StingRay Bass vs Sterling Bass Comparison

StingRay Bass vs. Sterling Bass Comparison

Ernie Ball first introduced the StingRay bass in 1976. It quickly rose to fame, becoming one of the most iconic instruments of its type in history.

The StingRay became the first four-string production bass to feature on-board active equalization. It would become the flagship of the Music Man lineup.

Today’s StingRay still plays the same way as the first models did over four decades ago. It offers a roadworthy construction, hardened steel bridge, and the brand’s trademark humbucker.

The Sterling bass is an updated guitar that fills in the gaps that the StingRay misses. It uses a nine-volt three-band EQ, a ceramic humbucker, and an optional pickup in the neck for extra playing precision.

StingRay Bass vs. Sterling Bass Comparison

Ernie Ball has two iconic bass guitars in its collection. When you play the StingRay or the Sterling, you’ll get to enjoy the Music Man’s funky sounds while having an instrument that supports your overall style. Slight variations between the two include neck radius, body wood, and fret number.

The StingRay bass delivers an iconic body shape. It’s one of the most recognizable instruments in the industry today. With the egg-shaped pickguard, rounded body, and chrome control plate, it invites you to start playing in a heartbeat.

If the StingRay feels too big, the Sterling is a viable alternative for all bass players. It features a body that’s a bit smaller and more compact, measuring an inch shorter in width and length. That makes the bass guitar weigh five ounces less.

As for the electronics, the StingRay bass uses a custom-wound Music Man single humbucker in the original configuration. It was the first production instrument of its type to feature an active onboard preamp EQ. That’s why it’s the go-to bass for many players. It comes equipped with Alnico magnets that are typically for most brands and manufacturers today.

If you opt for the Sterling bass guitar instead, you’ll get the next evolution of that technology. It uses a three-way pickup selector that lets musicians choose between parallel or series configurations for the humbucker. You also get a coil tap that allows it to act as a massive single-coil setup with hum cancellation. There’s even a ceramic pickup magnet.

Neck Design for the StingRay Bass vs. Sterling Bass

When you pick up a StingRay bass to play for the first time, you’ll notice that some of Leo Fender’s original design is still present. It uses a six-bolt joint to attach the next to the body, delivering a sturdy presence that still feels comfortable to play.

The Sterling Bass uses a five-bolt neck instead. This design makes it a more sculpted result representing everything that Music Man guitars have become over this past generation.

You can also find a narrower neck on the Sterling when compared to the StingRay, especially at the nut. That makes it easier for musicians with smaller hands to have a successful playing experience.

If you don’t like the original neck on the StingRay bass, ask for the SLO Special when getting your guitar. That option gives you the Sterling neck, which can make the instrument more playable for some musicians.

Specs for the StingRay and Sterling Bass Guitars

When you know that an Ernie Ball bass guitar is what you want, it’s essential to review the specifications of each instrument.

Although there are several variations in the marketplace for both options today, you’ll find that the RAY34 and the Sterling 4 String – H models are excellent average representations of what to expect for each instrument.

Here’s a direct comparison of both bass guitars to consider.

StingRay 34 Bass Guitar SpecificationsSterling Bass Guitar 4 String – H Model
Swamp Ash Body WoodSelect Hardwoods for the Body
Multiple Color Options (Including Black)Multiple Color Options (Including Red)
Sterling by Music Man BridgeMusic Man Chrome-Plated Bridge
Transparent PickguardSolid White Pickguard
34-inch Scale Length34-inch Scale Length
9.5-inch Neck Radius11-inch Neck Radius
21 Frets, Medium22 Frets, High Profile, Stainless Steel
Roasted Maple Neck Black Dot Fret MarkersMaple or Rosewood Fingerboard with Black Dot Fret Markers
Open Gear Tuning MachinesSchaller BM Tuning Machines with Tapered String Posts
Ernie Ball 2834 Super Slinky StringsErnie Ball 2834 Super Slinky Strings

When shopping for a new StingRay or Sterling bass, you’ve got to be careful when reviewing product listings. There’s a lot of imitation imports out there that get sold as the real thing. If the listing is for less than $500, you should contact the seller to determine the product’s authenticity.

Here are some of the best listings to review right now if you’re interested in purchasing a StingRay or Sterling bass guitar today.

