1978 Music Man Sabre II
Anyone who's played guitar or been in music very long knows the name Music man. Although they're probably more famous for their basses and amps, they also made superb guitars to match the quality of those more famous items.
Started in 1971 by two ex Fender employees they originally worked under the name Tri-Sonix and then Musitek after Leo Fender, who was silent partner due to his 10 year non compete contract with CBS after leaving Fender, suggested the name Music Man and came on board completely in 1975.
Leo designed the new line of hybrid Music Man amps which are still to this day, very good amps and very underrated by many, but that's another story for another time.
Like Semie Moseley, Leo kept designing and coming up with great ideas and great products but, everyone wanted "the old stuff" and both of these great designers would spend the rest of their lives trying to convince the world they had better ideas. Music Man (and Mosrite) made some exceptional products in the seventies but they were always compared to earlier designs. Semie spent the rest of his life making batches of Ventures models to quench a market while making innovative and better designs, as did Leo.
CLF Research, Leo's consulting company that manufactured the instruments for Music Man introduced the Sting Ray guitar and bass in 1976 and while the guitars didn't really catch on, the basses were, and are a much more successful product for Music Man. These were the first production instruments with onboard electronics with cut and boost.
Late in '78 a new guitar and bass were introduced to the world called the Sabre. The guitar sold in two versions, the Sabre I and II. The only difference being the fretboard radius and frets with 12" and 7 1/2" and jumbo or standard respectively.
The guitars are solid ash and feel very substantial when worn. While the body is very "Strat" it does have an aesthetic of it's own. It's nicely contoured with a belly and elbow cut but otherwise quite a slab.
The neck is a one piece rock maple neck and board with a skunk stripe down the back. It's a fairly thin but very comfortable neck. This one being a Sabre II has the 7 1/2" radius and standard frets. Scale is 25.5".
The pickups are humbuckers and sound HUGE. Probably close to widerange HBs in tone they push hard, and then you switch in the onboard electronics. Battery access is through a heavy chrome plated plate on the back.
The active EQ/Preamp is a very impressive piece of gear. It's a nine volt high output, low impedance driver and can push the front end of an amp into break up when maxed out. But ride it gently, with the active treble and bass controls and the mini bright and phase switches and the tones are endless, and very nice.
The Sabre had a six a side headstock, unlike the Sting Ray and it's a really nice headstock. It's very hard to do a six a side without either looking like a Fender gone wrong, or just looking silly, but this headstock is really nice. The string tree is a bit clunky but very functional and the tuners are Music Man branded and are very smooth.
The bridge is high quality and very functional. It reminds me of the Fender Electric XII bridge but this one is hollow "tube" saddles with adjustment through the top of the tube. The strings are through body. The neck is a three bolt with tilt like early seventies Fenders but it actually works well here, probably due to tighter neck pocket? While there are signs of Leo all over this guitar it does have a different feel and sound to Fenders before it.
The only thing non original on this one is the scratchplate and the volume knob. When you look around online it seems many people took these plates off as they seemed to like the look of them? This one has been lost and replaced at some stage.
The Sabre series sold poorly at the time and was dropped in 1984. Leo had already left the company by late '79 after disagreements between Music Man and CLF making this guitar made in under Leo's watch. CLF made guitars for Music Man up until early '81 and had already started selling guitars under the G&L name. Leo was very disappointing that Music Man didn't take off and started G&L with another old Fender friend, George Fullerton and went on to design and manufacture more high quality gear, but would never recapture to glory of the guitar company that bore his name.
This is an exceptional guitar. I have played older Sting Ray basses and have always been impressed with them but it's not often I get to spend time with one of these. Leo claimed that the Sabre was the best "Strat style" guitar he'd ever made up until that point, but people have pointed out it's probably the best Tele Deluxe guitar he'd made. While the active EQ/Pre will get you close to Strat tones it's really a much bigger guitar than a Strat. These humbuckers are awesome, and while I'm not usually into active electronics on guitars (except here) this really seems to make sense.