The Stingray Bass was Leo Fenders “strike three”. He had already revolutionized the bass world with the Precision and Jazz basses, and with the Stingray bass, he did it one more time.
The Stingray bass was born in 1976, and it relied somewhat on Leo Fenders first bass design – the P bass. Like the Precision, the Stingray bass had one pickup – a humbucker, but not a split humbucker like the Fender P, but a soapbar. Plus the pickup was located further down towards the bridge, which gave it a more firm and growly tone.
Maybe because it naturally (due to the pickup placement) lacked some of the fatness of the Precision bass, it featured a built-in preamp with 2 EQ bands: Bass and Treble. The world’s first active bass was a reality.
Pre-EB / Vintage
In 1984, Ernie Ball acquired the Stingray design from Music Man and developed the bass further. The Stingray 4-string bass remains fairly true to the original with fixed parallel wiring of the humbucker pickup, but the 5-string Stingray, which was introduced in 1987, offered a 3-way switch that could flip between serial, single coil and parallel wiring of the pickup for tonal variations.
Like it is also the case with old Fender basses, the vintage cut is now being defined by whether it was manufactured before or after the brand was acquired by someone else. For Fender it was CBS, for Music Man it was Ernie Ball – hence the pre-EB term.
So what should I get?
If you’re on the outlook for a Stingray bass, my recommendation – as it would almost always be – is to try it out first as all instruments are unique. To demonstrate that point, I have recorded some very short sound clips of two vintage, pre-EB Stingray basses (both from 1978) and one Stingray 5 from 1992.
You can cleary hear and tell the Stingray 5 from the old ones, but even though the two pre-E Stingrays are in the same tonal ballpark, they do sound quite different. Part of the reason is that one of them (the black one) has a higher string action than the other and some slightly older strings mounted at the time of recoding. But even that aside – and as I have always felt about these basses – they are two very different beasts.
So how does a Music Man Stingray Bass actually sound – and can I tell a pre-EB Stingray from a post-EB? Well, take a listen for yourself. Here are 6 short samples of the basses. 3 fingerstyle and 3 slap.
There is some debate around the preamp design of the original Stingray bass. However, most seem to agree that the treble is a cut/boost design, whereas the bass is a boost-only design, so for these samples, I set the bass knobs to zero and the treble knobs as close to 50% as I possible could (there is no center click). On the Stingray 5 the 3-band EQ (bass, mid, trebe) has center clicks on all EQ knobs and the setting in these samples is completely flat.
I must admit that especially on the old Rays, I usually give the bass knob a healthy bump and depending on how old the strings are, I roll back the treble a bit. In other words, these samples may not be flattering the old basses as much as they could have, but you can hear quite some tonal nuances in them and trust me when I say that giving the bass a boost, turns these old basses into monsters. That said, even at neutral setting, I really like the way you can kind of “hear the wood” in lack of a better expression. There is something true and authentic about that tone to me.
At the end of the day – and as mentioned in the beginning – even basses that should be totally similar can easily sound and feel very different. I am sure that had I had another Stingray 5 from 1992 it would have sounded different from the one I used here. But I think that there is a significant overall tonal diference between the old basses and the new(er). Something that goes beyond subtle nuances. I hope that these clips may help you decide in which overall direction to continue your search for the almighty Stingray Bass!