How to Play an Ernie Ball Music Man Bass Guitar Successfully

One of the best reasons to pick up an Ernie Ball bass today is how the instrument supports the learning process. Both the StingRay and Sterling provide excellent sounds, consistent tone, and a comfortable playing experience.

The bass guitar doesn’t always get the same amount of love in a band, but it still remains essential to an arrangement. It’s the glue that brings everything together.

After selecting the StingRay or the Sterling for playing, you’ll want to follow these steps to have a fun playing experience.

1. Tune the Guitar

If the bass player is out of tune, an entire composition will feel off. It helps to sit with the instrument on your lap, allowing the body to rest on your right leg. You’ll want to tune it to E-A-D-G from the thickest to the thinnest string.

All four strings must be in tune. It often helps to have an electronic tuner available to complete this step.

The ROADIE 3 smart automatic tuner comes with a string winder and a metronome for added value.

2. Consider the Fingerstyle

You can use a pick to play the bass, but the StingRay and Sterling sound better when using the fingerstyle method. Use your right hand, resting your thumb on one of the pickups. You can usually keep it on the one closest to the bridge. This stance anchors your hand to the instrument.

Keep the index and middle finger open while allowing the other fingers to relax. Reach for the E string, having the index finger trying to hit it with an upward motion. Make the same motion with the middle finger.

Continue to practice alternating between the two fingers until it feels natural to use either one to pluck the string.

If you decide to use a pick, you’ll need to use one meant for a bass guitar. The ones built for electrics are often too flimsy or thin to produce the sounds wanted. You’ll strike downward or upward, depending on how the composition asks you to play.

3. Get to Know Fretting

The left hand is responsible for using the fretboard to change notes. You’ll use the four fingers to hold down the strings at the frets to create different tones.

The most common way to play is to have your index finger numbered as “1,” with the others becoming two, three, and four, respectively. That’ll make it easier to reach sheet music when you get to know that positioning.

Hold the bass guitar’s neck while placing the thumb at its back, opposite the fretboard’s side. As you get used to playing the instrument, sliding your hand up and down while staying anchored will feel natural.

As you get closer to the guitar’s body, you’ll see that the frets get closer together. You’ll still press the appropriate fret to get the notes needed.

It helps to practice between the open E and the third fret to get used to how the guitar plays. Once you get familiar with the first string, start practicing on the other three (or more if you have a 5-string Ernie Ball bass).

4. Start Playing the Roots

When you begin to learn songs, the parts you’ll play often consist of playing the chord or note roots for the other instruments.

Pianos, guitars, and other lead instruments typically play a basic chord. It consists of three or four notes played together.

A common chord found in today’s music is called a G. The notes in it are G-B-D. When you’re playing a StingRay or Sterling, your job would be to play the root G in that chord. As you progress with your skills, you’ll notice that most basslines consist of you playing all the root notes for the melodic notes.

5. Embrace the Arpeggios

After your skills increase, you’ll find that bass players can add lots of character and variety to their part of a composition by playing arpeggios. The first two that you’ll learn involve the major and minor chords. The patterns for both are not a set sequence to play unless the sheet music indicates otherwise.

That means you can switch between the three or four notes of the melodic chord at your discretion. If you’re playing an extended G, you could swap between the G, B, or D.

Then start listening to the tonal quality of each note. Don’t be surprised if your fingers ache for the first couple of weeks until you get used to playing the instrument.

Final Thought on the StingRay vs. Sterling Comparison

The StingRay bass is an iconic instrument that sees global use because of its versatility. You can use it for rock, funk, country, and more. If you’re looking for something more modern with additional options and updated electronics, the Sterling from Ernie Ball is the better choice.

There’s something special about a StingRay bass when picking one up for the first time. It feels like the music you’re about to play becomes part of the fabric of our universe. Each string becomes a thread plucked to create something original, incredible, and memorable.

With the Sterling bass, you get the benefits of the StingRay while having an instrument that’s a bit easier to play. Since it’s a little smaller and has more ergonomics built into the design, it’s technically a superior bass. The updated electronics confirm that fact.


Still, the Sterling features a slightly more aggressive sound than what I like to include with my playing style. I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to plucking out the lower tones.

Either way, you’ll end up with a fantastic Music Man bass that takes care of your beats and rhythms.

Depending on the make and model you prefer, StingRay and Sterling basses range from about $600 to over $2,250.

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