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FDP Forum / Non-Fender Gear Reviews / Sterling by Ernie Ball Music Man SUB AX3

ejm

usa

Jul 7th, 2013 11:57 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Sterling by Ernie Ball Music Man
Sterling SUB AX3 Review

Features:
Maple neck, two humbucking pickups, 5 way switch, solid body, maple “image” quilted top, 22 frets medium jumbo, volume and tone pots, vibrato/tremolo/whammy.
Purchase price: $231 taxes and shipping included.

I am a lifelong Strat guy. I had the urge to spend some money and didn't have a guitar with HB pups. Whatever I bought HAD to have a whammy bar. I was also looking for a “beater” guitar, something that if it got stolen or “hurt” I wouldn't feel like it was the end of the world. I saw a good review of this in GP last year, and the majority of user reviews on the interwebs were good if not better. Add all of this up, and here we are.

Things I like about it:
Price: It's economical.
Appearance: FWIW it looks great. Yes, the top is “fake”. However, to be fair, other guitars have “fake” tops also and nobody complains about them.
Extras: The tools/wrenches come with it.
Whammy bar: The whammy bar looks thick enough that if screwed in properly it should never break off. It is definitely thicker than a Strat bar.
Neck shape: I like big necks. This one is far from huge, but is not skinny either. This one feels fine so far. This is a very personal spec, so you just need to try one. It's supposed to be an “asymmetrical carve”.
Pickup selections: They are not the same as if you had coil taps on one of the pots (or a mini toggle). One switch, it's simple.
It's QUIET. All five switch positions are noise cancelling. To me this was a major consideration. When I played a couple of these in the stores, for a sanity check I'd go grab a standard Strat to compare because that is what I'm used to in terms of sound and feel (usually a MIM). When I'd plug in I'd hear that familiar Strat tone accompanied by this BZZZZZZZZ. Sorry, but as someone on this forum once said: Noise is not music, it's noise. After getting used to noise cancelling pups in another Strat (Dimarzio Areas) there was no way I was going to buy another Strat for a so called “beater”. And believe me, I was tempted several times. (How about a used MIM with SD single coils and Sperzels off of CL for the same price as the SUB AX3? FYI: There are deals out there right now people.)

The pup selections are (all noise cancelling):
Neck HB both coils in series out of phase, 8.5K ohms
Neck HB both coils in parallel out of phase (a "single coil" sound), 2.1K
Neck HB and Bridge HB in parallel out of phase, 5.5K
Inside coils of both pups in parallel out of phase, 2.8K
Bridge HB both coils in series out of phase, 15.6K
FYI, the 5 way switch in there looks standard but is NOT and is “special” or has been modified some how to give various combinations of coils. The two sides do not function the same like a regular 5 way does.

What I don't like:
I can't think of anything really. Maybe I'm not picky enough.
If I have to pick *something*..........
Trem block: The trem block is not thick/full sized. It is the thinner import size. HOWEVER, to be fair, I have seen several new American standard Strats that are this way also.
Nut slots: Minor point, but I wish the nut slots were cut wider. They seem to be for 0.009s. If you want to go heavier you may need to have them widened.
COMPLAINT AND RANT WITH THE VENDOR I BOUGHT FROM: When I went back a couple of days after receipt to thank them and let them know that the guitar arrived, I mentioned the nut slots and if I might bring it back in the future to have them widened (they have a repair person in store). The first thing out of the clerks' mouth was, “Well I see you didn't buy the extended warranty, did you? There would be a charge for that.” I didn't say anything but thought to myself: “This is a NEW guitar. This the kind of customer service you give?” As it is the trem seems to be settling in, I use it a LOT, and there are no tuning issues so far. Hopefully I never have to set foot in that store again.

Adjustments so far:
Not many. I decided to let the guitar “settle in” before doing any action or set up tweaks. As arrived the relief was about 0.010, low E at fret 17 = 5/64, high E at fret 17 = 4.5/64. It's a smidge higher now that I floated the trem.
Treble bleed mod: I added a cap to the volume control for the treble bleed mod.
Float the trem: I set the whammy up for floating (it came decked). I raised the two bridge posts about a half turn, just enough so that the bridge totally pivots on the posts and does not contact the body when dive bombing.
Trem springs: I added one more trem spring (probably wasn't necessary).
CHANGED THE STRINGS: Several internet reviews commented on how the stock strings left this black junk on the fingers and the fretboard. They weren't kidding.

