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Music Gear Review - Michael Kelly Patriot Phoenix Electric Guitar
 
I have had people asking again lately but i had to wait until i could get pictures.  Everybody loves pictures, hehe.
 
For those who are unfamiliar with Michael Kelly guitars, here's the deal: All of their solid body electrics of this style are called Patriot, and then based on some combination of options they get a more specific model name.

The 2009 Patriot model in this review is called Phoenix.  I've seen this model in black before; to my eye this burgundy finish looks better.

All things considered (such as through-body strings), the Patriots all feel pretty much the same to me and i think that if you like one, you'll like them all.

 

LES PAUL COMPARISON
The main thing that everybody does with the Patriot (or wants to know about) is a direct comparison to the Les Paul.  There are some obvious similarities but the Michael Kelly

Patriot guitars are not Gibson Les Paul copies.  Whether played strapped on and standing up or sitting on a chair jamming; for those who are used to playing Les Pauls, the Patriot will feel
noticeably different.

Similarities:
Carved top, single cutaway, 24 3/4" scale, tune-o-matic/stopbar bridge, dual humbuckers, 3/side gears, 22 medium rosewood fretboard, 3-way toggle above the neck.

It's hard to make neck comparisons because

Gibson (like Fender) uses many different cuts on all models through every decade.  Patriot neck profile to me feels like a
mid/late 90's LP Studio, and so those who like to play a little easier & faster will be happy with
it, while those who like to dig into more of the "basball bat" profile will not be happy.

Differences:
Most differences are too small to even get into, and if you were used to playing a Les Paul then you would notice that a Patriot

would feel comfortable but... different! :)
For those who rarely play Les Pauls, i would guess that you would say the Patriot does feel like an LP.

The one major difference, and this is key, is the angle/cut at the neck heel and cutaway.  This is actually a really big

difference and depending on how you play up on the neck it's something you need to consider.  One look at the back of the guitar and you really get the picture, but first let's look at the front.

On both the Patriot and the Les Paul, the upper shoulder meets the neck at the 16th fret.  The shoulder on the LP goes straight up while the shoulder on the Patriot leans out over the 17th fret.
Ask yourself: when playing up past the 14th fret, especially doing solos versus chords, do you tend to keep your thumb up on the top of the neck?  If the answer is 'yes', then you will likely have a harder time with the Patriot versus the Les Paul, especially when playing standing up.
If instead you're somebody who brings your thumb down and/or around the front of the guitar (like i do), then this shoulder angle will have no affect on you.
 


As to the angle/cut at the neck heel on the Patriot, it's just flat out better in my opinion than the square cut of a Les Paul.  Sitting, standing, chords, barr chords, soloing - it's immediately easier and more comfortable with the Patriot than a standard LP (again, because i bring my thumb around the front of the neck when soloing up past the 14th fret).
Granted, if you're used to playing an LP then you'd have to get used to the Patriot because you come to expect a block of wood up there and it's a substantially reduced affair with the Michael Kelly guitar.

When you take a look at the back of a Paul versus Patriot, you can easily see where the body starts immediately at the 16th fret on the Paul, versus a downward angle on the Patriot that doesn't hit the bottom of the neck until the 20th fret.
In just looking at the picture you can't imagine how big of a difference this makes; i was really surprised by it the first time i ever played a Patriot.

And finally the cutaway pocket itself: there's slightly less

space on a Patriot than there is on a Les Paul.  So for players who are already at the edge of a standard LP (guys with large hands), you will probably dislike the Patriot in this regard versus a Les Paul as the Gibson has a bit more room here.

Regarding Balance:
When it comes to balance, chambering and weight-relief are the two variables that go beyond wood type (density/weight).  You can't really do any A/B comparison unless you know for sure you're talking apples-to-apples.
When playing seated with the guitar on my right leg, the Patriot has decent balance if not a bit back-heavy.  The waist of the patriot is cut slightly forward toward the neck than that of a Les Paul, and if the Patriot had a very heavy wood then it would likely be a bit more back-heavy than a true solid body Les Paul.
Balance (for my taste) improved when playing standing up, and the Patriot was for me more comfortable doing 3 hour-long sets than either of the non-weight-relieved Les Pauls that i'm used to.  Granted, it's lighter than those LPs!



