Wow. The Panthera is drop-dead gorgeous in its Nirvana Black Transparent finish with a sexy, gleaming, and flawless lacquer shine that would look right at home on a custom Ferrari SA Aperta (and the triple-layer paint job on that baby is a $28,000 upcharge). The jaw-dropping beauty of the mahogany and maple woods is showcased across every millimeter of the guitar. The carved top is quite voluptuous, and the backside’s top bevel is comfortable whether you’re playing in a sitting position or standing onstage. Even the three-layer (black/silver/black) striping across the top is impeccable with no evidence of filler, and the same attention to detail applies to the lovely trapezoid inlays on the fretboard. All hardware is top quality, and assembled securely and with precision. In every instance, the craftsmanship is as immaculate as any object of luxury, and, guitar-wise, the build quality matches the standards set by high-end electrics from PRS, Collings, Knaggs, the Fender and Gibson custom shops, and other classy and refined makers.
It’s a weird thing with me, but there are times when holding a truly magnificent guitar that I just don’t feel thrilled about playing it. It might be that the construction is sophisticated, but the guitar feels stiff. Perhaps, I worry about ruining something so expensive (as a convulsive buckaroo of sorts while onstage, I have sadly earned a reputation as the destroyer of guitars). But the Panthera just melts into my body, hands, and fingers like a super-luxurious pillow. Although I tend to prefer satin finishes, the high-gloss lacquer on the neck makes playing this guitar a winning combination of slick, slippery, fast, unhindered, and delightful. The buffed and rounded frets are near imperceptible to the touch—an obvious benefit of Framus’ “Invisible Fretwork Technology” and the Plek fret dressing at the factory. I like to fuss with the Volume and Tone knobs during performance—mostly for volume swells and wah-style effects—and the controls are right at hand, although I have to reach just a tad to cradle the bridge-pickup Volume knob with my pinky. The push/pull Tone knob for coil-splitting is tight enough not to be activated by an errant windmill, but it’s also easy to pull without slipping off. Nothing here gets in the way of getting the sounds you want, playing the riffs you want, or enjoying the whole process of working with a great guitar.
The Panthera is the embodiment of culture and class, and, initially, the tones reflect its opulent bearing. The Seymour Duncan pickups are articulate, while maintaining a stout, rounded tone. Even the bridge pickup sounds fat and nicely restrained in the high-midrange frequencies. This personality produces beautiful jazz and vintage rock tones without a hint of sizzle, sear, or bite. The neck pickup provides warm lows and low-mids, but there’s enough midrange clarity to keep the sound balanced without getting muddy or boomy.
But lest you think the Panthera is too firmly rooted in restaurant jazz or soft-rock sounds, the not-so-secret weapon at your fingertips is the coil-split feature. Flip that baby on, and, suddenly, you’re in a world of snarl, snap, pop, and rage. The high-midrange spectrum comes alive, and the Panthera roars right into a plethora of classic rock, alt-rock, ska, R&B, punk, and funk tones. The sound may remain a little too mannered to give up, say, fractured fizzle à la cheap, ’60s-era Japanese and Italian guitars, but I can always grab my faux Wandre if I’m jonesing for beautifully “bad” tones. All in all, I played a ton of different styles with the Panthera, and it kicked ass on every one. This is an extremely sonically versatile guitar.
THE WRAP UP
When I fantasize about “dream guitars,” they are always the definition of perfection—absolutely stunning in construction, ergonomics, playability, looks, and sound. The Panthera isn’t an inexpensive proposition, but you get what pay for, and perhaps a bit more. This guitar is truly the stuff of dreams.
PRO SERIES PANTHERA SUPREME II
PRICE $2,999 street
NUT WIDTH 1.7" (Graph Tech Black Tusq)
NECK Mahogany, set
FRETBOARD Tigerstripe ebony, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 extra-high jumbo nickel-silver
TUNERS Graph Tech Ratio Locking
BODY Flamed maple top over mahogany
BRIDGE TonePros Tune-o-Matic
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan APH-1 (neck), Seymour Duncan SH-11 (bridge)
CONTROLS Two Volume, Tone (with coil-split push/pull pot)
FACTORY STRINGS Cleartone Coated, .010-.046
WEIGHT 9.0 lbs
KUDOS Versatile tones. Excellent construction. Plays like butter. Looks absolutely stunning.