I don’t know about you, but if I have time to kill before heading out the door, I grab a guitar and start noodling. And if I happen to stumble on some inspiring licks, well, I may be late to meet you. Recently, though, I was in this situation and couldn’t be late because I had to get to LAX to catch a flight to Ohio with Jefferson Starship. Nonetheless, with 12 minutes to spare, I grabbed the Chapman ML3 Pro Modern Semi-Hollow and proceeded to wail.
I had already used the ML3 to track a solo through a Dr. Z EMS head, so I knew it had a great overdriven sound. Its bridge humbucker delivers a delicious midrange snarl that doesn’t oversaturate too easily. But here, with the ML3 unplugged, I felt I was finally getting to know the guitar. With its sharp-looking Telecaster-inspired silhouette and gray-sunburst flame-maple top gleaming in the morning light, the thing struck me as quite handsome. And when I began playing it, I immediately appreciated the ML3’s dimensional sound. Being semi-hollow, it projects nicely too, which is always a good sign.
But what won me over most about the guitar was its great playability. Due to a combination of its beefy C-shaped neck, wide radius, sensuously sculpted neck heel, reverse headstock (which boosts tension on the high strings) and perfectly groomed stainless-steel frets, string bends on this guitar are juicy and satisfying.
Suddenly, just five minutes into my little hang with the ML3, I spontaneously decided I had to try it in the real world. I uncased the guitar I had planned to bring with me to the Buckeye State and began packing the ML3 instead. After all, you learn more about a guitar from one gig than you do from weeks of testing it at home. The ML3 comes with a nice hard-shell case, but to better protect it, I grabbed my SKB iSeries flight case and the laid the guitar inside.
The next afternoon, we entered the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in Van Wert for sound check, and the ML3 emerged from the case intact and in tune. Instantly, our singer, Cathy Richardson, remarked how cool she thought the guitar looked. The crew dug it, too. This axe is definitely a looker.
Plugging into my stage rig (a pedalboard running stereo into two Fender Deluxe Reverbs), I was impressed by the clear sound of the ML3’s five pickup settings. Even the split-coil sounds were sparkly and useful. Kicking on an Xotic BB+ pedal, I had no problem achieving articulate distorted tones.
Three hours and two deli trays later, it was show time. As we stood in the dark, about to walk onstage, I was reminded of a cool feature on the ML3: Its side-of-the-neck position markers glow! I proceeded to have a great show with the ML3 and found it could produce most every tone I needed. I only put it down for two songs that called for single-coil whammy-bar hijinks (which I achieved via a Fender Stratocaster).
My only complaint about the ML3 is that it seems slightly neck-heavy. If your strap is slippery on your shoulder, the headstock may tilt the instrument toward the floor, which is not an uncommon guitar trait, but a bit unusual for a Tele-shaped instrument. I also discovered that aggressive down-strums can cause the high E string to get snagged under the lip of the neck humbucker (which, to be fair, has happened to me on other guitars without pickup covers). This occurred on three songs with the ML3. Clearly, I need to do fewer windmills or get a thinner pick.
According to company founder Rob Chapman, the Pro Modern is the younger sibling of the ML3 Pro Traditional, a guitar created with input from his 650,000 YouTube followers. “They voted on a lot of the features, and their first choices became the Traditional,” Chapman says. “Later, we noticed that the design elements that came in number two on the surveys would make a great guitar, too, so that feature set became the Chapman ML3 Pro Modern Semi-Hollow.”
Bottom line, thanks to Chapman’s design and building skills, as well as the input from his online fans, the Pro Modern Semi-Hollow earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
ML3 Pro Modern Semi-Hollow
PRICE $999 street
NUT WIDTH 1.66" (42mm)
NECK Satin-finished roasted maple
FRETBOARD Roasted maple, 25.5" scale, 13.77" radius
FRETS 24 jumbo stainless-steel
TUNERS Hipshot Grip-Lock open gear
BODY Semi-hollow satin-finished mahogany with flame-maple top
BRIDGE Six-brass-saddle, string-through-body
PICKUPS Chapman Madrigal humbuckers (12.5kΩ, bridge, 11kΩ, neck)
CONTROLS Master volume, tone, 5-way blade selector
FACTORY STRINGS Ernie Ball Regular Slinky .010–.046
WEIGHT 6 lbs 9 oz
KUDOS A great-looking, great-playing and great-sounding rock machine
CONCERNS A tad neck heavy