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NBD Ernie Ball Sterling Stringray SR35 QM review and pics

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by musicman556, Oct 2, 2019.

  1. musicman556


    Jul 3, 2019
    Smyrna, TN
    I've wanted a Stingray 5 for awhile. I tried to find this model locally first, but none were to be had in the Nashville, TN market. I ordered this from Musicians Friend, and the order was delivered a day faster than expected, so big ups to them and UPS, the carrier.

    I'm having a bit of a tough time writing a review on this bass, and I'm torn as to whether I'm going to keep it or not right now. At first I wasn't going to post at all, but then I thought about how much I research stuff here before I buy, and the fact that there was VERY LITTLE out there in the way of reviews about this current/newer model of Ray35 with the roasted maple neck. I wanted there to be some more first hand info about this one out there for the other folks who may be looking into this bass.

    It arrived in a normal cardboard box, packed in a very well-padded but SUPER cheap feeling Sterling gigbag. Chintzy straps, tacky vinyl pouch. I know I shouldn't expect much, it just seemed like $2-3 more in material/fabric cost would have provided a MUCH nicer bag. A decade ago a $900 bass generally came with either a case or a nice bag. I guess in today's market, I should be thankful it wasn't just wrapped in some plastic grocery bags? Enough about the bag, on to the bass!

    The first thing I looked at was the body, and the fairly nice quilt maple top under that pretty Neptune Blue burst. I am a sucker for just about anything in the blue-green color spectrum, and this thing is pretty. Beautiful paint work, buffed to a gorgeous shine in ALL areas, even the cutaways and neck joint area looked perfect! The finish had been sanded smooth as glass and buffed skillfully. I was a spot buffer at a world-famous guitar manufacturer for a few years. The body of this bass was finished better than most of the stuff we made here in Nashville.

    Hardware like the bridge, switch, and knobs all seem nice and solid. I really like the machined look of the saddles. It may be a small detail, but for some reason I like the contrasting look vs the plated chrome of the bridge. The only knock I can give here is the the volume knob was not screwed in tightly/properly. When I went to turn it up it just spun right off into my hand, haha! No worries. A little allen-key love and it was solidly back into place. I checked the rest and they all felt sufficiently snug. As everyone else has said, these are the cheap elephant ear tuning keys you'll find on pretty much any budget bass. I have no problems with them yet, though years ago I had a Yamaha BB with the same tuners and one sheared a gear on me.

    Electronics. I've never had a Stingray, but I DID play 3 different $2k+ legit MusicMan Stingray 5s last week at my local GC. At home I'm using a MarkBass LM 250 Blackline through an Ampeg Heritage SVT410 HLF all EQ set flat, no VPF or VLE used. At GC I played through a Markbass head as well, but I don't remember which one, through a Markbass 210 cab. All tone controls flat there, as well. There were four days between auditioning at GC and getting this bass delivered. All that being said, I didn't notice any drastic difference between the electronics and general sound of the Sterling vs the MusicMans. I have read conflicting reports on whether the Sterling Ray 35 is using identical American electronics. I didn't open this one up to look. To me, it sounds about like I think a Stingray with a 3 band active EQ should. I'm not blown away, and not disappointed. As Rob Chapman would say, "I am whelmed."

    Here's the place I am torn. The Neck. That roasted maple feels GREAT! I don't know what the process is... I'm PRETTY SURE there is a little sealer or some kind of satin lacquer or something on there, but I can't tell what it is. It's not as thick and obvious at the satin finish on the back of the current Fender necks. It still feels like a nicely sanded wood, not a thick shellac job over the neck. I really dig the look, too. Like a maple neck that just spent two weeks' vacation at the beach! The neck was straight as an arrow upon arrival, and the action really low... overly buzzy. Intonation was almost spot-on. I just adjust two saddles a few turns, and I gave it just under 1/2 a turn of relief in three separate steps. That got it close to where I like it. I'll check and adjust relief over a few days, as necessary. I generally try NOT to make big adjustments but smaller, gradual ones.

    Now for the bad stuff. First, two high frets, the 15th AND 16th at the treble side, were buzzing hard when playing the D and G strings from about the 9th or 10th fret down. A little hammer tapping got them close enough for me to be satisfied for now. Next, the complaints about miniscule vibrato room for the G string are REAL! Pull down at ALL and off the 'board you go! I dunno. there's plenty of space on the bass side. The neck seems to be in there pretty straight, as the G string and the fretboard edge are parallel just like the bass side. The bridge is not adjustable, and the neck to body fit/pocket is SUPER tight (a good thing!) so I couldn't just try to tweak there. If I were to keep it, I think I might try to cut a new nut and crowd the G and D strings over a bit. Finally, the finishing on the neck is pretty awful, all over the place. Visible deep sanding scratches are prominentin MANY places. From the heel to the headstock, it's a hot mess. See pics below for the worst offending areas. Also there are globs of some kind of schmutz/oil/whatever on both the fretboard and the end of the peghead face. Look at fret 16 in the neck pic, it's almost like a marker across the fretboard, and these pictures are AFTER I rubbed off a physically raised pile of the stuff and tried to clean off the rest with a damp cloth. The shiny globule on the headstock didn't change at all no matter what I tried with it. (I did NOT use any abrasives yet.)