Conclusion: So far, IMO this is a “beater” guitar only because of the price. If something happened to it I would immediately replace it.

A final note: Once I got my new baby, I started looking for a means to protect it. Doing some creative CL searches, I found a guy who somehow had ordered two EBMM HSCs, but only needed one. A nice thing is that you don't need to remove the bar when you put it in the case. Asking price for a brand spankin' new EBMM HSC: $25. SOLD.

(This message was last edited by ejm at 12:02 AM, Sep 12th, 2013)

DrKev
Contributing Member
***

Irishman in Paris

Forget Tone - go with Note Choice
Jul 29th, 2013 10:51 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

I've heard nothing but great things about these guitars albeit from EBMM fans. It's nice to see a great review over here on the FDP too.

ejm

usa

Sep 2nd, 2013 11:39 AM   Edit   Profile   Print Topic   Search Topic

Sterling SUB AX3 review update: OK, now that the honeymoon is over and I've had the guitar for a couple of months, let me say that it did not turn out to be perfect. The “fix” was simple, and cost between $0 and about $50, depending on which way you want to go.

The problem was actually two problems that I believe are caused by the same thing: The bridge saddles. The strings break over the top of the saddles and settle into a pointed V shaped groove which I think is the problem. The strings would do one or both of two things. I personally noticed it on the E/B/G strings, but it may develop on others as well to some degree. They are:
1) A “fretting out” sound as you bend notes. However, the strings are not fretting out because of the curvature of the fingerboard. The note starts out clear and as you bend the string it starts to make the sound. However, if you keep bending the note cleans up again.
2) A ringing sound similar to a sitar on either open strings or fretted notes.

I tried several things to fix these problems. I also compared/tried a couple of other of the same model guitars in local stores (as well as the SILO 3, NOT 30), and they had the same issues. I'll spare you all of the details of what I did and just jump right to the fixes.

Cheap fix: Using some emory cloth and/or real fine sandpaper and/or a very fine toothed file, round off the top of the bridge saddle and make it horizontally even like a vintage Strat saddle to get rid of the V groove, or at least make it more rounded. Your ears will tell you when it's good enough. This fix works if you don't want to spend any more money.

The “Ultra” fix: I looked around a lot and did not want to spend a ton of money. I ultimately ordered a set of GFS K102 saddles because of the way the string slots are shaped. At the same time, and probably not necessary but since I was spending money anyway, I also ordered a GFS D30 replacement trem block, which also required ordering a regular Strat trem arm due to different threads. I think that all of this did improve the tone, but it's hard to tell with any fix if you can't compare the before/after side by side.

Note: If you are going to order replacement saddles and/or a trem block, make sure that they fit the import measurements of the guitar in question. There are differences between import, MIM and American. I did my research and did not have any problems.

All of the issues are now gone. I have more expensive guitars, but I find myself playing this one a lot. As we can all agree, anything that makes you play more is a good thing.
**********************************************
Now for the ranting portion of our show. I also have a beef with some of the reviews I read about this guitar, or specifically the REVIEWERS. Yes Guitar Player, I'm looking at you, as well as all of the other internet and Youtube yahoos. I can't believe that one of you guys did not notice this.

Do you listen to the guitars acoustically? That is how I discovered it, and the guitars in the stores did the same thing.

The guitars come from the factory with the trem decked. While this problem was noticeable on the in store guitars, my gut tells me that it is possibly more noticeable when the trem is floating. Setting the trem to float is one of the first things I did. It's also something that a lot of players prefer. So why, in the process of your reviews, did you not do this also? This just makes me wonder how much you actually played the guitar before writing the review.

Yes, I know it's an inexpensive guitar. But there is one requirement for anything: It has to work. If it doesn't work nothing else matters. If your coffee cup leaks, does it matter how cheap it is?

(This message was last edited by ejm at 12:03 AM, Sep 12th, 2013)

FDP Forum / Non-Fender Gear Reviews / Sterling by Ernie Ball Music Man SUB AX3




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