I still remember the first time I heard of Parker guitars. It was a TV show I loved as a kid called Beyond 2000 which featured cutting edge technology and innovative engineering. I must admit not exactly warming to the unique upper bout but seeing the guitar carved our of a single piece of wood by a computer (CNC machine) blew my mind. My next encounter happened nearly a decade later in college when at a casual drop by a college house party I got the opportunity to play one. I was in awe of the guitar, but it would still be another decade before I would have the chance to own one...
Shortly after Ken Parker sold Parker guitars to US Music Corp, the company released a more affordable imported line of electric guitars built in Korea, the PM series and more recently the PDF series built in Indonesia and China. This focus of this review is on an Indonesian built PDF100.
The new PDF line is a more affordable take on the company's MaxxFly platform introduced in 2010 which has a more traditional (and in my opinion comfortable) upper horn and general design lineage branching from Parker's first bolt on neck guitar the NiteFly. In other words, no carbon fiber, no flat spring tremolo, and no stainless steel frets. Some might say with those omissions the PDF100 has lost much of what made a Parker a Parker, and while I can understand that view I would also suggest there is still a fair amount of innovation in the design of the PDF100: the radial neck joint, Parker vibrato, and the ergonomic lightweight body.
Immediately upon picking up the PDF100, I was shocked by how little it weighed. At around 6 pounds, it's significantly lighter than any guitar I've owned. This will be no surprise to Parker guitar fans, but for those who've never held one before, it really is almost unsettling at first. Strapping on the guitar, I immediately marveled at the design. Really, from strapbutton to tuners the guitar has been engineered for ergonomics. If you're a guy who likes to hang your guitar down at your knees, you'll miss out on a ton of what the PDF100 is about as I found wearing the guitar a little higher than I would typically further maximized ease of playability. And literally five minutes of noodling opened my eyes to perhaps the Parker PDF100's most impressive design feature...
Parker's radial neck joint design is genius. The concept is so simple it's a wonder why no other company has implemented it, rather than the bulkier Fender bolt on design a Parker's neck cavity is carved to the same rear radius as the neck. This is supposed to reduce slippage and create a more stable system. However from a player perspective, the joint in concert with the way Parker carves out the rear of the body around the neck joint gives the player unfettered access all the way to the 22nd fret. I've played neck through guitars which didn't have as good upper fret access as the PDF100. I can't say enough about how impressed I am with the Parker Radial Neck Joint design. But what really floors me is we aren't talking about a super expensive custom shop guitar but a more affordable imported guitar, and this feature is offered on the entire PDF line with the exception of the PDF30/35.
The third unique feature to the PDF100 is a version of the Parker vibrato. The system differs from traditional design in two key ways. First, instead of rocking on a knife edge the bridge pivots on two fixed points. Secondly, there is a stop screw which can be set to prevent the spring tension from pulling the bridge back. Through different settings of sping tension and stop screw height, the vibrato offers 3 modes of operation: balanced, pitch down, or fixed. It's a smart system and is essentially the same as the NiteFly, which is very important as Parker does not currently publish a manual for it's PDF line and owners will need to reference the NiteFly manual for information on the PDF line's vibrato. Despite a little grabbing at the nut on the low E string (which a little filing and graphic cleared right up) the system is extremely stable returning to pitch even after some serious abuse. Part of that tuning stability is due to the Sperzel locking tuners.
So, over 700 words and nothing on how it sounds and plays? Sorry! It's easy to get caught up in the PDF100's design. The Parker's neck is thin. Think early Ibanez Wizard thin and as such might be a turn off for some. To be honest, I've not been a fan of thin necks; but the Parker has forced me to completely reevaluate that position. The feel of the neck can only be described in abstractions, buttery comes to mind. Just incredibly smooth. And action can be set incredibly low. The PDF100 is a guitar which rewards good technique, it's not meant to be a beater. The Seymour Duncan SH1 neck and TB11 bridge pickups provide a nice tonal canvas which is broadened by a push/pull coil split on the tone knob. While the Parker lends itself more to modern tones, it's versatile enough to tame things down by rolling back the volume knob and deliver an old school punch as well. Unfortunately, the tone knob does suffer from an ailment found on a great many import guitars in which the vast majority of the tonal change is focused in a small percentage of the pot's throw and the pickup selector toggle doesn't quite feel as solid as I'd prefer. However, given all the strengths of the guitar, extremely minor quibbles.
Parker is doing things right. While I've always championed affordable and imported instruments, Parker has really upped the ante delivering a relatively affordable guitar which really has a custom shop feel. Do yourself a favor and check one out.
Price: $699 (radial neck joint models start at $499)
Pros: Champagne design at (craft) beer prices
Cons: Inner electronics could stand an upgrade.