Gear Review: 2008 Parker NiteFly M

by anders pearson Fri 17 Jul 2009 15:57:53

Parker NiteFly-M

This is the most expensive, and probably most interesting guitar I own.

Parker guitars are a completely different species than anything else out there. To really understand what I mean by that, I highly recommend reading this long interview with Ken Parker that goes into great depth on the design philosophy behind Parker guitars.

The NiteFly-M is only a mid-level Parker but it's still head and shoulders above almost every offering from every other guitar company in many ways.

Let's start at the top of the headstock and go down. First, notice the headstock shape which is very narrow and minimalist. In part, that's simply a reflection of Parker's overall minimalist approach to design. Rather than something frilly and fancy, they just took off as much wood as they could get away with to keep the weight down. It also turns out that the resonance of the neck is affected (mostly bogged down) by mass on the end, so stripping out as much from the headstock as they could actually helps the sustain and tone.

The tuners are Sperzel locking tuners. Instead of wrapping the string around the post, it clamps down on it and you clip off all the excess string. That makes it super fast to change strings, keeps it clean looking, and is incredibly stable.

The neck itself is mahogany with a carbon-fiber glass epoxy shell and fretboard. As Ken Parker points out in the interview, making the neck that way with a sort of "exoskeleton" makes it substantially stronger and livelier than an equivalent neck made of just wood would be. It also happens to be very comfortable to play. Smooth as glass but it somehow stays cool to the touch, keeping your hands from sweating. The exoskeleton seals the wood away from the elements too so it doesn't expand or contract with humidity changes as much as other guitar necks do. Combined with the locking tuners and a well-balanced bridge, the Parker just never goes out of tune. It's like magic. I can take it out of the case after weeks of crazy weather and start playing without even bothering to check if it's still in tune, because it just always is.

The frets are stainless steel. That means that they are perfectly rounded for perfect intonation and never wear down and need to be re-leveled. Why don't other companies use stainless steel frets instead of the soft nickel-silver that always wears down over the years? Mostly because of the way traditional guitars are assembled. Normally, you cut the slots for frets on a guitar's neck and then cut fret wire to length and hammer it in, then level it and crown it to get it just right. Fret wire is in a sort of T shape with a tang that goes into the slot and a rounded part which is what sticks up as the fret. Extruding the metal into that T shape with the narrow tang requires a soft enough metal to pass through rollers. Stainless steel just can't be abused that way. Parker uses fret wire with a D profile. No tang. Instead of cutting slots and hammering it in, it's precisely glued into place onto a perfectly smooth fretboard.

The fretboard has yet another trick up its sleeve. If you look closely at any guitar, you may notice that the strings are farther apart from each other at the bridge than they are at the nut and are arranged in a slightly rounded formation (the middle ones are higher up than the outer ones). Fretboards are generally also slightly rounded (different players may prefer a different "radius") to match. The problem is that the rounding of the fretboard is, for ease of manufacturing, uniform for the length of the neck. It's like a section of the surface of a cylinder. Since the strings are farther apart at the bridge though, the surface they are on is really a section of a gently sloping cone. That means that the positions of the frets as you go up the neck are actually slightly off from where they should be. A good luthier or guitar tech will correct for that when they level and crown the frets so that even though the fretboard itself is cylindrical, the tops of the frets are on that conical surface and intonation is correct. That doesn't happen on commercial, mass produced guitars though and most guitarists just put up with the intonation never actually being quite right. Parker just makes their fretboards conical to begin with so the frets end up perfectly intonated right from the beginning. This is one of the main reasons that once you get used to playing a Parker, it's hard to go back to a regular guitar.

The neck-body joint is a half rounded bolt-on joint. I have a strong preference these days for neck-through and set-neck guitars. Bolt-ons aren't necessarily worse, but with cheaper guitars in particular, there's a lot more room for manufacturing error with bolt-ons so I'd usually rather avoid them. A bolt-on neck can be done well though as long as the company takes the proper amount of care assembling it. Parker's half-rounded joint is very stable and their manufacturing quality is, as usual, impeccable so this is one bolt-on neck that I'm OK with.

