Each week we take a closer look into the new features of the StingRay Special bass and what makes it distinct. Last week I discussed the assimilation of the new 18V preamp, now let’s examine a similar subtle-yet-radical change: Neodymium pickup magnets.
For those who are new to neodymium pickups: Neodymium magnets possess a stronger magnetic force than traditional magnets, which therefore means the pickups generate a far stronger signal without needing to be highly wound. Neodymium magnets are classified as Rare Earth magnets, they carry one of the strongest magnetic charges, and have an exceptional lifespan for their magnetism which outlasts ceramic or Alnico. The physical characteristics of neodymium are that it is a very strongly magnetized metal, putting out roughly seven times the electrical impulse as ceramic magnets. Also, they are significantly more rigid and brittle than other pickup magnets. The incredibly durable and strong nature of the metal provides its own set of logistical issues if you dive deeply enough into the science of pickups and amplification.
Check out Mike Herrera of MxPx discussing the StingRay Special here:
Hearing all the benefits of neodymium one may ask; why doesn’t every instrument use neodymium? The fact of the matter is that the raw power of the signal output is often far too hot for a regular passive instrument to sound great. Not only that, but on non-bass guitars they have been shown to exhibit enough magnetic force to pull on guitar strings, wrecking intonation and confounding playability. This is not an issue with bass guitars, as bass strings contain too much mass and too great of a density for the magnets to exhibit force. This is one practical reason you’ll see neodymium far more commonly on bass guitars, the other being preamp power.
Theoretically neodymium magnets should impart a greater amount of tone that is derived purely from the instrument and strings. The only problem is that it requires a robust enough electrical system to properly be expressed, or in bass parlance “needs more headroom”. This is where the 18V preamp comes into play, the extra headroom of the 18V preamp gives the strength of the neodymium magnets enough bandwidth to evoke the best sounds possible. Even the most reliable and expressive 9V preamps may not have quite the ability to harness neodymium, as a matter of fact this is the first time these magnets have been used in a StingRay bass!
With the power of neodymium magnets mated to the customized voicing of the 18V preamp you have a bass guitar that can singularly bring the wood of the instrument, the pickups, the shape of the body, and the strings all into harmony. Detractors of active electronic bass pickups will note the “sterile” nature of the tone or that it “lacks wood characteristics” but the StingRay Special has addressed all these aspects and brushed them aside. Colorful and warm tones abound, but if you desire muddy distortion, crystal clarity, or old-school thump then the StingRay Special can give you all of these with extra soul to spare.
Be sure to check out all the other entries into the StingRay Special Spotlight series of blog posts on the Music Man blog. You can find out more about the updates to the body and neck, the proprietary new hardware, and the new preamp!