Framus AK 1974 Custom, Mayfield Custom, and Panthera Supreme

October 24, 2011

Long a secret of many prominent European players, both before and after the company’s rebirth under the Warwick umbrella in 1995, Framus guitars have recently been making their way over the pond and into the hands of plenty of more widely recognized artists. Earl Slick, Elliot Easton, Adam Cohen, and P-Funker Blackbyrd McKnight have all been seen waving the Framus flag lately, and along with this increased exposure, the company’s reputation for innovation and originality seems to be growing. This issue, we check out three quite different Framus models, the AK 1974 Custom, Panthera Supreme, and Mayfield Custom. Each guitar includes a Warwick RockCase flight case, and is set up on Framus’ very own PLEK machine (a computer controlled guitar setup and fret leveling system.

All three models we tested are solidly built and smoothly playable instruments by any standard, with versatile tonal capabilities that suit them to a wide range to break out of the traditionally narrow U.S.-inspired design molds might find a lot to love in any of them.

AK 1974 Custom

Named for its origins in the form of the official Framus Jan Akkerman signature model released in 1974, the AK 1974 Custom displays several features that were hot-to-trot “innovations” back in the day, and still help to make a more versatile instrument for many playing styles four decades later. Notable among these are its through-neck construction, 24-fret fingerboard, deep single cutaway with smoothly contoured neck heel, and 6-way switching that offers split-coil combinations in addition to the standard full-humbucker positions. A maximum body depth of 2" at the rims and the use of highly flamed maple throughout—other than for its unbound tigerstripe ebony ’board—make the AK 1974 Custom a chunky, solid, and rather heavy semi-acoustic, despite the genuine airspace either side of its central neck/body block.

Construction and finish look great, and inspire confidence in the hand. Its AAAA flamed maple top reveals lively figuring beneath an ebony burst finish, and is beautifully complemented by the gold-plated hardware and split-diamond with snowflake fretboard and headstock inlays. Alongside the above-mentioned “advanced features,” other construction points more redolent of vintage Euro axes include a super-slim C-shaped neck, which measures just .750" deep at the first fret, and has a prominent volute behind the nut. While I’m not usually a fan of such thin necks, this one feels surprisingly good in the hand, and this 25.5"-scale guitar is faultlessly playable. That volute, however, does get in the way of low-fret riffing now and then, and might take some getting used to.

Tested—as were all three guitars— through a Dr. Z Z-28 1x12 combo and a TopHat Emplexador MKII, the AK 1974 Custom revealed plenty of girth and punch in general, with a broad tonal palette expressed across its switching range. The Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 humbuckers help to retain clarity in all positions, with plenty of throaty, ES-335-ish warmth in the neck, and more honking, biting grind from the bridge. The split-coil combinations really up the versatility, though, and take you from chimey jangle to hollow, funky in-between tones with ease. In all, the AK 1974 Custom is a stoutly confident semiacoustic with a lot to say for itself.

Mayfield Custom

While it’s a rather more straight-on take of its clear inspiration, the Gibson ES-335, the Mayfield Custom nevertheless expresses its individuality in several subtle ways. Its thinline semi-acoustic body is somewhat more svelte than the classic Gibson, with narrower horns and a slightly different profile. And the custom split-diamond-withsnowflake fretboard and headstock inlays, and chromed knobs take it well away from copyville, even at first glance. Constructed of laminated AAA flamed maple top, back, and sides with a solid maple sustain block at the center, the Mayfield Custom reveals a more varied figuring beneath its translucent tobacco finish, which almost leans toward a gentle quilting. Its glued-in flamed maple neck sports another slim carve, with a depth of around .750" at the first fret, and the volute returns here, too, though this one is smaller and less obtrusive feeling than the AK 1974 Custom's. The tigerstripe ebony ’board wears celluloid binding and carries 22 jumbo frets. Pickups are Seymour Duncan’s APH1n and APH1b humbuckers with alnico II magnets, through the traditional four knobs and 3-way toggle switch control array, with no coil-splitting capabilities.


 
 

 AK1974 Custom
This 24.75"-scale guitar is another easy player, and indeed all three Framus models seem to benefit greatly from the company’s use of PLEK technology for final setup and fret dressing. Plugged in, the Mayfield Custom offers a sturdy take on the thinline semi-hollow mojo, a platform that these medium-output Duncans complement beautifully. Neck tones have that creamywith- air quality that helps to make a good ES-335 such a versatile beast, while the bridge belts out plenty of raw, thick, slightly nasal lead tones of the kind that can easily supplant the solidbody’s supposed dominance in the rock camp. Feedback comes a little more easily to the Mayfield Custom at high volumes, but it’s easily controllable, and generally short of menacing squeal unless you really ram it at the front of the amp. All in all, it’s a smooth, professional instrument that could turn its hand to a little of just about anything.

