Music Man Steve Morse Dark Lord - Limited Edition
- Review 29-12-2015

The Music Man Steve Morse Dark Lord is quite a unique guitar. (Steve as most of us will know is Deep Purple's long time guitarist.) This particular model evolved from the Steve Morse Y2D model, which itself in turn was an evolution from the original Steve Morse model.

Back in 2011 the Y2D was modified by none other than Joe Bonamassa and his former guitar tech for a series of shows. The basic premise of the guitars remains but Joe added chrome covers to the pickups and most importantly a reverse headstock neck, with a profile based on his preferred '59 Les Paul.

Music Man then asked Joe Bonamassa if the model could make it to the production line and he was fine with the guitar been released, as long as Music Man had Steve Morse's blessing as after all it was originally his signature guitar !


So there we have it, a guitar with input from two guitar greats which, is produced in a limited run both as a Ball Family Reserve and as a Guitar Centre Ltd Edition. The later is the one we are reviewing today, although please note that BFR inlay aside both models are identical.

Specifications.

The guitar features a solid body made from popular and is finished with a figured maple top in transparent black which, allows to the grain to show through the polyester finish. Polyster or "Poly" is usual for Music Man Instruments (As opposed to Nitrocellulose for high end vintage Fender and all Gibsons). The 25 ½ inch scale neck has been "roasted" in high tech ovens and attaches to the body with a five bolt plate with a sculpted heel. The roasting process visually makes the wood look darker and also removes the moisture and impurities for a highly stable neck. The neck is finished with Music Mans proprietary gun stock oil and wax blend. A separate rosewood fingerboard finishes this off. The headstock front is painted to match the body and the back is finished with gloss varnish, while the back of the neck is left natural for faster playing without the sticky varnish some players complain about on finished necks.

All the hardware is finished in chrome; frets are jumbo sized. The rather original and unique bridge is fixed and of Music Mans own design. Tuners are Schaller M6-IND locking items with the trademark four up two down Music Man arrangement to provide a straight string pull for better tuning stability, but remember this is a reversed headstock as mentioned earlier so it is really 4 + 2 arrangement.

Moving on to electronics, a pair of DiMarzio humbucking pickups are installed, more specifically the DP-205 in the neck and DP-200 in the bridge position. These are both Steve Morse signature items. A custom would single coil pickup is also placed just in front of the bridge humbucker.

As mentioned by Steve himself the position of the pickups is very important and is one of the reasons the guitar has a 22 fret neck so that the neck pickup is correctly placed. The single coil is installed as again Steve prefers it as it cleans up better when rolling down the volume pot during a quiet passage for example.


Pickups are selected with a standard five way switch. This switch allows selection of the bridge, neck and single coil in different combinations as follows.

* Position 1 (nearest to rear) Bridge Pickup
* Position 2 Single Coil and Bridge
* Position 3 Single Coil Only
* Position 4 Neck and Bridge together
* Position 5 Neck Pickup

Fit & Finish

With its price in the premium range for an instrument we expect the fit, finish and quality to very high. The paint finish is flawless and so far seems stands up well to normal use. The fret work is of a high standard with very smooth rolled edges. The gun oil infused neck makes for a fast playing and slick instrument. Electronics are top notch and should have no problems through years of use.

Sounds & Playability

Plugged into my Blues Junior valve amplifier the Dark Lord is certainly a raucous guitar, capable of a multitude of tones. Between the three pickups there are many possibilities such as bell like Strat type tones from the single coil, mellow jazz tones from the neck humbucker to hard hitting overdrive from the bridge humbucker.

The guitar certainly lives up to its name and to my ears at least has a "darker" character than my Luke 3 or Les Paul for example. When playing live I found myself mainly using the bridge humbucker with overdrive or the single coil a cleaned up sound. This is one guitar which will definitely sound its best with a treble rich amp, like a Fender valve amp for example.

The neck although having a fairly thick and round profile is comfortable enough to play and wasn't an issue when I used it recently for a gig. The guitar is also fairly light (just under 8lbs) and does not feel heavy on the shoulder.

At the moment it is strung with a hybrid set of strings which are from a 10 gauge set for the treble strings and a 9 gauge set for the lower strings. I have to decide if to go the same way when new strings are required or to go for a normal 9 gauge set for easier bends.

Summary

A superbly made and unique guitar, which should appeal to guitar players of all styles.

By Ernest H Slade