Hands-On Review:Parker DragonFly


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A perfect balance of forward-looking design and traditional vibe

By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central

When the Parker Fly was released in the early 1990s, it was a landmark in solidbody electric guitar innovation: a slim, ultralight body design with a distinctively angular silhouette enveloped by a smooth "space age material" skin. With the new DragonFly, Parker combines the best of the original Fly’s forward-looking features with elements that appeal to guitar players looking for a more traditional vibe. While sacrificing none of the elements that make the Fly a Fly, the DragonFly successfully broadens its appeal to any guitarist looking for state-of-the-art technology in a lightweight and versatile instrument.

Rad meets trad

The DragonFly features a carved alder body, 22-fret basswood neck, carbon composite fingerboard, and three pickups in a single/single/humbucker (neck to bridge) scheme. Like the original Fly, the neck and body are covered with Parker’s special skin made of carbon, glass fiber, and epoxy resin, all topped with a high-gloss finish. The bridge is Parker’s own custom aluminum vibrato system, which can be played in either a fixed or floating position, thanks to a simple user adjustment made through a hole in the backplate.

New look, old memories

The DragonFly’s silhouette reveals its distinctiveness most noticeably in the horns. The lower horn is a half-inch shorter than on the original Fly, but has the same profile and deep-carved edge that continues to the waist. The upper horn is less angular and emulates more its counterpart on traditional double-cutaway guitars. The bevel in the upper horn rolls out gently from the waist to the tip, and actually feels a little more comfortable and less conspicuous against your chest than the original.

Plays nice with others

The revised design of the DragonFly has advantages beyond the aesthetic: it is much easier to swap out pickups. The original Fly wouldn’t allow this without physically altering the pickups, due to constraints in the body cavities. The DragonFly, by contrast, has slots just underneath the top that enable any after-market single-coil pickup in any form factor to be dropped in easily, with no modifications to the pickup itself.


Terry Atkins of Parker Guitars reports that beyond the horns, the overall body shape of the DragonFly has changed subtly too (the middle is a little thicker—to accommodate easy pickup swapping—while the horns are a little thinner), but the net result is that the weight and balance points of the guitar are virtually identical. Even the strap buttons are in the same place.

None of the appeal of the original Fly’s light weight and perfect, hands-off balance properties have been sacrificed. Indeed, when I strapped on the DragonFly, there was no perceptible difference. It reminded me of my initial, delighted reaction all those years ago when I first donned the Fly: ultralight and gyroscope-balanced. It’s déjá vu all over again!

 

Apart from the sleek body, the DragonFly also features a thin neck—about 3/4" at the first fret. This makes for a very fast feel, and is good for precise, virtuosic picking that traverses the neck from the lowest frets up to 19th position. The 22-fret neck allows a more advantageous placement of the rhythm pickup in a three-pickup scheme than a 24-fret neck would, so this is a good decision and another nod toward the traditional vibe. The minimalist, barlike headstock is still retained, but it flares out at the bottom slightly, yielding a little more grace to the somewhat starker look of the original. This has the added benefit of putting more mass in the critical area of the truss rod cavity at the headstock—an inherent weak spot in any electric guitar neck.

Electronic versatility

The pickups in the DragonFly consist of two Seymour Duncan SSL6’s in the neck and middle positions and a TB11 in the bridge. The SSL6’s are an excellent choice. When played through both my Marshall Vintage Modern 2266 50W head and Fender Vibro-King combo, they yielded a big, beefy sound, perfectly at home when chunking out fat, Stevie Ray–type rhythm riffs and chords. The SSL6’s also proved a good match when used in combination with the TB11, which is beefier-sounding than a PAF, but not as bone-crunching as, say, a JB.

 

The standard five-way pickup switch gives you the combinations of a typical three-pickup pickup guitar, but you can tap the humbucker-style bridge pickup (putting it into single-coil mode) by simply pulling up on the tone knob. There’s also a Fishman piezo pickup in the bridge (driven by a Fishman double-voltage preamp) with a dedicated volume knob. An additional three-way switch determines how the magnetic and piezo systems interact: magnetic only, magnetic + piezo, and piezo only. A stereo mic cable is included, which allows you to optionally split the piezo and magnetic sound at the output.

Fly high with the DragonFly

If you liked all the elements of the original Parker Fly, but just couldn’t get your head around the shape, you need to look hard and long at the DragonFly. It retains the balance, feel, and playability of the original but has wider applications and a more traditional vibe, owing to its pickup choices, electronic versatility (and modularity), and redesigned body shape. Guitarists seeking state-of-the-art construction techniques married to an original shape in a lightweight form and featuring stellar playability and sound will find they can’t do better than to take wing with the DragonFly.