So if you could only have one, which would it be?
Of a comparable priced strat, what stands out to you that is better about the Music Man guitar in question?
Hmm, tough question... Right now I'm really, really digging the new kid - the Cutlass. But I guess that's to be expected
If I could only have one guitar, then it would have to be one in HSS configuration. So one of the Lukes. The newest model, the LIII, is really a great guitar. But it is a fairly dark sounding guitar as well, something which surprised me a bit. The original Luke with the EMGs was possible a bit more flexible in tones.. but with the passive pickups on the LIII it has greater dynamics. All in all I think I would go with the LIII as my one instrument....
As for the Cutlass - I guess it should be compared against a fairly high-end US Strat price wise. And I have to say I think it smokes those models completely.
First of all there is the build quality - the feel of the neck, the wood, and especially the fretwork. You would have to go custom shop strat for anything like that... which is indeed double the price.
But also for concrete features, these are the benefits as I see them:
- Stainless steel frets. These are sooo smooth to do bends with. You wouldn't believe the difference SS frets actually does before you've played some yourself. Also they do not wear down. So you won't have to worry about re-fretting the guitar down the road
- Good quality (Schaller) locking tuners. I will never ever
buy a guitar without locking machine heads again (all my MM have those, except the original Luke because of the Floyd).
- The 4+2 tuner arrangement on the head stock. Some think it looks funny (silly?). But it makes the pull on each string completely straight through the nut slot, which makes tuning incredibly stable. Without string trees or any such nonsense.
- MMs custom "compensated nut". I rambled about this before, but basically it's what makes the guitar be properly in tune, also when playing open chords with open strings.
- Only one tone control. I don't get why Fender thinks there should be two. It also makes the volume knob not
being in the way...
- Superb two-point trem system. This just stays in tune, regardless of whammy abuse. And the strange looking cover over the saddles makes is sooo comfortable to play.. compared to normal bent saddles that can scratch/catch your hand
- Fantastic truss rod adjustment wheel at the neck pickup. Soooo easy to adjust the truss rod on MM instruments.
- Pickups. Problem with single coil pickups is of course noise. Fender has started using their "noiseless" pickups.. but while they are silent, they do affect tone. The reason being that Fenders solution is to stack two half coils on top of each other. Kind of like a vertically stacked humbucker. The pickups in the Cutlass are vintage voiced true single coil pickups - and then
MM added an active circuit for noise reduction. I guess it's kind of like having a built-in noise gate.
- Buffered input. You can turn down the volume on the guitar, and not loose treble in your tone. Great for playing dynamically
So yeah, in my humble opinion this is just a fantastic instrument.
As you can see it's very clearly made for the musician rather than relying on a name or traditions. Some people don't like the look (I don't get it, I think it's beautiful) ... but as you can see, all the "strange" designs are done for a reason. And the reason always being to improve tone, tuning stability or playability