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Sterling By Musicman (SBMM) Ray35/Ray34 Review *long post*

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by rappa29, Nov 18, 2009.

  1. Haven't seen a ton of reviews on these basses so figured I'd chime in and maybe help out anyone on the fence about one of these.

    I own a USA Stingray 4H.
    I’ve played a USA Stingray 5HH.
    I’ve noodled around with USA Stingray 5H.
    I’m not a tone Nazi, but I know what I like.
    I’m not a pro. I’m the average Joe who works a 9-5 but is lucky enough to have time and people to play with in bands, gigs and recordings.
    That’s the extent of my experience with EBMM basses.
    That said, here’s my review on my Sterling By Musicman Ray 35, which I affectionately named IndoRay5.

    GC tag price was $699.

    I bought it for $612 with the gig bag (which is not free BTW, cost $17) and a free pack of strings of my choice (Dads XL nickel 130-45).

    That beats the current GC ‘clearance’ prices on select EBMM basses. The lowest price I’ve seen on those is $1004.

    IMHO, it’s a sharp looking bass.

    I bought the basic black, matching, lacquered headstock, black pg, rosewood fb. It’s the only one they had.

    I’m not into overly fancy looks for my basses. I’d have been fine with any of the 3 finishes these come in (black, natural, honeyburst).

    Weight is heavy. Almost as heavy as my G&L Tribute L2500, but it balances better, IMHO.

    Tuners are generic. They seem to work fine. The bass stayed in tune for the most part during a 3 hour recording session the day I bought it and a 4 hour rehearsal the next day.

    Knobs and switch are solid. The knobs are very smooth. Not loosey goosey like you sometimes find on GC basses that have been wanked on. The switch is solid.

    Bridge looks just like the bridge on my USA SR4H, except with Sterling engraved on it and the 5th saddle. It’s solid.

    All the frets are smooth. No jagged edges. They all seem level.

    Fingerboard is suspect. The rosewood is nice and rich from the neck joint all the way down to the 5th fret. Then it gets faded. Never seen that on any bass I’ve owned before, USA, Indo, Chinese, Mexican, etc. Doesn’t affect sound or playability, but looks odd.

    It has the Truss Wheel like the the USA Stingrays. That's a major plus!

    I bought it Sat morning and played it for a recording session Sat afternoon and rehearsal on Sunday. WITHOUT tweaking setup, changing strings, etc. COMPLETELY STOCK the way it came off the rack.

    It felt easy to play. My shoulder got tired after an hour, due to the weight, but my arms, wrists and hands were not fatigued at all from playing it. I didn’t have to dig in a whole lot either to get great sound out of it!

    Intonation is a bit off, but not painfully off.

    As far as I could tell, no dead spots. I didn’t check every string and every fret, but didn’t notice anything during either session.

    B string is tight. Not Lakland tight. But good considering it’s a 34” scale. Again, I still have the stock strings on it (EB Slinky 130-45).

    To my ears, through my rig (GK700RBII, GK NEO 112 (2) or Avatar B210 NEO), it sounds like a USA Stingray.

    By itself, it seemed my USA SR4H has a bit more thump or low end to it playing both fingerstyle and slap (not much of a slapper), but in the context of a mix, both recorded and live, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, especially the casual listener.

    Only the most critical ear could tell the difference in a mix or even soloed. Probably still not tell (as proven by the recent SX vs P vs J tests). So for all intents and purposes, it sounds like a Stingray H…period.

    The EQ has very versatile range and the pre is pretty quiet. I played it with a tad of highs rolled off.

    It’s a pretty damn loud bass too! I played it through my Avatar B210 NEO, 4ohm. I had the gain at Noon, boost at 9:00, woofer at 7:00 and volume on the bass all the way up. I had to fiddle with the GK for a bit so I wouldn’t blow the windows out of our guitarist’s house where we rehearse.

    I do NOT engage the Active button on the head for ANY of my basses.

    I don't like it and feel it takes something more than just the 10db or whatever away from the tone of my basses. I just know that my basses always sound better with it OFF. I adjust Gain, Boost and Woofer volume appropriately.

    IMHO, IME, for the money, the SBMM Ray35 stacks up easily and in some cases above other offshore five string basses in it’s category.

    This line of basses was created for people like me who want the Stingray look, feel and tone but can no longer afford the USA Stingray price tag.

    Do I still want a USA Stingray 5H, of course, even better if I could get one for $700, alnico model.

    Do I want to sell my USA Stingray 4H to get a USA Stingray 5H? No. I like having a Stingray 4H.

    Do I want to sell my 08 MIA Jazz to fund a USA Stingray 5H? No. I like having a passive Jazz.

