The all-new Cliff Williams Icon Series StingRay Bass is the first in a series of limited handcrafted replicas made to capture the look, sound, and essence of iconic Music Man instruments. Initially dubbed “The #1 Workhorse”, Cliff’s 1979 Stingray has been his favorite bass for more than 40 years. Built to the exacting specifications of his original, every detail and characteristic was carefully examined and addressed. Body contours, neck carve, pickup construction, and decades of wear and tear were dutifully replicated by Music Man’s team of master craftsmen. The resulting outcome is a finely crafted period-correct instrument that looks, feels, and sounds just like Cliff’s #1 Stingray bass.

Watch as Cliff Williams walks us through his Icon Series StingRay.

We were in Alberts Studios in Sydney Australia, must have been 1978-ish, when George Young (Angus and Malcolm’s older brother) let me try his new Music Man StingRay Bass. I was used to my old ‘64 vintage P-bass and was happy with that until I came upon the StingRay. The neck immediately felt comfortable and the weight good, but it was the sound that got me hooked! I got my ‘79 and, apart from the odd short-lived sidetrack here and there, have played it ever since.

Cliff Williams

So, what actually goes into making one of these very high-end basses? After all, the price point is a lot higher than many of our other instruments. At Ernie Ball Music Man, the arduous task at hand was capturing the entire essence of this instrument – one hundred percent. Staying true to the original, every nick, paint chip, and blemish was painstakingly examined and recreated by our skilled team of artisans and master craftsmen. Let us take you through the process directly from our factory floor in San Luis Obispo, California.

Milling

The entire manufacturing process for this unique instrument was engineered to match the aesthetic, feel, and functionality of Cliff Williams’ “Workhorse #1”. The 3-piece Poplar bodies were meticulously graded to achieve the proper color hue once painted. 

The hallmark front mineral stain was laser engraved for the perfect accent to the grain.

New old stock Music Man truss rod components from the correct era were installed into the necks before the light shade Walnut ‘Skunk Stripes’ were glued in. The contours of the body and neck are exact matches.

Paint

Nitrocellulose Lacquer is a challenging material to handle, apply, and distress properly. The history of this paint and its varying chemical composition is fascinating. It is heavily sought after in the guitar world because of its natural living & breathing qualities which help support the resonance and natural frequencies of the guitar itself. This is also what makes it so volatile and prone to cracking or “checking”. There are many tricks in the industry to help make this paint behave including the addition of plasticizers, various drying techniques, etc. After extensive testing and research, we ensured the paint was as true to the original as possible.

Hardware

Alongside the major chrome plated components, Cliff’s Icon Series StingRay is filled with a lot of nickel-plated, steel hardware. This material and plating were commonplace during the era when this bass was first produced. However, nickel-plated fasteners are not available without custom orders anymore. Stainless steel is not as exotic as it once was, and materials like Zinc, Cadmium, or Black Oxide plating have become the standard for steel fasteners. Nevertheless, you won’t be able to recognize the subtle difference in hue between Nickel and Chrome plating. Rest assured each nut, bolt, screw, and other metal component is correct and matches the original model.  

Electronics

The electronics package was carefully recreated through reverse engineering and numerous listening tests. The old school 2-band preamp is constructed with legacy components no longer in production to best replicate Cliff’s exact sound. 

The original bass has a treble knob marking on the control plate to indicate Cliff’s preferred tonal location, which we recreated through exact resistance measurements of the potentiometer.

The pickup assembly is comprised entirely of matching period-correct components, wire gauge, and DC resistance to the original model. This pickup, in particular, has a significantly higher output than what was considered the median range of the era in which it was created. To produce the true clone of the instrument, the control cavity of each bass is lined with copper insulating tape.

Distressing

The only way to properly distress or ‘relic’ something and to give it the most realistic look and feel is to imitate the true process of degradation. Cutting any corner to try and save time will ultimately result in a cheesy, artificial look.

The body and neck of the Cliff Williams StingRay had to be entirely painted and buffed before all of the back scraping was done by hand. The open wood areas were then finished with an oil paint mixture to best imitate the oils and dirt present on our own skin. 

The hardware was also plated throughout as a normal part would be made before any scuffing, plating stripping, or oxidation is introduced. Each and every part followed the same basic process that it would have experienced throughout a 40+ year Rock & Roll lifetime.

Nitrocellulose Lacquer Checking

The phenomenon of “checking” in the Ernie Ball Music Man factory is actually a mechanical fracture of the solids that are left in the paint once all of the solvents have evaporated. When the instrument experiences temperature variations, the wood and the paint expand and contract at different rates resulting in unique cracks. After studying this aesthetic, one can eventually decipher whether the checking is natural or done by use of a razor blade or scalpel. The real deal is what was chosen by Music Man, which is demonstrated below. Putting string tension on the instrument before applying temperature variations also helps the paint cracks propagate in their natural directions.

Final Assembly

Similar to any other 40+ year old machine, the Cliff Williams Icon Series StingRay bass has its own customizations, upgrades, repairs, and mismatched hardware. The two different styles of saddles, Micro-Tilt neck shim adjustment, Bullet style truss rod, 3-bolt neck plate, and old StingRay contours can’t help but make you feel like you’re back in the late ’70s. The setup is exactly like how Cliff Williams himself enjoys his bass, with Flatwounds, excellent action and a meticulously filed nut with some soul and style sprinkled all around it. Part of the allure to any vintage item is seeing and feeling the history embedded within. We understand that and want each customer to have this experience with this StingRay model.

You can order the Cliff Williams Icon Series StingRay bass and learn more about what it has to offer on our website here.

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