Magnatone Giveawya

August Issue
more... Builder ProfileArchtopAugust 2011Ken Parker

Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

“With [that design], I got all these other great features: incredible access to the second octave because there is no heel, de-mountability for repair or travel, lots of room for a neck-end-mounted electromagnetic pickup, and the ability to fit another neck to the guitar for a different scale, a different number of strings, or whatever.”

It took Parker nearly a year to perfect his neck system. “I start with a neck core out of my favorite stuff—beautiful-sounding, perfectly quartersawn Douglas fir or spruce. This one-piece core is only visible on the side of the headstock, but it goes all the way to the end of the neck. The back of the neck has a hardwood veneer that matches the sides. Between the veneer and the neck core there’s quite a bit of carbon fiber set in an aerospace resin that needs two hours at 275 degrees Fahrenheit to cure. Room-temperature resins just aren’t rigid enough to do that job. It’s kind of challenging—you have to make a metal mold, you have to get the resin pretty hot, and it’s kind of tough to control all those things and have them all come out looking gorgeous at the end. I can’t tell you how happy I am with the result. It works just beautifully.”

Hold Your Head(stock) High
Parker makes every single component of his archtops except the tuners and the strings. For the tuners’ home—the headstock—Parker machines a strop of aluminum that resembles the Parker Fly’s headstock, has it anodized, and then, unlike most archtops, positions the tuning pegs in a row. But he doesn’t use this arrangement for aesthetic or branding reasons. He says there are two things that can change the dynamic tension of a string: the angle over the bridge and the nut, and the after length—the distance between the bridge and the termination at the tailpiece, and between the nut and the tuning peg.

The Fig flaunts its incredibly figured Big Leaf maple. Note
the hexwrench port for adjusting neck height and action.

“That’s why, in one man’s opinion, a three-and-three headstock is just plain-old physically wrong.” Parker reasons that it doesn’t make sense for the tension of the high-E and the B strings to be the same as the low-E and A strings. “I think it makes the strings feel wrong. You have to get everything right in order to create an extraordinary experience for the player, and I really try to get this balancing-the-string-tension thing right. It’s not my idea—this is a European idea from hundreds of years ago—but the only way to do it is to put all the strings in one line, so the top string is more supple than it would be otherwise, and there’s a nice, even progression in tension.”

He says that arrangement facilitates greater customization, too. “For example, if you primarily play rhythm guitar, and you don’t care so much about bending strings, I’m going to make you a left-handed headstock for your guitar so you can put huge strings on the bottom and they won’t feel too tight—and they’ll drive the pickup crazy.”

Parker says his headstock angle makes the instrument feel more playable, too. “Gibson’s is 14 degrees. Mine’s four and a quarter. It’s as low as you can get it and not [have the strings] come out of the nut slots and start behaving badly. And I know, because I’ve explored it!”