Steve Morse has unbelievable depth, range, and ability as a guitarist, musician, composer, and band leader. So much, in fact, that early in his career he pieced together a custom guitar using the wood, electronics, and hardware that would help him realize his vision. With a totally unique and somewhat-confusing-looking array of pickups and switches, Steve and his “Frankentele” created a brand-new stratosphere of boundaries and expectations for electric guitar.
That was for the benefit of the guitarists who have been living in a cave for the last 40 years…
For the rest of us, we know that the Music Man Steve Morse signature guitar is more than a tribute or facsimile model; this is the guitar that Steve uses everyday and that was custom designed to his exacting specifications so that he could do his incredible work with it, straight from the factory. Knowing this, I was anxious to get my hands on this instrument and see what it could do.
Much to my dismay, it did not make me play or sound like Steve Morse. What it did do, was offer me a ridiculous amount of usable sounds that blend seamlessly together in a guitar that’s familiar feeling and easy to play. Steve’s woods of choice are poplar for the body, bird’s-eye maple for the neck, and rosewood for the fingerboard. The result is a balanced sounding and feeling instrument. Playing it unplugged, the sound was lively and vibrant, especially for a guitar with a floating, double-locking tremolo system. All of the punch and solidity I was expecting to hear out of this guitar was in abundant supply thanks to the choice woods and hardened steel trem system. The shape of the neck, fretboard, and frets make the Morse infinitely playable and the set-up was spot-on.
I plugged the Morse into my Mesa Boogie Trans Atlantic and began to navigate the electronics. With the help of Music Man’s simple control diagram (included in the case), I was getting around the pickup combinations quickly and the switching began to make sense. By way of explanation, the 3-way lever pickup selector is the main control; it chooses the bridge humbucker, adjacent single-coil, or neck humbucker. The 2-way toggle selector, located near the neck, adds the bridge humbucker to whatever pickup is selected on the lever switch. The 3-way toggle switch on the rear of the guitar activates the angled single-coil pickup. The down position turns off the angled single-coil, the middle position adds it to the pickup selected on the lever, and the up position selects the angled single-coil pickup only, bypassing everything else. Mathematically, there are only three pickup combinations not available but in practical use they are not missed.
Even though the switching was designed around Steve’s idiosyncratic guitar style, within a few minutes I was taking full advantage of the Morse’s sonic range. The first thing that I noticed was the incredibly even balance between all four pickups — no extreme level jumps or mismatched tones. The DP 205 Morse Signature neck pickup is warm and round with the right clarity, the DP 200 bridge humbucker has just a bit more output to drive the amp with the appropriate midrange bump to make it snarl and the two DP 108 single-coils are smooth and glassy. No matter how much gain I used, the Morse stayed tight and focused on all pickup selections. The pickup combinations are where this guitar truly shines and the two single-coil pickups added a wealth of traditional and non-traditional sounds, despite their unorthodox placement. I see why Steve designed the electronics the way that he did!
Everything about the Music Man Steve Morse is player-friendly. For example, the headstock shape and size provide even, straight string pull and make the guitar short enough to fit into an overhead bin on an airplane. This is easily one of the most versatile guitars available. There are several versions of the Steve Morse model available, including hard-tail bridge versions, the Y2D, and several color offerings. Long live the “Frankentele!”