a bit on the thin side to me. I wanted/needed more bottom. Got that in spades with the extra pickup and never bought another single H.
    Stevorebob and phillipkregg like this.
  18. phillipkregg

    phillipkregg Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Ah that's good news because the one I have my eye on is an HS model.
  19. Bass_Thumper


    Oct 20, 2009
    Madison, MS
    I've been playing a StingRay 4HH for a while now and picked up a Bongo 5 HS just before Christmas and the Bongo is quickly taking over as my number 1. I love the Ray and still play it a lot but I think the Bongo is just a special bass. It plays and sounds fantastic.

    The Ray 4HH has a lot of versitility but I think that the pickup pan pot on the Bongo just offers so much variety as opposed to the switch on the Ray. It's a very high quality pot and each slight turn makes a noticeable difference in tone. Couple that with a very powerful 4 band preamp and you can get a lot of different sounds that all sound great.

    I love them both but if I could only have one, it would be the Bongo.
    phillipkregg likes this.
  20. Another vote for the Bongo here. Haven't played a bass that balances as well as my Bongo 5 HH. The 4-band EQ on the HH/HS models is extremely versatile, too. Even flat, the Bongo has a smooth, creamy, warm character with just enough sizzle on top. With pickup panning and EQ, I can get pretty darn close to a Stingray, though it'll never be the same. It's a very good sound, though. Great for rock, country, blues, etc. Not my favorite bass for jazz (I use an upright or fretless passive bass for that...). Hard to go wrong, IMO.
    phillipkregg likes this.

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