For many aspiring rock and metal guitarists, John Petrucci of Dream Theater has been the benchmark of not only technique but also tone for over 30 years. For the latter half of that period, he has been a signature guitarist of Ernie Ball’s Music Man guitars. Together they have designed, created and mass produced high-end instruments that go above and beyond to deliver very versatile and playable guitars. This often means quite a large price-tag, however, until recently. In 2015, John Petrucci announced two guitars priced more around the mid-range of price, utilizing Music Man’s “Sterling by Music Man” name.
I was lucky enough to play both guitars and currently own a JP-70 and believe the company has definitely met their goal of providing a guitar that delivers the same as their high-end instruments, but won’t break the budget.
The JP-60 and its seven string equivalent (the JP-70) are constructed from more affordable parts where possible without sacrificing the core elements of what make the JP line fantastic. The maple neck is attached to a rich sounding basswood body via bolt-on construction which has surprisingly remarkable tonal and sustain results for a construction of its kind. Accentuating this is a beautiful 24 fret rosewood fingerboard that sits at a very comfortable 25.5-inch scale. Both guitars come loaded with 2 Sterling by Music Man Humbucker pickups, and whilst decent, however, a small investment into the John Petrucci signature combination of the Dimarzio ‘Crunchlab’ and ‘Liquifire’ pickups would elevate the tone of the guitar to an entirely new sonic echelon. With the woods and construction methods being identical to the higher end models, the difference in pickups is really all that needs investing in as the more affordable hardware parts are perfectly sturdy enough and are largely inconsequential to these specific guitars.
For those concerned with aesthetics, three finish options are available: Pearl Red Burt, Translucent Purple Burst, and Translucent Green Burst.
It’s worth noting that a limited edition version was also released which comes in the special finish of pearl white and comes pre-loaded with the Dimarzio pickups (the JP-70D), however, this was limited to a production run of only 60 guitars worldwide and only the 7-string version. This limited edition is the version that I own, and if you can manage to get your hands on one, you won’t regret it.
Playability and Reliability:
Both guitars feature contoured bodies with an enormous forearm scoop for comfort and deep, double cutaways for easy higher fret access. The fingerboard boasts a super flat radius of 16” and the neck utilizes a flat ‘D’ profile. In conjunction, these two aspects allow for super fast shredding style of playing and feels very comfortable in the hand when used as such. However, this is a flaw when it comes to more chordal styles of playing, as it feels like the hand must stretch more than average to correctly fret each note. This is especially true for the seven string as the neck and fretboard must be wider to accommodate the extra string. Overall, this slight flaw isn’t a deal breaker and both guitars still fit comfortably in the hands and sit nicely against the body, regardless of sitting or standing.
Whilst on the subject of the 7-string version, it’s worth mentioning a slight manufacturing issue that some have had. Because of the goal of the instrument to be supreme playability, the guitar is manufactured to have a neck that is slightly thinner than your typical 7-string guitar. This means that if the spacing of the strings isn’t perfect, it can feel noticeably wrong. For example, my JP70D had a high E string which was spaced too far away from the B string and as a result would often slip off the fretboard. Most cases of this are resolved by getting a new nut constructed and installed, but that can also be an expensive investment.
Aside from this occasional factory flaw, the guitar is very sturdy and reliable and all hardware parts seem that they wouldn’t be affected by regular playing/touring duress.
Whilst having the physical traits of a guitar built for rock and metal styles of playing, tonally speaking, these guitars can handle anything: especially when upgraded with the Dimarzio set that is their perfect match. When used through a clean channel on the neck pickup, the tone rings and shimmers and could easily suit jazz, fusion and other more pastoral genres of music. Flick down to the bridge pickup and the tones become well suited to blues or clean rock and roll. Changing to an overdriven channel the bridge pickup really shines where it’s meant to, for a hard hitting and tight rhythmic sound perfect for any rock and metal song. A quick change up back to neck pickup whilst still using an overdriven channel will then provide you with a sweet liquid-like tone perfect for most styles of solos.
Whilst not without their flaws, this is a very impressive pair of guitars, especially when taken into consideration how customizable and/or upgradeable they can be. For their price point of around $1,000, they’re a great grab for any guitarist who likes an ergonomic design which will allow them to play at their best.