Fernandes Dragonfly Elite

November 22, 2005

Upon opening the included hardshell case, I was impressed by the Dragonfly’s killer-looking BlackBurst finish (which really showcases the gorgeous maple cap), black chrome hardware, and polished black headstock facing. I love the touch of Les Paul that the reddish finish on the mahogany back and neck lends to the Dragonfly, and the thick wood binding is a perfect transition between the quilted maple and the rich mahogany.

The face of the guitar is very neat despite the three switches (one large 3-way for the pickups and two mini 2-ways to control the Sustainer) and pair of knobs. In fact, the dark knobs and black switches blend in so seamlessly you hardly even notice them. The placement of the abalone position dots on the fretboard, which are set to the bass side as opposed to being centered, is a neat alternative and looks great.

Riffing around on the ‘Fly, the feel is taut and powerful. The string tension is fairly beefy even though the guitar ships with .009-.042 gauge strings. The neck is a little flat and shallow for my tastes, though—

having big hands, I prefer the support that a fatter neck provides. And speaking of big hands, my fretting hand barely fits between the neck and the lower cutaway past the 16th fret. The cutaway is noticeably smaller than a Les Paul’s, which is kind of a drag for me—especially with 24 frets, as I expect to have unfettered access to blues licks in A. One more complaint involves the mini-toggles that control the Sustainer. When I tried to flick them with the backside of my pinky, I drew blood on the sharp little nubs that poke out from the securing washers. After a litany of curse words and a good cry, I got back to testing.

I plugged the Dragonfly into a few different amps, including a 50-watt Marshall JCM800, a Fender Champ, and a Hughes & Kettner zenTera. The Seymour Duncan Custom 5 bridge humbucker puts out a great rock bark on semi-dirty tones with surprising string-to-string detail and a Van Halen-approved top end. The Fernandes neck pickup has a cool quality that sits somewhere between a single-coil and a humbucker. I especially like the dual-pickup position—very snarly with a deep cluck—and the Dragonfly’s volume maintains great clarity and brightness when you turn down.

Of course, the real fun begins when you turn on the Sustainer. This ingenious device occupies one coil of the neck pickup and, when activated, creates a magnetic field under the string for infinite sustain. It doesn’t matter if you’re running clean or dirty, loud or soft—flick this switch and notes will ring out until the cows come home or until the battery dies (which, according to Fernandes, is about 100 hours). When the battery needs to be changed, Fernandes has made it very easy with a user-friendly compartment that you can pop open with your fingernail—nice touch.

Now, back to the Sustainer. If you’ve never tried one of these things, you need to. It’s positively mind boggling to get Hendrix-style singing sustain at bedroom levels. The Sustainer is amazing on clean tones, as the sustain swells in more slowly for tones that range from the weirdest, coolest pseudo-reverb to synth-like pads. I also love to roll the volume all the way off, hit a sinister sounding chord, and then turn the volume back up and let the awesome scary-movie texture ring out in all its diabolical, sustaining glory.

The Sustainer has two settings: Standard, which makes the fundamental sustain, and Harmonic, which raises the sustained note an octave. Both are useful, but I definitely gravitated toward the Standard mode. When in the Harmonic mode, the octave notes can get a little piercing in the uppermost registers, and many fretted pitches seem to elicit a fifth, rather than an octave. Having said that, I did get some very cool results double tracking a line in Standard on one track and Harmonic on the other. You can adjust how fast or slow the Sustainer kicks in with a trimpot located in the control cavity, but I found the factory setting worked great. Three other trimpots are provided to adjust neck pickup output (when the Sustainer is off), Sustainer gain, and the balance between the Standard and Harmonic modes.

The Dragonfly would be a fine instrument even if it only had two standard pickups. It’s well made, very attractive, and it sounds great. When you add the Sustainer to the equation, however, the ’Fly becomes a wildly unique guitar that is just bursting with creativity. Because of my minor issues with the feel of the Dragonfly, I would love to try the Sustainer on an instrument with a deeper neck, but the fact remains this is a great guitar. If you can’t instantly come up with an inspiring part when you plug in the Dragonfly, you need to check your pulse.

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