Anyone who was initially put off by the rather radical design (and rather extravagant price) of the Parker Fly guitar when it was introduced may be surprised to know that, these days, Parker offers a variety of affordably priced instruments with more traditional features. The single-cutaway PM-20, which sells for a modest list price of $899 and boasts sexy curved lines, has become Parker's bestselling model since its introduction in 2004. Now Parker has introduced an upgraded version of that model, the PM- 20PRO, which offers a variety of high-end features for only a few hundred bucks more.
Whereas the original Parker Fly featured an ultrathin reinforced solid-wood body and a reinforced neck with a carbon/glass/epoxy composite fretboard and stainless steel frets, the PM-20PRO's construction is much more traditional. The body is crafted from a hefty piece of solid mahogany and features a carved, arched top surrounded by gorgeous abalone binding. The version I tested is an all-mahogany model only offered with a white finish, but the guitar is also available with a Flame Maple Honey Burst finish. The mahogany set-in neck boasts an immaculate ebony fretboard with 22 expertly finished nickel-silver frets. The only visible concessions to Parker's past designs are the angular cutaway horn and distinctive "hockey-stick"-style six-on-aside headstock.
The electronics configuration is classically inspired as well. Instead of trying to do double duty as an electric and electric-acoustic, the PM-20PRO dispenses with the Fly's bridge-mounted piezo pickups and goes for the jugular with a pair of humbucking pickups and a three-position pickup selector. The Seymour Duncan JB (bridge) and Jazz (neck) pickups are a welcome upgrade to the stock Parker Stinger pickups found on the PM-20, delivering warm, beefy tone with stunning clarity and expressiveness. Both pickups have a coil-splitting feature, allowing the PM-20PRO to generate sparkling single-coil tones when you pull up on the master volume and/or master tone controls, which split the neck and bridge pickup coils, respectively.
Sperzel locking tuners and a graphite nut ensure that the PM-20PRO stays in tune no matter how aggressively you bend the strings. The bridge is Parker's own TonePros design, and the strings are anchored through the body to enhance resonance and responsiveness. Shipped from the Parker factory with .009-.042 strings, the PM-20PRO plays and feels like a first-class professional ax right out of the box.
Although the PM-20PRO's single-cutaway body shape and mahogany body and neck materials evoke Gibson's classic Les Paul design, the guitar's 25 1/2-inch scale gives it a Strat/Tele-like feel. The longer scale with its added string tension also enables the Parker to produce slightly brighter tones than your average dualhumbucker Gibson. Like Parker's high-end Fly models, the fretwork is inhumanly perfect, with a silky feel that really enables your fingers to fly.
The PM-20PRO's circuitry may seem rather simple and streamlined at first glance, but its deceptively versatile design enables players to pull a multitude of tones out of it. With both pickups tapped for single-coil operation, the guitar delivers chiming, bell-like tones that sing with a percussive snap through a clean amp. In full-on humbucking mode, the Parker screams through a high-gain amp like a Mesa/Boogie or Krank, its tone displaying harmonically rich, vibrant overtones. The tone is fat, yet sparkling, with a punchy attack that immediately goes for the throat.
By fully backing off the tone control and engaging the neck pickup, the Parker let loose with expressive, vocallike midrange that would make Clapton or Santana proud. The tone never gets muddy, however, and each note remains crystal clear. My only reservation is that you have to do some rather fancy fingerwork to, say, switch from a humbucking bridge pickup setting to a dual-pickup single-coil setting when playing live. Even so, fumble-fingered players should be able to master the various pickup, volume and tone settings to their satisfaction within a couple of hours.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Parker's PM-20PRO is perfect for players who were always attracted to the company's workmanship and attention to detail but want a more traditional ax. While its overall design is reminiscent of a Les Paul, it has enough unique character and differences to make it stand on its own in today's crowded marketplace. In some ways it's a hybrid of Gibson and Fender designs but with Parker's own special touch and personality, which makes it a worthy choice for anyone seeking a pro-quality guitar that isn't just another knockoff or wannabe.