Will this affordable signature model from Sterling hold up when compared to the great St. Vincent model?
Overview & Final Score: 7.9 out of 10
It’s hard not to like the Sterling by Music Man Mariposa just based off the looks alone. It’s another in a long line of stunningly unique signature models from the two brands, and this one is particularly comfortable to play. Featuring a lightweight Nyatoh wood body, this signature guitar for The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez sports a Roasted Maple neck and Rosewood fretboard for a real premium feel and playing experience. Despite looking small (at least to my eyes), the Mariposa is a full 25.5″ scale length, with gorgeous block inlays, 22 frets, and locking tuners on the classic 4:2 Music Man headstock. Dual Sterling designed humbuckers each have their own volume control knob, so no tone knob, letting you blend in all sorts of pickup combos when you’re in the middle position of the 3-way selector. Available in a Vintage White finish as well, the Dorado Green was too good for me to pass up on and it does not disappoint in person. Rounding out the features is the standard Sterling By Music Man vintage tremolo system, which has been reliable and solid on all the Sterlings I’ve played to date.
The Mariposa can go from cranked brutality to subtle crunch and cleans with ease. I think my favorite aspect of it sonically is how it nails the “quiet loud” tones. Specifically, when you turn the pickup or amp volume down, I don’t feel like I lose any body or richness, just volume. The distortion and overdriven tones are still rich and feel “big” in the room, just quieter. This made it a joy to play in my tiny apartment office, where I can’t always just dime my amps and pedals as I please. Having the ability to blend in different mixtures of the neck and bridge is a really useful addition to this guitar, that also doesn’t infringe on your ability to just plug in and play if you’re not a tone tweaker. Sterling has definitely captured the high quality tones of the more expensive Ernie Ball Music Man Mariposa, and it doesn’t sound far off from higher priced instruments I’ve reviewed. These humbuckers are especially nice to my ears, though they don’t really specify much about their make and model. With warm, full sounds, they can even get super chimey when you mess around with rolling off some of the neck volume but keep the bridge on. It’s just a great sounding guitar through and through.
Another big selling point for the Mariposa is just how comfortable it is to play. The neck is smooth and fast, but not unfamiliar to a more traditional player like myself who prefers Strats and Teles. It feels about right, with a 12″ radius, for most players who are looking to pick this up and perform a wide variety of musical genres with it. The tuning stability has been great so far, firmly above average compared to many $500 guitars I’ve played. I was equally impressed with the fretwork, action, and set up out of the box. While it isn’t the most wonderful playing experience of the year, it is quite good when you consider the cost and feels ready to be a reliable stage or studio guitar. With no big issues to point out, and no real critique, I think you should expect this to be a player’s guitar. Taking it out of your home studio or bedroom should definitely be in the cards when gigs and the world return back to normal.
Finish & Construction: 7.5
Again, more good scores and pleasant performances from the Mariposa here. There’s plus points for the unique body shape, and lightweight/comfortable feel of playing it sitting or standing up. It’s a very stripped down guitar, especially without the tone knob, which I personally prefer. However, I kept it just out of the 8 range because I do think guitars should have a bit heavier spec sheet to reach that “superb” level of 8 or higher. But a strong 7.5 is deserved thanks to the Roasted Maple neck which looks and feels amazing alongside the Dorado Green finish. The finish was also pretty much flawless, and looks great hanging on the wall or sitting alongside my other guitars. You can tell the build quality and quality assurance is on par with the reputation Sterling has amassed in recent years.
I’ve said it a few times already, but this feels far closer to $1000 than $500. Especially with guitar and gear prices ballooning out of control, this is a superb value. The Sterling Mariposa plays well, looks great, and sounds just as good. It feels far superior to a nice CV Squier, which is shockingly close in price, and I would have no reservations about taking it on stage. You can cover a lot of ground with the Mariposa, as I switched from Clash-like punk, to delay drenched U2, and then into fuzzed out doom riffs with ease. The real endorsement here is that I’m not a particularly big fan of At The Drive-In or The Mars Volta, Rodriguez-Lopez’s most well known projects, and yet I am still head over heels in love with this guitar. That’s the sign of a perfectly executed signature model, and the Sterling variant takes that formula down to a much more accessible price point.
Good for: Genre-Bending Players, Dual Humbucker Guitar Fans, Modern Fusion, Metal, Punk, Versatile Players