Chapman Guitars is perhaps the most notable and high-profile success of the modern online guitar world. What started out back in 2009 as a joint venture between OG guitar YouTuber Rob Chapman and retailer Lee Anderton to crowd-source budget instruments for bedroom shredders has expanded in all directions, and now offers instruments both high-performance and traditional from the £500 ballpark all the way up to around £1,800.
Expanding the range beyond its shred heartlands has meant taking some risks in recent years, and this ML3 Semi-Hollow Pro might be Chapman’s most eye-catching and polarising instrument yet. You see, from the outset, this seems like a guitar that can’t quite decide what it wants to be.
On the surface, it’s a semi-hollow single-cut with a carved maple top and twin P-90s that make you wonder if the intent here is to mash up a 50s Les Paul with a 60s Thinline Tele to create the ultimate garage rock beast. But the details, even with that retro sparkle finish, feel much more technical – including a set-through roasted maple neck with reverse headstock, glow-in-the-dark side dots, a six-saddle hardtail through-body bridge, and a stripped-down control layout of just master volume and tone. So which way is this guitar going to go? Let’s plug in and find out.
Taking the ML3 out of its box, it’s hard not to be charmed by its mad, if unconventional, looks – the Aventurine Green Sparkle finish pairs nicely with the inviting caramel hue of that roasted maple neck, and the way the light catches the finish on the top carve recalls the three-dimensional fun of a Gretsch Sparkle Jet.
Pick it up, and there’s a bright and direct acoustic resonance that reflects the maple top working well with the back (variously listed as both mahogany and perupok) and that roasted neck. The neck’s thin palmful of a C-shape is complemented by nicely rolled fingerboard edges, while the 13.5” fingerboard radius is definitely going to feel more comfortable to flat-board shredders than vintage noodlers, and the same goes for the 23 jumbo stainless steel frets.
While there’s an airiness to proceedings when playing through a crystal-clean amp, it doesn’t take much for this to get drowned out with the application of even the smallest sliver of gain, and we can’t help wonder if the Seymour Duncan Vintage P-90 pickups on board are responsible for this lack of responsiveness.
Vintage they may be in name, but the bridge unit’s DC resistance measures 9.7k ohms, meaning these are a good deal hotter than actual vintage P-90s. That makes for a spicy good time if you’re looking for a P-90 sound that shouts, tipping your amp into natural overdrive with ease and offering plenty of fun with some fuzz or overdrive in the chain.
These Alnico V-magneted pickups offer a clarity that means the in-between position doesn’t feel in any way woolly and is very usable as a rhythm option. You also have to roll that single tone control a long way back before the sound starts to muddy up. The flipside is that you lose a little of the versatility that people traditionally associate with P-90s – rolling back the volume control does clean things up, but not nearly as much as you might want.
But these are only drawbacks if what you’re looking for is a guitar that ticks the traditional boxes. If you’re after something that offers a bold but vintage aesthetic and is set up to rock – and rock loud – this Chapman knocks it out of the park. The sculpted heel and chamfered cutaway also combine with the flattish board and rolled edges to make upper-fret excursions a doddle – this is far more ready to shred than your usual T-type.
So if you like to fly under the radar but need to be able to burn the competition when the mood strikes, this might be the perfect stealth bomber for you.
- PRICE £959
- DESCRIPTION Single-cutaway semi-hollow electric guitar, made in Korea
- BUILD Chambered mahogany/perupok body with carved maple top, set-through roasted maple neck with 13.5” radius, 23 jumbo frets, Graph Tech Tusq nut
- HARDWARE Chapman string-through bridge, Hipshot Grip-Lock open-gear tuners
- ELECTRICS 2x Seymour Duncan Vintage P-90 pickups, master volume and tone, three-way blade selector switch
- SCALE LENGTH 25.5” / 648mm
- NECK WIDTH 42mm at nut, 53mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20.5mm at first fret, 22mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 36mm at nut, 56mm at bridge
- WEIGHT 3.4kg/7.5lb
- FINISHES Aventurine Green Sparkle (as reviewed), Burnt Orange Sparkle, Atlantic Blue Sparkle
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- CONTACT chapmanguitars.com, andertons.co.uk