ML-3 Modern review by Chapman Guitars

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  • Features: 9
  • Sound: 7
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 8
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.2 Superb
  • Users' score: 6.8 (18 votes)
Chapman Guitars: ML-3 Modern

Price paid: $ 589

Purchased from: Riff City Guitars

Features — 9
This particular guitar was made in Korea in 2015. It's a 25.5" bolt on "Chapman Custom Thin Profile" 13 3/4 radius neck with with 24 X-Jumbo frets, a naked ebony fretboard aside from the Chapman infinity logo on the 12th fret, Grover 18:1 six in line tuners on a reverse headstock, and a mahogany T-style body with a Chapman "Hard Tail Deluxe" string-through fixed bridge. The electronics as far as the controls go are pretty standard Tele-Style fare, but without the silver cover plate. The knobs (one volume, one tone with a coil tap) and pickup selector switch (three way) are fixed into the cavity routed directly into the body. The pickups themselves are Chapman's own "Passive Aggressive" humbuckers, wired 4 conductor and set to tap out of phase when the switch is in the second (middle) position from the factory. The finish is Satin Black. Neck composition wood is maple with a Tusq nut at the top. To be honest, this guitar is feature-rich, especially considering the price point. I ordered it sight unseen and without having played it before hand, so considering what I was being told I'd get for the price, I was more than a little skeptical.

Sound — 7
First and foremost, I'm running it through my gig rig, which is (guitar) -> Boss NS2 Noise Suppressor -> Peavey XXX 2x12 with a DigiTech Digital Delay and DigiTech Polara in the FX loop. This review will be based on the guitar's tone direct to amp with all the knobs set at noon for the most accurate, across the board results. My primary style of music is progressive metal/hard rock, but I do a bit of blues and thrash as well. The guitar itself suits this fine, and the stock pickups, which were my biggest concern, were actually serviceable to begin with. The bridge pickup was a bit too smooth for my preference, but it did well enough and I can say with confidence that, aside from brands that put EMG or SD pickups in from the factory, these are easily some of the most capable stock pickups I've played. I could gig with them to be honest, but it wouldn't be my preference just because I didn't really care for the tone by way of personal preference. Again, they weren't bad, but not my cup of tea, more specifically the bridge, which I replaced with an SD Distortion to give it that punch that the stock bridge pickup was lacking.

The neck pickup, however, surprised me quite a bit, and I'm not in a real hurry to replace it. Not saying that I won't, but it's good enough that I don't feel I have to rush out and get rid of it. The guitar's stock electronics really shine, however, when they're coil tapped. I can get some absolutely beautiful, full, glassy-topped tones from these, particularly in the second position when they're running single coils out of phase. If I were playing a different style of music that relied on this position, I might've just left them alone for a while. Out of the box, it does many styles without much problem, again accounting for personal taste, but as good as the stock pickups are for stock pickups, you'll probably want to swap them to your taste, although it's not going to be as urgent as with, say, Ibanez's stock pickups. Overall, decent pickups, serviceable for sure, and while they won't nail the tone you hear in your head, they're made to touch on as many styles and to appeal to as many people as they can out of the box, which is a smart aim for a guitar maker to have. Most of us are going to remove to taste anyhow. That said, they're easily the weakest part of the guitar.

Action, Fit & Finish — 8
So seeing as how I got it from Riff City Guitar, they offer a free setup with purchase, and though the neck was set a bit flat for my taste, it was definitely done well otherwise. There was nary a touch of buzzing until I put heavier gauge on (11s) and tuned down a half step, but that's to be expected with a larger gauge and no immediate adjustment of the truss rod. Once I'd set the relief a bit more appropriately, it was just as smooth as before. The pickups were set fine as far as height goes, but for anyone considering this guitar, be aware that the stock pickups are probably a quarter inch shorter than most others (SD in my case). This means that I had to bolt them (as they're direct mount) to the body with no foam/spring underneath, and anything higher than that is going to require some slight drilling to accommodate the taller pickups. It's minor and easy enough to do, or have done, but it would've been nice to have this considered by the factory as most guitarists will swap pickups on purchase.

The frets were done nicely, no sharp edges or burs, and the board is not the cheaper cut of ebony I was dreading. It's deep and rich, harder than rosewood (obvious for ebony, but worth pointing out), and clean. Mine came a bit thirsty, but a bit of lemon oil took care of it nicely. The bridge is sturdy, the neck pocket is tight and cleanly routed, and there is no gap at the heel whatsoever. String alignment is dead on, and with a good setup, it can take very low action if that's your thing, though it's not mine. The controls are solid and reliable, but the pickup switch cap is very noticeably plastic and you'll probably end up replacing it. The tone knob/tap is faster than I prefer, but that's preference. I like a bit of resistance when I grab a knob. This one's definitely not that, whereas the volume knob requires more effort to turn. Quality of mahogany is good, the finish is even, and there are no visible blemishes/dings/dents/inconsistencies in the wood. Inside, the soldering work was solid. The score here is 8 purely because I prefer a tighter knob, and I hate plastic hardware (switch cap), but that's easy enough to replace.

Reliability & Durability — 8
The guitar is built like a tank. It's heavy, but it's a solid slab of mahogany, so that's what's to be expected. It's not Les Paul heavy, but it's a good deal more hefty than my Ibanezes, my alder Strat, and my mahogany Schecter 7-string. The hardware is solid, and I don't feel like I'd have to worry about it, though I'll probably replace the tone knob for something more solid, but it's not so fast or loose that I'd worry about breaking it live. My only other quibble is similar to all Tele Style guitars, and that's that the front-most strap button is easily unhooked from the strap if you're moving around while playing. Strap locks are definitely recommended here as far as I'm concerned.

As far as gigging without a backup, I wouldn't do that with any guitar, because, well, shit happens. But I'd definitely rely on this one, and the bridge is built like a tank. The whole guitar resonates almost absurdly well, and it sustains for days if you let it. The finish is your typical satin-style finish. The woodgrain is easily visible and can be felt plainly on touch, the staining itself is thin, and though it looks very understated and classy, I don't doubt that if you ding it, you'll know on sight. If that doesn't bother you, no worries there, and though it doesn't bother me, it's mostly what dropped a few points off this category.The rest is solid.

Overall Impression — 9
As someone who's predominately metal/progressive and has been playing on and off for about twelve years total, this guitar absolutely nails it for me, and for the price, it's a steal, plain and simple. I've got guitars that are around 500 bucks, and guitars that are just under 2,000, and I can say with total honesty that this competes easily with guitars that I've bought and owned for twice the price, though you will absolutely notice a difference if you own and love a guitar that you paid over one thousand for. That said, it's my opinion that there are very, VERY few guitars under a grand that can compete out of the box/off the shelf, and with a pickup swap, possibly a pot switch, you're easily destroying competing brands in the price bracket and competing on level ground with those in the 750-1000 range.

I would absolutely buy another, and plan to when I have the money to do so with. I would absolutely replace it if I had to, and after comparing with dozens of other guitars in its price range and several hundred above, this is hands down the most satisfying guitar. My only quibbles are the tone knob being too fast for my preference, the thinness of the finish, and the surprisingly shallow pickup cavities. Other than that, this guitar is killer, and you'd be hard pressed to find a competitor at this price point, bar none. I do not regret at all taking a chance with Chapman, and if you haven't given them a try yet, I highly recommend that you do.

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