HARDWARE

Gears:  Grover 102 Rotomatic, 14:1

Nut:  Synthetic graphite composite

Bridge:  TonePros tune-o-matic locking.  For those who don't know, the "locking" aspect of this bridge has nothing to do with the strings; what happens is that there are small screws that lock the bridge in place after it's adjusted for height preference.  Added benefit: when doing six-string changes, only the stop bar will fall off the guitar, lol.

Electronics:  Passive.  Three-way toggle, 2 volume 2 tone.  Tone pots are push/pull for coil-splitting.

Pickups:  Dual MK PAF-Plus humbuckers (ferrite & alnico V).  Resistance - 7.93k Ohms; inductance - 3.81H.

 

 

TRIM, FINISH & WOOD
Neck is fully bound.  Body and headstock have triple-ply binding.  No pickguard ("scratch plate", as my UK friends call it).

Rosewood fretboard with an amazing pearl flame inlay (Phoenix model pictured) that runs from the 1st to 19th frets; absolutely gorgeous and not something you typically see on other guitars that are in the neighborhood of $500.
Frets are listed as "jumbo" (i double-checked this) but really by today's standards they're more like a medium-jumbo.

Arched flamed maple top, carved with sortof a pronounced plateau thing going on.  Burgundy.  My pictures don't do this finish justice, really.
 


Body is nato (Eastern Mahogany).  Depending on country of manufacture, true mahogany species may be difficult, expensive and sometimes illegal to procure.  Nato is in common use for solid body electric and also acoustic guitar bodies (BC Rich, Brian Moore, Fender, Takamine, Taylor, Washburn, etc.).  It's
cheaper and more readily available than true mahogany.
There is a ton of information and debate on the internet re: true mahogany (Swietenia mahagani, Swietenia macrophylla) versus substitute woods such as Nato (Mora excelsa).  My own experience with solid body electric guitar comparisons is that once you're plugged in, it's really more
a matter of the pickups, amplifier, and speakers.  In my opinion, guitar wood types are a fairly small factor in the overall solid body rock guitar tone, with the most noticeable difference being fretboard material.

 

BANG FOR THE BUCK
This for me is what it all comes down to with a guitar like the Michael Kelly Patriot.  MK will tell you that a low price is of course the result of things like body wood type (Nato) and country of manufacture (Korea); but for every Patriot i have seen and/or played it does surprise me that they aren't at least a bit more money.
 

Many people starting out on guitar end up buying Epiphone Les Pauls, and i have seen more than my fair share of 'em.  In terms of build this MK Phoenix is on par with even the more expensive Epi LPs (Zakk Wylde, Tribute Plus, Ultra-III).  But when you compare the top/finish & some of the fretboard inlay work; the Patriot is just hands-down a better deal imo.
The patriots you can get on Amazon for $550 right now are incredible, and i don't know of any other guitar maker putting them out this nice for that price.

I now have two students who bought higher end MKs (beautiful finish, upgraded pickups) instead of lower end Gibson Les Paul Studio "plain Jane" models, and they're both completely happy having spent less money to do so.


 

CONCLUSION
On its own the Michael Kelly Patriot is a solidly-built guitar with a wide variety of colors and inlay designs.  It's a realistic option for many students/beginners, but it's also seriously good enough to play out with in a working band (i know because i've done it).

For players who like to keep their thumb up around the top of the neck even while

playing/soloing up past the 14th fret, the design of an MK Patriot might be an issue.  I would say that these people should really spend a good amount of time playing a Patriot (standing up!) before buying one.

As far as offering an affordable alternative to the Gibson Les Paul... in my opinion Michael Kelly is pretty much beating Epiphone at their own game.

thanks to:
brian c
kevin o
tim k

 

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