Sterling by Music Man S.U.B. Ray4 Bass Guitar
Stingray looks and sound without the stinging price
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 12-13-2012
I am not a full-fledged bass player by any sane standard. In fact, the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 reviewed here is my first bass, purchased several days prior to beginning this review. I think that in a very practical way my days-old bass career gives me a good point of reference for this review since this Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass is largely considered a “first” or “beginners” bass guitar. That would be me.
I did a fair amount of research on bass guitars in the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass price range and kept finding it at or near the top of those discussions. I knew that I did not want one of the $200 “packages” that include a guitar, a reputed amp and a bunch of other decidedly cheap accessories meant to sweeten the deal for unsuspecting buyers. In terms of dollars against quality the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass fit my criteria very well so when my guy at the music store also deemed it to be the best instrument for the money I bought it.
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass is a cousin of the venerable Music Man StingRay 4 (and 5) basses that have been very popular since the late 70's. The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass features active electronics, low noise hum bucking pickup, good quality, solid hardware and a classic look. The solid hardwood body is light but seems to generate smooth tones. The slim, easy to play full scale maple neck tapers down to a trim 38mm nut width with a rosewood fingerboard and medium jumbo frets that combine for easy playing by the novice with even small hands. The neck to body connection is made very secure and stable with a 6-bolt pattern.
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass features a super smooth satin finish for the back of the neck that always feels slick to the hand. The finish is lightly tinted to give the maple a nice warm look but with the typical polyurethane toughness that stands up to many years of playing.
Since any instrument with strings is going to need adjustments occasionally the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass is equipped to make that an easy process. A small thumbwheel located at the end of the fingerboard (at the body) can be adjusted with a small hex wrench or screwdriver inserted into the holes. A simple chrome bar is included with the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass for this purpose but when you lose that, lots of alternatives will work! You do not have to remove the strings or the neck itself to adjust the neck and you can make adjustments on the fly. Just a note here; the neck on my Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass was set nicely right out of the box and so far has required no tweaking.
Active Tone Shaping Electronics
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass tone is shaped by the onboard active 2-band preamp. Three knurled knobs operate the volume, bass and treble control pots that give you wide-ranging flexibility in the sound you want. The bass and treble controls offer full cut and boost of those frequencies. Both of those controls have center detents that let you feel “zero” within the available range.
The electronics are powered by a simple 9-volt battery that seems to last a long time, particularly if you remember to unplug the cord when not using the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass. The battery is located on the back of the body, under a no-tools hatch-type door for easy replacing.
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass has a top-mounted output jack that is easy to engage. It is located out of the way though using a cord with a 90-degree plug is an even better plan.
High Output Humbucking Pickup
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass is equipped with a single high output Humbucking pickup. The pickup has 2 rows of magnetic pole pieces to capture the strings oscillations and feed them to the 2-band active preamp circuitry. The active electronics let you go from mild to wild tones to best fit your playing needs. The pickup has a 3-screw adjustment that makes it easier to accurately set the angle and height of the pickup.
I decided to tune the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass strings and assume that the rest of the setup is reasonably close from the factory. I did check the intonation and made one small tweak there. Now after playing it a while I cannot find any problems originating in the guitar itself. I get some buzzing occasionally but it is very obvious that those are my errors and not the fault of the guitar.
I tried getting used to two-finger plucking rather than picking as I do on my 6-string guitars but I am just not the plucking type. For now at least I will pick the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass. Other than remembering how far apart the strings are on the bass, playing it is remarkably easy. The neck is far more slender than I expected for a bass and makes reaching the widespread (for me) frets much easier. The frets themselves are nicely finished and show no bad habits anywhere up and down the neck.
The tuning machines are of the open variety with the gears hanging out for all to see. They are chromed with large handles that make applying tuning pressure a no-strain event. The slotted pegs help secure the strings for stable tuning over their lifespan.
The body of the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass is comfortably shaped with a cutout long the bottom of the neck that provides easy access to the high end of the fretboard. The rigid tailpiece and floating bridge pieces offer plenty of sustain and easy adjustment of intonation and string height.
I have heard some subtle knocks of the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass electronics but I see no such failings. The single, double-row Humbucker pickup is plenty powerful in terms of tone and volume as well as quiet. The +/- bass and treble controls combined with the volume dial give lots of tone control without involving the amp. The rear-mounted battery is easily accessible and uses the familiar 9-Volt snap-on connector. For my purposes the electronics in the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass are just fine.
The Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass may not be the best choice for on stage work but for the beginner or novice it seems to be a very good platform on which to learn this instrument. The tone capabilities and solid construction mean that the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass will not become obsolete as soon as you get a few lessons under your belt.
With a street price of just $279.95 (12-8-2012) the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass represents a great way to get a solid bass that leaves cash in the budget so you can still afford an equally capable amp. I can find nothing about the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass that means you will have to re-learn anything when you move up to better bass much later in the learning process. In fact I have been using the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass for recording some tracks for background music in videos for my sites.
If you are looking for a solid bass with no bad habits to inhibit learning the instrument, the Sterling S.U.B. Ray4 Bass should be at the top of your must-see list. I am very happy with mine and look forward to many years of learning bass lines and even a little rocking out in my office now and then….