The Best Value Guitar of 2014: Chapman Guitars ML1

by | Dec 16, 2014 | Best Electric Guitars

Chapman Guitars
ML1 Guitar

PROS: Sounds amazing, tons of tonal options, impeccable fit and finish.
CONS: None.
PRICE: $499

Let’s get this out of the way: the Chapman ML1 is quite simply the best value in the guitar market today. At a ludicrously low $499 USD, you get the equivalent of a professional-grade instrument that we’d easily pay 3-4x the price for. It’s just that good.

Collaboratively designed between British guitarist Rob Chapman (um, did you notice this month’s cover story?) and his YouTube army, the ML1 is a production line guitar that comes from the same Korean factory that makes the SE line for PRS. So we knew going in that this was going to be a quality axe; we just weren’t prepared for quite HOW much we’d fall in love.

Starting at the top, you’ve got a badass reverse-Tele style headstock with quality Grover tuners and a perfectly-slotted TUSQ nut. At $499, we were prepared to have to do a little nut work, but there was no need. It was perfect out of the box. The neck is a very comfortable C-profile, maple with a dark ebony fretboard. The sole “infinity” inlay at the 12th fret takes a minute to get used to if you like to find your position by standard fret markers, but the typical side dots ease the transition. The jumbo frets are super comfy to play, and the flatter fretboard radius makes upper-end shredded a breeze (the contoured neck joint doesn’t hurt, either).

The body itself is thin, solid mahogany, finished with a lovely flame maple veneer. If you’ve played a late-model PRS SE Custom, the veneer’s quality and the added touch of natural wood binding will be familiar, classy touches. The tummy cut and teardrop top contour are well done, too.

OK, so it looks killer, it’s incredibly well made, fit and finish are top-notch. How does it sound? In a word: fantastic. The coil-split option available in the push-pull knob adds in double the tonal variety of a standard HSS superstrat. Put up against a modern Suhr and Fender HSS Strat, the Chapman ML1 surprisingly held its own. The stock “Guitarnivore” pickups (spec’d out by Chapman himself) are clear as a bell when you want the axe to sing cleanly, but dirty up real nice when you roll up the volume knob and push your amp’s tubes. Coming from a jazz background myself, I’m always a bit leery of stock neck pickups, as they’re seemingly an afterthought in most guitars like this, but in single-coil only mode, the neck pickup was actually our favorite position. Sweet and clear, it delivers smooth single note jazz runs and funk licks, as well as mellow chordal jazz passages with ease and fullness. Of course, ripping it up in full-humbucker mode in the bridge position is the where the real fun starts. From country chicken-pickin’ to classic rock crunch and metal, this can cover it all.

Our only complaints, if we have to nitpick, are two-fold. One, there are no numbers or dots on the volume/tone knobs to indicate where you’ve set your levels. Yeah, I know, that can be remedied with a $2 knob replacement from the bin of any guitar retailer. The second issue that some might have is the trem system. Now, tuning stability is totally fine (in fact it’s a nice Wilkinson unit), but ours arrived as dive-only. Now, a little set-up and you might be able to float it a little, but the extreme dive-bomb crowd and squealy up-benders will likely want a Floyd or something comparable.

We could go on all day, but what’s the point? The ML1 sounds amazing, looks killer, feels fantastic and is perfectly constructed. It’s ridiculously priced for what you get and even comes with a deluxe padded gig bag, Allen key and an extra spring for your trem. Special thanks to Riff City Guitars for loaning us the instrument to review.

Solid Mahogany Body
25.5″ Scale Length
Maple Neck/Ebony Fingerboard
Recessed Bolt-on Neck Construction
13.8″ Fretboard Radius
22 Extra Jumbo Frets
Grover Machine Heads
42mm TUSQ Nut
Wilkinson WVPCR Tremolo
1 × Chapman Guitars Guitarnivore Humbucker (Alnico Passive, High Output)
2 × Chapman Guitars Extreme Victory Single Coil (Alnico Passive, Medium Output)
Gig Bag; Tools; Tremolo Arm + Extra Spring
Master Volume + Coil Split