“Help me, SF Guitarworks. You’re my only hope.”
“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...,” Austin brought his Parker Fly to SF Guitarworks for a major makeover.
The Parker Fly is one of my favorite guitars and one of the few truly innovative instruments produced in the last few decades. Its ergonomic design and sonic versatility have also made it a favorite of both session players and gigging musicians.
As versatile as the Fly is stock, with dual humbucking pickups and Piezo bridge saddles, its tonal capability didn’t satisfy Austin and he wanted to expand the variety of sounds the guitar could produce. His plan was to install a hotter bridge pickup – the Bare Knuckle Juggernaut – and a Graph Tech Hexpander system, which is an onboard MIDI controller. Additionally, he wanted momentary switches on the face of the guitar so he could scroll up/down through his MIDI outboard presets. He also wanted a kill switch installed next to the input jack. And to top off the project, Austin wanted to have the guitar refinished in matte black.
Any one of these modifications would’ve been fairly straightforward on a typical guitar, but the Fly poses a couple of interesting challenges. The pickups are mounted directly to the body, using screws that go through the pickup into threaded inserts, and the body is too thin for the typical midi jack installation.
The first order of business was to deepen the bridge pickup cavity and install the new inserts. The cavity was deepened, and the new inserts were installed into the body. The Juggernaut itself needed to be modified to fit the pickup cavity, so I removed the baseplate, cut off the ears, rounded the corners, reinstalled the baseplate and inserted longer screws to fasten the pickup to the body. After a test fit, I sent the body off to Joe Zon of Zon Guitars to be refinished. The project turned into a labor of love for Joe, but in the end, the guitar turned out amazing with a flawless matte black finish – truly outstanding work! With the guitar back in my hands, the next step was to figure out the layout and installation of the Hexpander system.
I disassembled the stock bridge, installed new Graph Tech Piezo saddles, enlarged the hole from the bridge to the control cavity to allow the saddle wires to pass through the body cleanly, and laid out the locations for the momentary switches on the face of the guitar. I installed the two switches for MIDI patch control, installed the kill switch near the input jack and laid out the location for the Hexpander circuit boards.
The biggest challenge turned out to be the installation of the 13-pin MIDI jack. The Fly is too thin to utilize the stock Graph Tech jack so I decided to desolder it from the circuit board and extend the wires from the jack into the control cavity where I planned to mount the circuit board. I carefully decoupled the jack from the board, soldered the 13 wires between the jack and the board and installed the jack, which fit into the existing battery compartment. I made two small plastic hold-downs to secure the jack and tested the system – everything worked fine.
As is the case with many projects such as this, in the last minutes of research, Austin and I decided that a smaller metal MIDI jack would be the best work around for our thin body problem. We found one that was small enough to fit in the stock battery compartment – it came all the way from Australia. With the Hexpander system installed, the guitar has full MIDI capability.
With jobs like this, my goal is to have the end result look factory perfect. Austin’s Parker has a lot of hidden modifications under the hood; however, it looks like it could've come from the factory that way. This project took quite a bit of head scratching but, in the end, it was well worth a scratch. Thanks a bunch for the fun project, Austin.