Parker Guitars: The Story of the Fly and Beyond

The Origin of Parker Guitars

Parker Guitars, an American guitar manufacturer, was established in the early 1990s. Renowned for its lightweight modern electric guitars and basses, the company was birthed out of Ken Parker’s vision. Before his venture into Parker Guitars, Ken was already well-regarded for his expertise in restoring vintage guitars. His insights into the challenges and limitations of traditional guitar designs laid the foundation for Parker’s groundbreaking innovations.

Ken Parker: The Visionary Behind the Brand

Ken Parker embarked on his guitar-making journey in a workshop in Rochester, New York. His ambition was to create instruments that not only offered an expanded sound spectrum but were also lightweight and ergonomically efficient. Collaborating with electronics expert Larry Fishman, the duo founded Parker Guitars, initially setting up shop in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Innovations of Parker Guitars

From the outset, Parker Guitars emphasized innovation, blending traditional and modern approaches to guitar-making.

Unique Construction

One of the defining features of Parker instruments is their distinctive blend of various woods—commonly poplar or mahogany—with a carbon and glass fiber-reinforced composite. Both the body and the neck of Parker guitars have a wooden core, but what sets them apart is the “external skeleton”. This composite layer envelops the back of the instrument, bolstering its strength. The result? Lightweight guitars that are both rigid and produce an exceptionally clear sound.

Moreover, for solid body instruments, they employ either maple or mahogany for the top that’s conventionally glued to the composite body. This technique further enhances the instrument’s tonal qualities.

Expanded Sonic Capabilities

Another major innovation introduced by Parker was the simultaneous use of both electromagnetic and piezoelectric pickups, equipped with active electronics in a single instrument. These pickups could be blended almost limitlessly using the integrated controls, allowing for an unparalleled tonal range. The sound produced is often described as a “hybrid” – merging the tonal qualities of acoustic and electric guitars.

In addition, the guitars also feature the flexibility of using the piezo and the two magnetic pickups separately, catering to those who desire more conventional guitar sounds.

Design and Aesthetics

Aesthetically, Parker guitars are easy to distinguish. Their body showcases several ergonomic cutouts on both the front and back. The uniquely shaped cutaways, or “horns,” are a visual treat and are echoed in the design of the guitar’s headstock – becoming a signature trademark of Parker.

An uncommon yet ingenious inclusion in Parker’s design is the utilization of a flat spring, as opposed to conventional spiral springs, for its vibrato system. This design choice ensures that the resonating springs don’t interfere with the instrument’s sound.

Parker Fly
Image by Gwvest (Wikipedia), Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

The Legacy and Evolution of Parker Models

The very first electric guitar from Parker was the “Fly Vibrato Deluxe”, introduced in 1993. Over the years, the company expanded its product line, adding variations such as models with nylon strings, guitars with and without vibrato units, and options with bolt-on necks. In 2002, Parker introduced the Parker Fly bass guitar, available in both four and five-string versions. These basses, much like their guitar counterparts, also allow blending of magnetic and piezoelectric pickups.

Parker’s foray into semi-hollow guitars began in 2007, adding yet another layer to their rich history of innovation.

Notable Guitarists Who Played Parker Guitars

Parker Guitars have been the choice of many celebrated guitarists across various genres of music. Their unique design, unparalleled sound quality, and ergonomic feel have made them popular among some of the most famous names in the industry. Here’s a look at some of the most prominent guitarists who have wielded a Parker:

Adrian Belew

Known for his work with the progressive rock band King Crimson, Adrian Belew’s distinctive playing style has garnered him respect and admiration from guitar enthusiasts worldwide.

Reeves Gabrels

Renowned for his association with David Bowie and the rock band The Cure, Gabrels’ explorative and innovative approach to guitar playing has made him a standout figure in the world of rock music.

Vernon Reid

As the lead guitarist and founder of the rock band Living Colour, Vernon Reid’s dynamic style and technical prowess have earned him a place among guitar legends.

Trent Reznor

The founder and primary musician behind the industrial rock project Nine Inch Nails, Reznor’s aggressive and atmospheric guitar playing has been a major driving force behind the band’s iconic sound.

Joni Mitchell

A pivotal figure in the folk-rock scene, Joni Mitchell’s intricate and emotive guitar work has touched the hearts of many. Her use of alternate tunings and innovative playing techniques has made her an inspiration for countless guitarists.

Dave Navarro

Best known for his work with Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Navarro’s versatile playing and onstage charisma have made him one of the most recognized guitarists of his generation.

Roine Stolt

A pillar in the world of progressive rock, Roine Stolt’s work with The Flower Kings and Transatlantic has showcased his virtuosity and compositional genius.

These artists, among others, have chosen Parker Guitars as their weapon of choice, further solidifying the brand’s reputation in the world of music. Whether it’s the innovative design, tonal clarity, or the sheer playability of these instruments, it’s clear that Parker Guitars have found favor among the best in the business.


Parker Guitars, with its innovative designs and commitment to quality, has left an indelible mark on the music industry. The story of Ken Parker’s vision, from a workshop in Rochester to a globally recognized brand, is a testament to the limitless possibilities of innovation and the timeless allure of quality craftsmanship.

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