    So for right now, the SBMM Ray35 fills my want for a 'Stingray 5' without having to give up any of my other basses or sell a kidney.

    If you’re in the market for a Stingray 5 or a five string in general, one of these should definitely get on your “Must Try” list!


    As usual, IMHO, IME, YMMV, FWIW, yada, yada....

    See OutToPlayJazz's review below (with better pics than mine) on the Ray34, four string version! :bassist:
  2. Excellent Review -- Thanks!

    I looked at your photo gallery and noticed that you have (had?) a MusicMan SUB. I'm curious about your thoughts comparing the Ray35 to the SUB.

    Said another way, would you consider a new Ray35 a better buy than a used SUB 5.

    Thanks again for taking the time to provide such a thorough review!
  3. saxnbass


    Mar 9, 2006
    Nashville, TN
    +1 I was going to ask what you thought of the Sterlings by MM vs. the old MusicMan SUB basses. Does it seem that the Sterlings line is the new SUB?
  4. JJT247


    Jan 24, 2009
    Good review, this helped me a lot!
  5. I don't have an SUB nor have ever owned one. That's my USA SR4H with the pearloid and now mirroed pg. :)

    I guess it looks like an SUB because the Graphite Pearl finish looks flat in photos. :)
  6. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    Rappa29, I liked the way you put that review together. It was better organized and more informative than most of the reviews I have seen in magazines.:cool:

    I am really interested in a Ray35 or another SR5. I saw the SR5s for $1,004 at GC, and the Ray35 does compare nicely. If I have the spare cheddar, either one would make me very happy!:smug:
  7. Man did you go to the GC on Drew St in Clearwater?

    I pass by there when Im getting supplies for my job and everytime I go in there half of the basses are decent and half are dinged up. Theres a white Mustang in there that been on display since they first came out and is pockmarked all over and it still says $699 .
  8. Thanks Doc!

    Believe me, I tried out the 'clearance' SR5's FIRST! Unfortunately, there was only 1 SR5H available at my 2 local GC's and it was worked over pretty well. I wasn't going to drop $1004+tax on a beat up mule!
  9. Yes. That's where they have the USA SR5, black, maple, that is pretty worked over. Actually all their EBMM's seem worked over in some way or another! :meh:

    I bought IndoRay5 in Tampa. It's the only SBMM 5 they had. They had a few 4's.
  10. To save people looking at seperate threads, I'm going to piggyback my Ray 34 review from BC a few weeks ago onto yours, if that's okay?

    Well, here it is - A freshly minted Stingray not from California, but Indonesia. Well, it passed through the American factory on it's way over here for inspection & setup, all of which are fine for an off the peg instrument, but bear in mind that this is no OLP.

    Now we all know the OLP basses had their ups and downs. Some were fab (especially the last of run MM22/23 models with their twin humbuckers and active preamps) and some were dogs. But at the end of the day, the range was never priced any higher than Squier territory. These new "Sterling by MusicMan" basses are in a different league altogether. The range starts at around £550 (rrp) for the SB-14 basswood "Sterling" model & the Ray 34 we're dealing with here (essentially a standard swamp ash bodied Stingray) is priced around £599. All Sterling by MM basses are supplied in a very nice tapered oblong, thickly padded & fur lined gigbag with the Sterling logo on the front pocket.

    So these basses aren't exactly cheap like their forebears, but instead fall squarely into the Fender MIM price bracket (a new MIM Jazz retails at over £600 these days!) So the expected quality is going to have to be very good & doesn't disappoint. Quality, fit & finish & playability are all more comparable to Skyline series Laklands & Tribute series G&L's.

    Sterling is an official MusicMan brand and not an instrument "made under licence" like the old OLP (Officially Licensed Product), so essentially these instruments are MusicMan basses made in another location where labour rates are obviously cheaper.


    The bass we have here is the aforementioned Ray 34. Essentially a Stingray. The differences between this and the American version are minimal and don't seem to make a whole lot of difference to the overall instrument. Finish is a lustrous thick gloss black for the body & headstock, with a nicely figured rosewood fingerboard & pleasantly figured maple neck. The back of the headstock is glossed nicely with a neat line dividing this finish from the satin finish neck. The neck is smooth with good edges & never feels rough to the touch.




    Fretwork is smooth and excellent. I swapped over to some 45-105 DR Sunbeams for test settings & dropped the action to a very low setting and no buzz or flat spots presented themselves at all. It's also possible to run the neck almost straight, with just the smallest bit of relief to it. The neck pocket fit is excellent & sports a six-bolt neck plate for added stability.

