Parker Guitar : The Fly Mojo
In this rapidly changing world we live in today, nothing stays the same for very long. The latest model of mobile phones become obsolete in a few months, what is today’s latest computer becomes yesterday’s news in less than a year. When it comes to guitars, however, it is a different story. So far as the design of electric solid body guitars are concerned, they are remarkably resilient to changes. The majority of solid body electrics in the market today are still based on the designs of the 50’s : you have either the Fender style or the Gibson style. There have been new models from comparatively new manufacturers like Yamaha, Paul Reed Smith and Ibanez who design their own guitars. But these designs are basically variation on the same theme. Down to the nuts and bolts, you have a three or four inch body with either a bolt on neck or a glued on neck or a straight through neck. The average electric guitar weights around 9 to 10 pounds. Some Les Pauls can weight up to 13 pounds.
A true revolution in guitar design came about in the 1980’s when Steinberger released their all graphite solid body electrics the GT2Ts and 4Ts. I am a great fan of Steinberger guitar and until recently, I have never touched another guitar for years (if you are interested in Steinberger guitars, read the next column on this page). Then came Ken Parker with his new design, the Parker guitars.
A few months ago, a student of mine was looking for a new guitar. He liked the feel and touch of my Steinberger but not the shape or sound of it and asked me if there is something close to what he liked. The guitar that came to my mind was the Parker. Apart from spending some 10 minutes check out a Parker guitar at 48th Street, I never had much experience with the Parker guitar and that was quite a few years back. I could not remember the sound of the thing. As a matter of fact I do not remember much about the thing except the neck. The neck was really impressive. At the time, I was still a only-a-Gibson-is-good enough guitar player. Anyway, my student bought a Parker Fly Mojo and I tried it out in my studio. I certainly wasted no time in getting one when the chance presented itself.
The Parker Fly Mojo is revolutionary in its design. The body of the Fly Mojo is wafer thin. A thin coat of epoxy is applied to the back of their guitar to strengthen the body without which the thin body would not be able to withstand the tension of the strings. A thin coat of epoxy is also applied to the fret board. The result is we have a wafer-thin body and a wafer thin neck. The body and headstock design is also very unconventional. Some people don’t like it, I think it is a work of art. Absolutely beautiful.
The most striking and impressive feature when you pick up a Fly Mojo is the neck : it is extremely thin and fast. The thin coat of epoxy makes the neck uniform and smooth as silk. The neck is a little wider than your ordinary Strat or Les Paul. It takes a bit of getting used to. But once you get used to it, you feel as if you are skating on water. The stainless steel frets are also very impressive. The sustain and clarity are something you do not get from Nickel frets. Another invaluable asset of The Fly Mojo is, like the Steinberger, you have complete access to all the frets. On a Les Paul, playing an A scale in the octave is nearly impossible and that applies also to a Fender Strat. Like the Steinberger, full access to all the frets will give a whole new dimension when you play solo. There are no dot markers on the fretboard. Initially I thought this would be a major problem. But due to its desgin,all the frets are easily identifiable with.
Sound and pick-ups.
The Fly Mojo is fitted with two custom made Seymour Duncan humbuckers and a piezo pick-up. When you plug in the guitar to an amp, the sound is impressive to put it mildly. The sustain is phenomenal, there are no dead notes anywhere on the fretboard. I moved away from humbuckers because I find the sound from humbuckers lacking in clarity and is ‘slow’ compared to a single coils. Very often the humbucker neck pick-up is bass heavy and the sound gets rather muddy through and overdrive. It is difficult to make the more subtle notes in a solo come out. The humbucker bridge pick-up often sounds rather thin. But the pair of humbuckers on the Fly Mojo are absolutely stunning. The neck humbucker has great clarity even a heavy dose of overdrive has been applied : all the notes are well articulated and there is still a lot of clarity in the notes. The bridge pikc-up is equally good. The guitar literally screams and the sustain is incredible. These pick-ups are also sound very very good in single coil mode. This guitar is one of the best-sounding guitar I have ever played. If you ask me to describe the sound, I will say this. The sound is in the middle of the spectrum if on the one end you have a humbucker and on the other a single coil. The sound from The Fly Mojo is delicate and subtle even when is driven through a heavy dose of overdrive. Most important of all, it is sweet. This is certainly a ‘new’ sound. If you want to get away from the Gibson or Fender sound, this is the guitar. This guitar will be really outstanding for recording. All the notes will come out sweet and clean.
As to the piezo pick-up, I am afraid it does not work. In the piezo mode, the Fly Mojo does not remotely sound like an acoustic guitar. It simply does not have the resonance and warmth of an acoustic guitar. It cannot even pass off as an acoustic guitar let alone sounding like one. But then an again, how on earth can an electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar? These are two different animals.
All in all
The Fly Mojo would have been the perfect guitar but for two things. One is the body design. The guitar is basically a two cut-away and the two horns are slightly tilted. The upper horn digs into your chest when you play the guitar sitting down. This is really annoying. If you spend any appreciable amount of time playing it sitting down, you will end up with a bruised chest. You would need a big fat stomach to cushion off the guitar to avid the horn digging into your chest. The problem that I have is I am doing a lot of exercise to reduce my stomach to a respectable size. The guitar, however, is well-balanced and does not have this problem playing standing up. This, to me, is a major design fault. The Fly Mojo comes with price tag of US$2,500. For that kind of price, one would not expect such a major design fault. And needless to mention, there is a lot of choice within that price range. This design fault is unforgiveable : something so simple and the Parker people who, according to them, had spent some much thought and paid so much such pain staking attention to every detail, still somehow managed to overlook this glarining fault is unspeakable. It really does not matter how good the guitar sounds if every time you play it sitting down it induces chest pain.
The other thing that is worrying about the Fly Mojo is the frets. The stainless steel frets are glued on to the fretboard. Another innovation. But I have heard from friends that in the middle of a show a fret fell off the fretboard. One player I know always have a tube of super glue on hand. I have also read a review from overseas where the guitar owner had also experience this same problem. What a nightmare. If that happens to me on stage, I would probably die of a heart attack. It makes me think twice bringing that guitar with me on tour in Japan or indeed anywhere outside Hong Kong. Just the thought of a fret falling of the fretboard gives me colds sweat.
Apart from the horn design and the likelihood of a fret falling off, the Fly Mojo is one of the best guitar I have ever owned. It is light, weighing something like 5 pounds, it is fast, it is sweet and has a stunning look and most important of all, the action on the neck is fantastic and the sound is absolutely stunning.
I really wish The Fly Mojo does not have this design problem with the horn and the potential problem with frets. Without these problems, it would have been the perfect guitar. But then and again, what is perfect in this world? Given all its short-comings, the Fly Mojo is truly a fantastic guitar. Quite besides the horn problem there is also the constant fear of a fret falling off the fretboard. Would you take it on tour or use it in a live show? I never have to worry about all the problems, the guitar never leaves my studio.