Sterling by Music Man STV60

Year: 2019
Finish: Vincent Blue
Origin: Indonesia
Acquired: 2019
Mods: Schaller straplocks
Still owned: Yes

Sometimes, when shopping for guitars, I land a deal. This time, I got an ordeal.

I loved the look of the St. Vincent right away. I got to try a US-made St. Vincent signature Ernie Ball Music Man at work and found…I wasn’t crazy about the neck. When they started making import versions under the Sterling label, I tried one in a store and loved the feel. It went on the wish list. After the whole Eastwood disappointment, I was on the rebound and decided to finally let myself get this instead. Found a really good price on Reverb from a small indie store in NJ and thanked my lucky stars for spotting such a deep discount.

Right off the bat, the store shipped me the wrong guitar, and they were very slow to get the correct one out to me. Off to a bad start. Once the right one arrived, it was simply unplayable, and that is not a word I use casually. The neck was humped; the frets were incompletely installed and all over the place height-wise. This guitar was straight-up faulty and should never have been sold; it should have been returned to the factory as something that slipped through QA. If the store had done a setup, they’d have realized the serious issues, but they hadn’t so they didn’t; the store claimed it’d just been on the wall for a year, so by their own account, it was “that way from the factory.” My hands and experience this is not how the one I’d played a year before felt at all. Their return window was 7 days, which I wasted giving them and the guitar the benefit of the doubt — “it probably needs a setup.” They agreed it probably did but never offered to take it back. Ultimately they gave me a little money back, which I applied to a pro setup by Greg at Orbiter Guitars.

Greg worked with it for a full month. He described the frets as “rougher than a night in a Tijuana jail” and said in 20 years he’d never seen anything so completely unwilling to be tamed. The store’s response was “huh, that’s weird, we’ve never had any trouble” — but at no point did they offer to actually make it right. I asked them to contact the manufacturer and the response was priceless: “He says maybe you got a bad apple.” Well, then please do the honorable thing and help me get a replacement apple…? But the store never offered to set up a warranty return or do anything beyond say “That’s weird.”

I finally just invoked the manufacturer’s warranty myself. And by contrast, Sterling was very polite and professional and sent me a new guitar quickly after confirming receipt of the faulty one. It’s pristine and matches the quality of the one I played a year ago — finally, this was the guitar I thought I was buying. The three mini-hums are fine and sound different from my Seymours on the XJs but might benefit from an upgrade (the USA version comes with DiMarzios), and the five-way Strat-style pickup switch is not wired the way a Strat owner would expect: Here, it’s Bridge, Middle, Neck, all three in parallel, and Neck + Bridge in parallel. It’s a really interesting, comfortable, lightweight, eye-catching instrument, and I’m glad one is finally mine.

It took more than two months to resolve the situation, but I am grateful for a happy ending here at the end of the journey. That said, it does make me think twice about working with smaller stores online. Sometimes dud guitars come from dud retailers, and a bargain isn’t always a bargain.

Sterling STV60