Excellent split-coil sounds. Way more versatile than its hard-rock looks suggest.
Some minor fretwork issues.
Chapman ML3 Modern
Chapman Guitars might not be a household brand. But the young company’s reach is impressive. Though I knew the name, I had never played one. Then, last year, one of my teenage students bought a Chapman. Other students told me they were saving up money to buy one. Clearly a trend was brewing.
Given the popularity of founder Rob Chapman’s YouTube channel, it shouldn’t be a surprise. He is also a prominent gear demo artist on the popular Andertons Music YouTube channel, so he’s a very familiar figure for web-cruising gear heads.
Today, the Chapman line is pretty extensive, and populated by signature models as well as 7- and 8-string guitars. For this review, we checked out a more conventional but fancy feeling ML3 Modern from the affordable, Indonesia-built Standard Series.
What a “ Like”-Able Axe
In its “abyss” finish, which features a flame maple veneer top on a mahogany body, the ML3 is a great-looking axe. The Telecaster-influenced body is mated to a bolt-on maple neck with a 24-fret, Macassar ebony fretboard and “pearl infinity” inlay at the 12th fret. The reverse headstock at the top of the neck provides a welcome ’80s styling twist.
Comfort clearly played a big part in the guitar’s design, and the ML3 Modern’s body has many, many curves. There’s a rear heel contour, an arm carve, as well as a front lower-spoon cut, rear tummy cut, and rear lower-spoon cut. It feels great and you certainly won’t have any problem accessing all 24 of those frets.
For a mid-priced instrument, the ML3 Modern includes several practical hardware touches that enhance playability and tuning stability. There’s a Graph Tech self-lubricating TUSQ XL nut and Chapman Classic closed 18:1 tuners, which, along with the hardtail bridge, give the guitar a rock-solid feel—even when subjected to aggressive pick attack.
In general, the ML3 is really well made. I encountered a few slightly rough ends among its 24 jumbo nickel frets. But the factory setup—with a medium low action and .010–.046 strings—felt great. The guitar’s C-shape neck profile and relatively flat 14" radius fretboard are super-comfortable, too. It’s not quite as fast feeling as some shred-oriented necks, but will probably appeal to players that like traditional, thicker neck profiles.
Modern Tones and Hot Pickup Zones
The Chapman Sonorous Zerø humbucking pickups are fairly hot, with the bridge-pickup resistance measuring 12.5k ohms and the neck at 10.5k ohms. You can select bridge, neck, and combined settings with the 3-way switch, and the tone knob can be pulled out to split the coils, activating the outer coil on each pickup. That versatility, though, is just icing on the cake, because Chapman Sonorous Zerøs are fantastic, modern-sounding pickups. And unlike many mid-priced instruments, the Chapman probably won’t drive you to shop for replacement pickups within the first week of ownership.
Fundamentally speaking, the ML3 Modern is loud and bright, and it stays that way until you roll the tone knob way down to around 3. This inherent brightness is a key to the guitar’s clarity, which pays real dividends in the high-gain applications where most ML3s are likely to find themselves. Low-register riffs and high-register solo flurries alike are defined and articulate, and individual notes are distinct in distorted, dissonant chord figures. Even pedestrian power chords sounded extra vibrant. For modern rock and metal styles, the ML3 flat-out excels.
The split-coil sounds make the ML3 even more flexible. They’re muscular, sustain with ease, and have the clarity of a Telecaster and a hint of rawness that’s reminiscent of a P-90. The split-coils also sound excellent across all three possible combinations. Even better, they’re relatively quiet. Played, clean, the split-coil tones are very punchy and spanky, and while it might not look like the most natural country guitar, the split-coil bridge setting is a natural fit for Nashville-flavored double stops, faux pedal-steel bends, and speedy runs.
With a little dirt in the mix, split-coil sounds really come to life. Combining the split-coil and full humbucker voices offers many tonal possibilities, too. Switching from the split-bridge pickup at the beginning of a solo to the humbucker at the climax is a simple, effectively dramatic application of the split-coil capabilities. In my opinion, it feels more organic and satisfying than simply stepping on a boost pedal.
The Chapman ML3 Modern, which sells for about 900 bucks, looks and often plays like an instrument that should cost more. And while it seems geared for heavy rock—and delivers those tones with ease—its surprising sonic versatility makes it a great all-around guitar.