The body is mahogany with a nice, natural, satin finish. It does a nice job of darkening the tone of the guitar a bit to compensate for how bright those stainless steel frets would otherwise make it sound. I think the shape of the body is beautiful but I know a lot of people disagree. It's probably the biggest factor in keeping Parker's from being more widely played. Too many guitarists see it, think it's weird looking, and never get any further than that.

The DiMarzio pickups sound good. Tight but rich and smooth. It can sound razor sharp. It doesn't get too much into low-end. I can get good thrash, death metal, and black metal sort of sounds out of the Parker, but I don't think it would ever work very well for ultra-doomy, low, sludge or drone metal sort of sounds (Sunn O))) should stick with their Les Pauls). The pickups can be coil-split too. I'm not crazy about single coil sounds in general and a split humbucker never quite sounds the same anyway, so I don't have much use for that feature.

After spending my formative years playing a crappy strat copy, I have a bit of a residual dislike for floating bridges. I just don't trust them to stay in position well enough. Even locking trems have disappointed me (and make string changes a nightmare). Parker's floating bridge is about the only one that I'd trust now. You can set the parker bridge to 'fixed', 'floating', or 'down-only' via a set screw in the back. When I got it, it came set to 'floating'. My plan was to play around a bit with the floating bridge since I hadn't used one in years and then set it to 'fixed' and forget about it. To my surprise, even in 'floating' mode, it's proven so stable that I just haven't had the need to lock it down.

The bridge also has an integrated Fishman Piezo pickup system. It is nothing short of amazing. Running it into a good full-range amplifier, it's easily mistaken for an amplified acoustic guitar of the bright and jangly sounding variety. The output jack in the guitar is stereo and allows you to send the piezo output to a separate amp from the magnetic pickups (or you can blend them together into a mono signal). The tone control on the guitar doesn't affect the piezo signal, but you'd probably want to mess with that mostly offboard anyway.

The action on this guitar is ridiculously low and fast. The precision manufacturing of the Parker necks lets it get all the way down without any problems. If you like low action a Parker will go as low as you want. It came from the factory strung with 9's. I usually prefer thicker strings, but when I played the Parker I decided to just keep it set up exactly as it came. Maybe 10's would be even better, but as it is, I can't imagine the feel being improved upon. It's almost a drawback of the guitar. Normally I like to tinker with my guitars (read the previous review of my fretless for the extreme example) and that's part of the fun for me. With the Parker, I feel like every aspect of it is so perfectly balanced and adjusted to micro-tolerances that any change I could make to it could only make it worse so I leave it alone and pristine. It stays in standard E tuning with thin strings despite my usual preference for thicker strings and detuning because I'm afraid that if I changed it, I'd never get the action back to this state of perfection. Reading the Parker forums, I actually get the impression that that's just not my imagination. Other people have reported that changing to different gauge strings on Parkers can be a very tricky operation.

All that in 6.5lbs.

Is there anything not perfect about this guitar? Of course.

As I just pointed out, it's not an ideal guitar for putting thick strings on and tuning way down low. I don't think it would play as well and it wouldn't sound right without also changing the pickups.

The back edge of the top horn also has a tendency to really dig into your rib cage when you play sitting down. At least it's a light enough guitar and well balanced enough that it's otherwise comfortable.

My main problem with the NiteFly-M is that it makes me really, really want one of the high end Parker Flys. This was the nicest one I could afford when I got it (I'm also more fond of the look of the satin finish than what's available on the others) and it's spoiled me on other guitars. But the higher end models are lighter (down to 4lbs!) and have that sexy, carved set neck that makes me wish I had a lot more money in my guitar budget. Parkers aren't cheap, so this may have started an expensive addiction for me.

TAGS: guitar gear review parker nitefly-m

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