    Playing wise, this instrument sounds like a Stingray! What else did you expect? The 3-band eq is extremely powerful, giving a huge range of tones & everything from thumping lows to seriously sizzling highs. I find the best overall setting is just a little added treble, full bass boost & the mid control in the centre detent. This gives a really nice compromise sound with plenty of bass & just that bit of sparkle on the top. Having the mid control centred is no hardship, though. There's still plenty of mid presence in this position. Overall output is huge and by no means is this an underpowered preamp or pickup.

    Even on such thick strings, with the action down low, there's still plenty of speed and sparkle to be had out of the Ray 34 & all the traditional Stingray sounds we know and love, the rasping top end, amazingly clear slap sound & the huge thump/growl these basses are known for.

    All in all, this new "Sterling" bass looks like a MM Stingray. It plays like a MM Stingray & it sounds like a MM Stingray. They just happened to make it in a different factory!


    Rnb4003 likes this.
  11. No problem OutToPlayJazz!

    Your review was the only 'real owner' review I could find before I bought mine! I'd already watched Ed Friedland's review and also read a scanned copy of the BP Magazine review.

    So your review made me want to go check out the Ray35!:bassist:
  12. agplate


    Jan 12, 2005
    New England
    I have the Ray34, and I swear it's becoming my favorite go-to bass! And I own a Bongo, Stingray5, Rickenbackers and Yamahas. And an OLP Tony Levin!

    Amazing bass. Watch out real Stingrays!
  13. Dr. Cheese

    Dr. Cheese Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Metro St. Louis
    I went to a GC today and played a bunch of fancy, HS and HH Stingrays and Sterlings that were really nice, but I later went to my favorite Mom & Pop dealer, and checked out a Ray35. The Ray35 was by far the bass I would prefer. I think that I will finally break down and put that Ray35 on layaway next week.:)
  14. jkramer5


    Jul 14, 2008
    Fairfield, CA
    I have a Ray34 too, bought it in July 09 for $600 out the door with the gig bag. I'm in no position to rate or review it against a MM bass because I've never owned one.

    The only issue I've had with it is that 2 sets of wires in the control cavity weren't soldered under the shrink tubing. They weren't even tinned or twisted. Just next to each other under the shrink tube. I found this out when It started clicking and popping. I thought it might be the battery, and in troubleshooting it I removed the control plate and saw that one of the pieces of shrink tube had fallen off the wires it had covered. It wasn't a hard fix at all... for me. I emailed sterling support about the issue and they were willing to foot the bill to have it fixed. And also stated they were aware of the issue from other calls and returns.

    I've found the bass to be an excellent player and consider it a value at the price I paid for it.

    Here she is

  15. Caca de Kick

    Caca de Kick Supporting Member

    Nov 18, 2002
    Seattle / Tacoma
    This has been my experience too. I've gotten to play three honeyburst RAY34's, and the voicing of the preamps on all of them isn't as deep on the lowend, but I also like how the treble sizzle was more controlled, comparing back to back with the USA StingRay. But I'm very impressed on how good they sound and played though, and all three I tested felt great, 9-9.5 lbs. I actually liked the satin finish on the backs of the necks, where I'm at a love/hate with the EBMM 'raw' neck.
    Great "Ray" for the price.
  16. BlackFenderBass


    Aug 9, 2009
    I think I might be in love with this bass ;). I've been dieing to get a MM but I think this will do, I've been looking at these for a while and I need a nice backup to slap upon with a MM sort of style. I've also been looking at the Ibanez ATK, which both of them have gotten great reviews. What do you guys think who own this, Ibanez ATK or SBMM Ray34?
  17. praxis


    Sep 30, 2007
    Hey Guys,
    Thanks for the great reviews! If anyone has any questions or concerns, my email is:

    patpark AT praxismusical DOT com

    I don't check out TB everyday, but try to get here 1 or 2 times a week.

    Pat Park

    p.s. sorry about the wrong email, just edited and it is correct now.
  18. ^ Always cool to have someone in the industry drop in! :bassist:
  19. BlackFenderBass


    Aug 9, 2009
    You think someone like Victor Wooten or Flea has a TB account?

  20. blakelock


    Dec 16, 2009
    hi all,
    just got my ray34 (natural color) about a week ago. i love it. great tone/look/playability, especially for the price (~540 from amazon)...but here're a couple of minor problems.

    - the frets are slightly jagged. when i run my left hand up and down the fretboard, i can feel the frets extending from the bottom of the neck near the G string. in other words, the area where my fingers connect to my palm will get scratched up as i move the hand up and down the neck. i'll probably try to file these myself.
    - the action is set a bit high but this is probably just preference. i played the same model at a local guitar center and the action was perfect, but the bass i ordered was set up higher.