Traditionally, the guitar-building legend story goes something like this: person makes guitars, people like the guitars, person makes more guitars, finds widespread acclaim. Chapman Guitars took a slightly different path, starting with Rob Chapman building a following of his own, then a natural evolution into including his following in the design process of the types of guitars they’d like to see (and ultimately, buy).
The brand has grown massively since those early days, though, and is now stocked in guitar shops around the world. One of its most recent models is the ML2 Pro, which takes the single-cut concept of the ML2 – discontinued a few years ago – and overhauls it for a fresh take on a contemporary single-cut electric guitar.
The spec sheet shows that the core design of the guitar’s body sticks to single-cut staples – that’ll be a mahogany body, capped with maple and further dolled-up with a flamed maple veneer, then loaded with a pair of humbuckers. But that’s about where the similarity to tradition ends, and it’s clear that Chapman has gone big on giving us the trends and features of right now.
The neck is satin-finished, roasted maple, and it’s set-through with 24 jumbo stainless steel frets (with rolled edges, of course). Plus, unlike the single-cut blueprint it’s also got an almost naked ebony fingerboard set to a Fender-friendly 25.5” scale length.
Then there’s the finish – it’s called Azure Blue, and is a sort of turquoise-to-black burst, flattened off with a satin finish. The ML2 Pro is also available in River Styx Black, which has less of a burst to it, but still has a touch of faded texture.
Hardware-wise, there’s a set of Hipshot Grip Lock locking tuners, and at the other end a Chapman-branded string-through-body, hardtail bridge breaks us even further from top-mounted tradition.
Finally the humbuckers are Seymour Duncan, but as you’re probably expecting by now, it’s not the JB/59 pairing we see so often.
These are Sentient (neck) and Pegasus (bridge), which are designed with modern, lower tunings and tones in mind. According to Chapman, the Sentient serves-up dynamics thanks to its vintage-style 7.8k ohms output and a wide harmonic range, while the Pegasus is all about articulation and aggression – from crystalline cleans to biting distortion – from a higher 12.5k ohm output.
They’re wired to a three-way switch, and we get a pair of volume pots, plus a push/pull tone control for universally splitting the coils. That’s a lot of stuff, but it’s also not a budget guitar, clocking-in at just under a grand.
Taking it out of the box there are a couple of things we notice: first, there’s no case. The justification being that the money is better invested into the guitar rather than peripherals, but we can’t help but think that at least a gigbag would be reasonable at this price. Once you’re over that gripe, you’re likely to stop thinking about it fairly quickly because the ML2 Pro looks and feels fantastic.
A common dealbreaker for single-cuts is the weight. But here, the body has been slimmed-down with contouring and curves a-plenty, making it feel weirdly Strat-like in terms of comfort, but with a single-cut body.
The finish is nothing short of brilliant, with the satin look complementing those curves even further, it’s svelte and luxurious, without feeling like a, ahem... ‘lawyer guitar’. This extends to the playing too. Roasted maple has become very popular over the last couple of years, but there are levels, and this feels premium.
Our review guitar came with a low, slinky action and it didn’t move at all throughout our time with it. While Chapman calls the profile a C-shape, it feels flatter to us – fast, but not wafer thin, and certainly not chunky. It’s smooth throughout the run of the neck and those rolled, stainless steel frets add to the playability. There’s no scratchy friction, the strings just skate across the frets with ease.
The added benefit of that long-for-a-single-cut scale length puts lower tunings within reach too, however our guitar has clearly been well setup with standard tuning in mind, and that action would require tweaking to stop it buzzing for more permanent trips downtown.
This accommodation for more modern styles is reflected in the pickups, too, with the description proving accurate. The neck pickup has a certain rasp to it, free of mud and enhanced further when splitting the coils, giving us a gravelly, Fender-ish neck sound with a bit of bite. It’s more convincing than many coil splits, and really adds another useable voice to the guitar.
Meanwhile there’s noticeable compression and width coming from the bridge pickup. It’s rich, and crying out for some gain, with that compressed attack remaining under some heavy distortion.
It’s not your classic, weepy blues sound, but if you want to go heavy then it’s there for the taking. Hats off to the Hipshot choice, too, as the Grip Locks feature an 18:1 ratio and wind effortlessly. If you’ve ever tentatively winced as your machines creak and squeak as your string pulls into tension, you’ll love these.
As an instrument, the ML2 Pro is very hard to pick holes in. It’s full of premium features while wrapping them up in a classic design, but refined for now rather than looking too far to the past.
- PRICE: $/£1,149
- BODY: Mahogany with maple top and flamed maple veneer
- NECK: Roasted maple
- FINGERBOARD: Ebony, 24 frets
- SCALE: 25.5”
- PICKUPS: Seymour Duncan Sentient (N) / Pegasus (B)
- CONTROLS: 2x Volume, Tone with push-pull coil-split
- HARDWARE: Black, Chapman fixed bridge, Hipshot Grip-Lock 18:1 locking tuners
- FINISH: Azure Blue [pictured], River Styx Black
- CONTACT: Chapman Guitars (opens in new tab)