MusicMan Silhouette Special Guitar
Every once in a while, a company builds a guitar that is nothing short of magical. That's what the guys did at Ernie Ball / MusicMan with the Silhouette Special. I hate to start a review this way because it doesn't exactly set the tone for an unbiased description of the guitar.
Let me give a little background... I am one of those lucky few individuals who, because of my profession in the music industry, I can have any guitar I want whenever I want it. Before you hunt me down and make me pay for my good fortune, let me explain. I have been playing guitar for many, many years and have studied with many the world's true masters (which I am not, but...). I know the instrument inside and out and for several years have taken to constructing my own guitars in order to get an instrument that really sounds and feels great. The result is a guitar that even the drummer knows sounds incredible and is coveted by most who play it. This particular guitar resulted in the sale of all of my other guitars within a very short time and I became one of those rabid, foaming at the mouth, one guitar or death kind of players. So, when I first picked up the MusicMan Silhouette, I honestly had NO interest in owning one. That said, let me continue...
The body: From study and personal experience, I knew that light weight wood usually sounds better than heavy wood. There are several woods commonly used to construct guitars that are light weight. The most common are alder, poplar and bass. (None of which are particularly exotic or expensive.) Alder is the wood that those pre-CBS Strats® were made of and, those of us tone junkies, seem to gravitate towards. There seems to be a common misconception that, it's the heavier the better, when it comes to guitar woods. Without diving deeper into the physical properties of individual guitar woods, the MusicMan Silhouette Special is made of alder. And, I smile about that.
The neck: Neck woods DO have a profound effect over the sound of a guitar but it's the shape of a guitar neck that most guitarists relate to right away. Before I started cutting my own necks to the shape I wanted, I used to play Patrick Eggle guitars from England (wonderful guitars). Eggle just seemed to read my mind as to what a neck shape should be. But, his guitars are REALLY hard to come by in the US and average around 3 grand. I was willing to pay it but I have always had a long standing belief that no guitar should costs that much that doesn't belong in a museum. At that time, a colleague began spouting off to me about how MusicMan nailed that neck shape. I didn't even look up. I had my guitar and wasn't interested in changing. (Now, if he told me that he had a Dumble Amp, the conversation would've lasted longer...)
Years passed... One day, I played another friend's guitar. I had been playing with humbucking pickups tapped out of phase for a long time. This friend's guitar had three single coils in the traditional positions. It felt good. It was like coming home to a sound I've always loved but had forgotten. Actually, it wasn't that different than my tapped double coils but with an airy quality I didn't realize I missed. Suddenly, I wanted a new guitar. I wanted the light weight and feel of my Eggle and it's punchy, tight low end. But, now I wanted that breathy, airy single coil top end. (If you've been playing for a while, you know what a fantasy this is.) This is when I started cutting wood and came up with the guitar that finally dethroned my beloved Patrick Eggle.
More years passed... One day, I was at the NAMM show and happened by the Ernie Ball / MusicMan booth on the way to a meeting. I thought, "what the heck, I have a few minutes to kill, let's see if Matt (not Matt Smith) was full of crap when he said these guys know how to make a neck." So, I picked one up. It felt good... really good! I smiled. Later, I plugged one in and it sounded good too. After the show, I trotted down to Modern Guitar in Reno and got one on order thinking it would be a good backup for my "main" guitar (I needed a backup because breaking strings during a big show with one guitar sucks). The wait killed me! It took, like, nine weeks to get the guitar! I was crawling out of my skin. I'd thumb through the catalog every morning during my "private reading time" and reminiscing fondly over my NAMM show experience. At the same time, I didn't really have that great of expectations for the guitar. At least, I really expected it to remain the backup...
The Pickups: MusicMan loads the Silhouette Special with some proprietary DiMarzio puckups. They're good. In fact, they're really good. But, I am a tone junkie and discovered Lindy Fralin some years back. (Lindy winds pickups. They're harder than er, heck to find, but WHAT A PICKUP!! I know Modern Guitar can get 'em for you if you can't find them.) So, the first thing I did when my Silhouette Special finally arrived was to take it apart. I did back flips when I found that MusicMan used a connecter to clip the harness to the body wiring! I hadn't seen that since pre-Samick Valley Arts Guitars. It was a joy to wire my Fralins into the Silhouette. What's on the INSIDE of a guitar is very revealingto the quality of an instrument. MusicMan makes a very clean, well constructed guitar.
The Bottom Line: The guitar is obviousely designed and built by guitarists. I am at this moment, eagerly awaiting the arrival of my second Silhouette Special (backup). The only guitar I know of today that is built to the same standard of quality is Tom Anderson. But, Tom's guitars, though stunning, start at $2600 (last time I checked). You can carry home the MusicMan for half that and have money left over to pay the rent! Ernie Ball / MusicMan Silhouette Special. Check it out!!