Hands-On Review:Parker DragonFly Bolt-on Models


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Parker sound and playability at a more accessible price!

By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central

 

When it was released in the early '90s, the Parker Fly won critical  accolades for its high-tech construction techniques and futuristic  design, making believers out of such diverse artists as Adrian Belew,  Vernon Reid, Reeves Gabrels, and Pat Martino. A decade after the Fly's  debut, Parker introduced the DragonFly, which featured the same  resin-based skin, but made slight changes to the distinctive body  design. The treble horn was shortened by about an inch, and the bass  horn was straightened and reshaped into a graceful curve, compared with  the more angular version on the original. The DragonFly was obviously  descended from the Fly, but it now had a more traditional look and feel.  And at over $4,000 retail, it was still very much a premium guitar.

Enter the DragonFly, Part II

Now Parker has made an even bolder departure. They've left the  silhouette of the DragonFly intact, but have released three bolt-on  versions. DF724 models have beautiful flamed tops while the DF624 models have gloss finishes and the base DF524 guitars have satin finishes. They are identical in body shape and  function to the earlier DragonFly, but now feature a separate neck,  attached to the body with four large bolts. These three models are much  less expensive than the set-neck DragonFly, so for anyone who's always  been drawn to the Fly family and who likes bolt-ons, it's a  slam dunk, no-brainer call. The bolt-ons capture every bit of the Fly  experience but at less than half the cost. The satin majik blue 524, my  review instrument and the least expensive of the three bolt-ons, is  almost $2,000 cheaper than the set-neck DragonFly. And no, that's not a  typo.

Overview

All Bolt-On models are three-pickup, 22-fret, alder solidbodies that feature the  DragonFly's distinctive carved top, beveled back, and signature  double-cutaway horns. Similar to the original Fly, the bevel in the  upper horn rolls out gently from the waist to the tip, making it feel a  little less conspicuous and a little more comfortable against your chest  than the original Fly. A new relief cut at the headstock adds a dash of  highlight color and makes the instrument "hangable" on a standard  guitar wall hook. Otherwise, when viewed from the front, and in terms of  electronic functionality, the bolt-on versions are identical to their  higher-end, set-neck counterparts.

 

The neck is made of one-piece maple topped with an ebony fingerboard.  Unlike the previous DragonFly, the neck materials show through, which  makes the DF524 not only look more like a standard guitar, but creates a very familiar,  organic feel, as your left-hand palm grips the natural-blond maple  while your fingertips press on and slide along a plank of oiled ebony.  Perfectly dressed, polished stainless steel frets complete the left-hand  experience.

 

While we're talking about the neck, it should be noted that the  profile is still spectacularly thin—0.740" at the 1st fret and 0.780" at  the 12th. Terry Atkins, Parker's V.P. of Manufacturing, informs us that  the thin profile harkens back to the original Flys. Despite the  visceral experience of feeling the satin-finished maple in your hand,  the DF524 has a super-fast neck, owing to the combination of its  ultra-shallow depth and radiused fingerboard. With a substantial grip  for chords in the lower positions and a smooth ride for lead lines up  top, it's perfectly suited for both virtuoso metalists and traditional  blues players alike.

 

Because maple and ebony are heavier than the basswood components used on the set-neck DragonFly, the bolt-on models are slightly weightier than their predecessor. Remember, though, this is a Fly we're talking about here, so that's like saying an atom of helium  is heavier than an atom of hydrogen. The instrument itself is still  perfectly balanced, and some guitar aficionados I showed it to actually  preferred the increased heft. "It's still light, but not too light," was  one quote that represented the consensus.

Choice electronics

The bolt-on DragonFlys have a versatile pickup scheme that includes both magnetic and piezo  systems. The magnetics are in a three-pickup S/S/H configuration with  two Duncan SSL6A single-coils in the bridge and middle positions and a  TB14 humbucker in the bridge. The middle pickup is  reverse-polarity/reverse-wound, which creates a nice, rich, phasey sound  when used in combination with either the neck or bridge pickup. A pull  switch on the Tone knob puts the bridge pickup into single-coil mode for  a three-single-coil sound.

 

Onboard in the bridge is a preamp-driven Fishman piezo transducer  that's controlled by a blend knob. A separate three-way switch brings  the piezo into the mix or makes it "piezo-only" for those fingerpicked  and acoustic-emulated passages. I like the arrangement in which there is  a separate selector switch for the piezo, as it's the quickest and most  versatile way to introduce the piezo into your sound. It also keeps the  five-way switch and your magnetic settings completely independent. The  output is stereo-capable, meaning you can split the piezo and magnetic  paths when using the supplied stereo cable, or you can blend the sound  to taste using a normal (mono) patch cord.

 

I put the DF524 through several amps, including a Fender Vibro-King, an all-tube Bugera  V-22, and a Peavey 6550. The breadth of tones was astonishing—tight,  throaty low end; punchy midrange; and clear, sparkling highs. The  combination of the beefier-sounding Duncan SSL6As and the maple neck  served up an all-encompassing spectrum of cranking tones, from chunky to  searing. Mixing in the piezo on selected clean settings provided the  acoustic icing on the cake and sounded great on bright, shiny pop  numbers and chicken-pickin' country solos. Between the wide range of  sounds from the magnetics and the three-way piezo capabilities  (piezo-only/mix/off), the DragonFly would be your first choice for the  one guitar to take when gigging or traveling when circumstances dictate  that you can bring only one.

The DragonFly Takes Wing

Several steps have been taken to bring the DF524 into the realm of the affordable for the largest number of players. The  bolt-on neck is simply a less expensive way to manufacture any electric  guitar, and especially a Fly, where the resin coating is very labor  intensive. The three-spring trem (as opposed to the flat-spring version)  and satin finish bring the price down further still, yet I find the  satin finish has an understated beauty that complements the modern  silhouette. In every other aspect—build quality, electronics,  aesthetics—the DF524 performs to the expectations of the set-neck  instruments. This excellently crafted and versatile-sounding guitar is  now well within that sweet spot of the under-$1500 price point. And that  is going to convert a lot of guitar players.

Features & Specs


  •   • Finishes: flamed top (DF724), gloss (DF624), satin (DF524)
  •   • Body: Alder
  •   • Neck: Bolt-on radiused maple
  •   • Fingerboard: ebony
  •   • Frets: 22 frets, stainless steel
  •   • Neck pickup: Seymour Duncan SSL6A
  •   • Middle pickup: Seymour Duncan SSL6A (RW/RP in 5-way positions #2 and #4)
  •   • Bridge pickup: Seymour Duncan TB14 humbucker
  •   • Piezo pickup: Custom Fishman
  •   • Bridge: Parker trem
  •   • Pickup selectors: 5-way magnetic, 3-way magnetic/piezo
  •   • Tone knob: Split-coil

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