January/February 2004

Parker Fly Mojo Guitar

I'm not sure the Parker Fly Mojo guitar is for everybody, but I'm damn sure I've never played anything quite like it. After an ever-too-brief visit with the Mojo, I was left with vivid impressions of a thoughtfully conceived instrument that combines aspects of solid-body electric and flattop acoustic tonalities with remarkable comfort and playability.

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Parker Fly Mojo Guitar

With its offset headstock, radical horned-body shape, upper-register access and distinctive amplified character, Ken Parker's singular vision of a solid-body instrument incorporates a host of refinements in one instrument. Guitarists will be dumbstruck by the Fly's unbelievable five-pound weight. The neck and body are sculpted from solid pieces of mahogany, and the neck is bound to the body with a special multifinger joint, which purportedly results in a stronger bond over a wider surface area for a more seamless transition between body and neck. And with the Mojo there was no sense of the neck bending or flopping about, as with the instrument it most reminded me of, the Gibson SG. Parker attributes the stability at this critical juncture to a thin layer of carbon and glass fibers impregnated with epoxy that covers the neck joint (which is also used to stabilize and strengthen the back of the body).

I had requested a Mojo outfitted with a set of either .010 or .011 strings, in keeping with the expectations of jazz players. While the guitar arrived in tune, with a friendly feel and a taut yet giving setup, it came equipped with an .009-.042 string set, which in my experience just about guarantees a sloppy feel and wavering intonation. However, the feel of this slender 24-fret neck, with its .020 inch-thick carbon-glass-epoxy fingerboard, was impeccable-the action delightfully balanced, fluid and al dente from bridge to nut. Even more striking was that close-voiced chords felt roughly the same at the top of the neck as at the bottom. Normally if the feel near the nut is soft and pliant, by the time you ascend into the upper registers the action more closely resembles an Alpine ski jump.

Single-note articulation was exceptional, and the feel of the Mojo's hardened stainless-steel frets was wonderful; playing in a scalar manner I was able to really dig in for a nice snappy attack. The only drawback occurred at modest volume levels, when in dialing up a jazz tone, that .009 high E simply died out-unable to provide enough depth and snap to match the attack of the other strings. Also, I'm not sure that jazz players brought up on chunky L-5 and ES-175 necks would feel at home on the Mojo. But those guitarists acclimated to either an ES-335 or a Telecaster-who routinely employ vigorous blues inflections-will be impressed by how far they can bend the strings and the degree of shading and nuance they'll achieve doing so.

As for the sonic profile of this sophisticated design, well, that's an area where certain players, for all the comfort and playability, may not be able to make the requisite leap of faith. Mahogany's tonal signature is most readily associated with the tonal warmth and lower midrange punch of a Les Paul, but we're talking about a much thinner, more pliant piece of wood, with a quick, springy response and sweet tonality more redolent of a classic SG. With a Seymour Duncan Jazz Humbucker in the neck position and a JB Humbucker at the bridge, the Mojo produces a darker percussive crunch at fusion-blues volume levels than older Fly models built from brighter tone woods and outfitted with DiMarzio pickups. (I've generally associated Duncans with tone, while DiMarzios seem more about responsiveness and projection.)

What really makes the Mojo unique as a performance tool are the discrete Fishman piezo pickups under each string. These piezos yield a sparkling sound more reminiscent of a big amplified O-hole flattop than a solid-body electric. Two toggle switches and three rotary knobs on the body's lower bout allow for a choice between magnetic Humbuckers, piezos or a blend of both-with individual volume controls and one tone control for the magnetic output, which doubles as a coil tap switch for a choice of Gibson- or Fender-style sounds. The piezo output has a shimmering presence, not exactly bright but very sweet and clear-quite unlike the meaty chunk of an arch-top acoustic. In addition, the dynamic range of these piezos seems much higher than that of the magnetic pickups. Playing through a single amp I had to back way off on the piezo volume level or they would overwhelm the humbuckers. Employing a stereo guitar cable, I ran the magnetic output to a tubed Mesa Blue Angel and the piezo output to the drier, more hi-fi, full-range output of a solid state Acoustic Image Coda R-thus allowing me to better modulate the attack and timbre of the acoustic sound. At jazz volume levels the overall tonality was warmly balanced but definitely on the brilliant side-again, heavier strings would help. But I was nevertheless pleased with the timbre and responsiveness, the warm balance and harmonic complexity of the straight electric sounds I got in both single and double coil modes-a more open, percussive, stringy character than one might normally associate with solid bodies.

Most small-combo-amp, archtop-playing jazz guitarists would have to reorient one side of their brain to appreciate the acoustic sound of the Mojo as this one was set up-which, while very musical, might prove a tad analytical and monolithic for their tastes. Still, given its absence of weight, incredible playability, robust stability and tonal versatility, the Parker Fly Mojo is a uniquely flexible, expressive instrument that certainly merits a serious audition.

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