Panthera Supreme


 
 

 Mayfield Custom
A slightly more “traditional alternative” shot at the Gibson template, the Panthera Supreme runs more directly toward the LP-styled setneck single-cut side of the tracks—with perhaps a slight detour via the Nik Huber and PRS camps, as seen in its sculpted neck heel, ribcage body contour, and more Gumby-esque body lines. This 24.75"-scale instrument has a solid mahogany body and a carved AAA flamed maple top that looks great beneath a vintage sunburst finish. Another tasty looking tigerstriped ebony fretboard, this one is bound and carries 22 medium frets, and subtly elegant oval-shaped abalone dot position markers. The Tone Pros Tune-omatic bridge, stopbar tailpiece, and Framus locking tuners are the same as on the AK 1974 and Mayfield, though the hardware is chrome-plated this time. Another Duncan SH-1 ’59 makes an appearance in the neck position, while a hotter SH-14 Custom 5 sits in the bridge, routed through a 3-way switch with Master Volume and Tone controls, with a push-pull switch on the latter for coil splitting.
 
 
 

 Panthera Supreme
The Panthera Supreme has another slim neck profile, though carved from mahogany this time, with just a hair more depth at around .775" at the first fret, and no volute to bolster that transition to the gently backangled headstock (or to get in your way). Again, this shallow-C feels great in the hand—comfy enough for this lover of chunkier profiles to enjoy perfectly well, and very likely a dream to fans of skinny, early-’60sstyle necks. Like its brethren, the Panthera Supreme is set up with a low action and is a fast, easy player.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 The AK 1974 is a sharp looker with its ebony burst finish and gold hardware.
Unplugged, this solidbody rings with a lively, resonant tone, which thickens nicely when amped up. There is still admirable clarity here, and decent note separation amid heavier distortion, along with a beefier midrange response than the AK 1974 Custom provided, with more hair around the notes, too. The bridge ’bucker gets snarly and raucous fast, with easy sustain and willing feedback, but cleans up decently using the guitar’s Volume control. The neck position takes us confidently into more vintage-LPblues territory, while the in-between and split-coil settings yield a range of snappy, spanky alternatives. Given the format and design, there are no major surprises here, but the Panthera Supreme does its thing well and with confidence, and provides a sturdy alternative to lovers of that ever-popular set-neck-with-humbuckers formula.








Specifications

CONTACT Framus Guitars, (212) 777-6990; framus.de

AK 1974 Custom

PRICE $6,732 street, including flight case
NUT Width 1 11/16" TUSQ
NECK Flamed maple through neck, slim C profile (.750" thick at 1st fret)
FRETBOARD Tigerstripe ebony, 14" radius
FRETS 24 jumbo
TUNERS Framus locking tuners
BODY AAAA flamed maple top, AAA flamed maple back
BRIDGE Tone Pros Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Seymour Duncan SH-1 ’59 humbuckers w/closed covers
CONTROLS Single Volume and Tone, 6-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS Framus nickel coated, .009-.046
WEIGHT 9 lbs
BUILT Germany
KUDOS A well-crafted guitar packed with originality and great tone versatility.
CONCERNS Obtrusive volute between neck and headstock might impede some playing styles.

Mayfield Custom

PRICE $4,949 street, including flight casev
NUT Width 1 11/16" TUSQ
NECK AAA flamed maple, slim C profile (.750" thick at 1st fret)
FRETBOARD Tigerstripe ebony, 14" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Framus locking tuners
BODY Laminated AAA flamed maple top and back with solid mahogany sustain block
BRIDGE Tone Pros Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers: APH1n neck, APH1b bridge
CONTROLS Independent Volume and Tone for each pickups, 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS Framus nickel coated, .009-.046
WEIGHT 7.8 lbs
BUILT Germany
KUDOS Well crafted, elegantly dressed; an easy playing and good sounding take on the traditional semi-acoustic formula.
CONCERNS None.

Panthera Supreme

PRICE $5,394 street, including flight case
NUT Width 1 11/16" TUSQ
NECK Mahogany, slim C profile (.750" thick at 1st fret)
FRETBOARD Tigerstripe ebony, 14" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Framus locking tuners
BODY Mahogany with carved AAA flamed maple top
BRIDGE Tone Pros Tune-o-matic bridge and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Seymour Duncan humbuckers: SH-1 ’59 neck, SH-14 Custom 5 bridge
CONTROLS Single Volume and Tone with push-pull coil tap switch, 3-way selector switch
FACTORY STRINGS Framus nickel coated, .009-.046
WEIGHT 8.2 lbs
BUILT Germany
KUDOS Impressive construction and finish; good playing feel, solid tones.
CONCERNS None.

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