    It's weird. It's like this bass was made in two separate factories, where the body came out beautifully and with excellent QC, then it was shipped to the other side of the tracks where they threw necks on with no regard to finish quality at all.

    I'm going to call the Ernie folks on my way home and just ask if they have heard this before, and if that is to be expected for their near $1k import bass. Personally, I feel that the finish quality should be higher for that cost and origin. I have a few other imports at half the price with impeccable finish work. I'll let that discussion guide my choice as to whether I return or exchange it.

    What sez talkbass about finish like that on a $900 import. Go or no-go?

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Oct 2, 2019
    Goatrope and SLBasshead like this.
  2. TylerJ

    TylerJ Trying to find the elusive Brown Note Supporting Member

    Jul 29, 2017
    Your experience is exactly why, when I was shopping for a new 'Ray a few years ago, I wasn't going to settle for a lower-priced imprint brand.

    Yes, there are plenty of Sterling MM instruments that are impeccable, but there are also a higher percentage of instruments that come out the factory door rougher than they should. Kinda happens when using cheaper materials and methods.

    I recently took my EBMM StingRay 5 to a Sam Ash (was originally testing out Ampeg amp heads and cabs) and ended up doing a side by side comparison between the Sterlings on the wall and my 'Ray.

    The feel, sound, attention to detail, were all better on my 'Ray than even the best (or most expensive, if that's any measure to go by) Sterling. That is not to say the Sterlings were junk or horrible, but there was a clear difference in finished product and the steps taken to ensure those ends. The Sterlings felt like mid-level instruments, whereas my 'Ray felt like a more top-shelf instrument, with better fit and finish and playability. Of course, this is purely subjective, so YMMV if you were to recreate the same kind of shootout.

    The Sterlings played well and would have been a decent instrument to move up to from something like a Sterling by EBMM SUB or SUB-level of quality instrument.

    I hope that with a setup and time with the instrument, it will fit well with you.
  3. Yahboy


    May 21, 2008
    Honestly, my cheapest Ray4 look much better than yours....

    Anyway, about the off center bass string alignment, I found that the Neck heel on G string side is higher than B string site.
    I suggest you loose the neck screws and take out the neck, clean the wood dust on neck pocket and measure both thickness of G and B string neck heel .

    Reassembly the neck and see if any improvement on string alignment.

  4. musicman556


    Jul 3, 2019
    Smyrna, TN
    Alright, so I had the chance to play at band practice at church Wednesday. I'm keeping the bass. Man. I can't believe how good it sounds in a band setting. Just great. And GRACIOUS the OUTPUT of the thing! I have been playing the 55-02 in my avatar for the last few months, and I had to pull the gain down on my amp a CONSIDERABLE amount to level things out, haha! And that was with the EQ on the bass completely flat. I actually found myself rolling OFF a little bass eq after a bit. I've NEVER done that one a bass before, lol.

    Really even sound/tone from string to string as well. I can't say that about the Lakland. You can DEFINITELY tell a difference in timbre/tonal weight/quality from the same note string to string on that bass. I use that on purpose when I have time to think about it, but sometimes it is annoying when I kinda forget and it doesn't come out the way I am hearing things in my head. Not an issue with the Ray35.

    This is gunna sound dumb... but that roasted maple neck smells DELICIOUS! hahahaha! I found myself just enjoying that warm saw-mill goodness a few times throughout the practice.

    I love the sound and overall feel enough that I'm just going to put up with the finish issues, and I'll cut a new nut to move the D and G strings over a smidge. I still may call Ernie to ask about what finish they actually did use on the neck to figure out if I wanna sand/smooth/finish it up correctly myself.

    I think if GC had this exact guitar on the wall and I played it in store, I probably would have been put off and not bought it due to how bad the neck looked. BBUUUTTTT if I had the chance to play it in the band setting, I would have def bought it anyway. I guess it worked out that it wasn't available locally so I had no other way to try it BUT to go ahead and buy it outright.
    Goatrope likes this.
  5. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    ...at which point they will probably remind you that Ernie Ball Music Man is not really in a position to comment on SBMM instruments, but they should be able to give you a number for Praxis.
  6. musicman556


    Jul 3, 2019
    Smyrna, TN
    Gotta start somewhere. =)

    They list the same customer service number for all three divisions of their company on their corporate website. One would assume it would be reasonable to call it.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2019

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