longterm test

A few months’ gig­ging, record­ing and ev­ery­thing that goes with it – wel­come to Gui­tarist’s longterm test re­ports

Guitarist - - Contents - Knaggs Ke­nai with Dave Bur­rluck

In the first in­stal­ment of this Knaggs Ke­nai test, it was all about my han­ker­ing for a ’70 Les Paul Deluxe – just like the one I used to own. Sur­prised at the vintage value of this mini-hum­buck­ing loaded LP I was con­sid­er­ing some op­tions when Joe Knaggs set over this ‘Deluxe’-style Ke­nai, al­beit it with full-size Sey­mour Duncan Seth Lovers and plain maple top in an oh-so 70s cherry burst fin­ish.

In short, this en­try level Tier 3 Ke­nai has quenched that Deluxe thirst. In fact, it’s made me re­con­sider what makes one gui­tar good and an­other ex­cep­tional.

There is noth­ing tricksy about this gui­tar. Its hard­ware – with the ex­cep­tion of the string an­chor which con­nects to a reg­u­lar Go­toh tune-o-matic – is all off-the-shelf. The open­back Go­toh tuners, a bone nut, reg­u­lar frets, those Seth Lovers and con­ven­tional mod­ern wiring with no mods or bou­tique tone caps. It ain’t go­ing to get the cork-sniff­ing vintage tone hounds ex­cited at all. Or those that like their guitars drenched in multi-A flamed maple tops. Even the fin­ger­board is a lightly striped Ma­cas­sar ebony. No, no, no – it’s all wrong. The trou­ble is, what I’m hear­ing is very, very right.

Part of my Deluxe han­ker­ing is its brighter voic­ing but still un­der­pinned with a LP’s sus­tain and depth and in my ini­tial noodlings on the Ke­nai, that’s what I’m hear­ing. There’s a clar­ity here that for cleaner styles I can only de­scribe as “rich sin­gle coil”. Of course, crank up the wick a bit and we’re get­ting into ’Burst ter­ri­tory that nods in the di­rec­tion of early Les Paul users.

As with any test gui­tar, a few num­bers in a re­hearsal room with a band sep­a­rates the men from the boys and the first chance I get is a gig that I usu­ally use a 60s spec Fen­der Stra­to­caster. Now here’s a road-war­rior that may look like a cliché (it’s Sun­burst, natch), and can cer­tainly sound like one, but it more than suits the gig which has me switch­ing from jazzy blues, through some soul stan­dards to retro rock. I give it a break and strap on the Knaggs – which weighs about the same.

That’s the first thing you no­tice here. When the hell did Les Pauls get so heavy? The 7.6lb Knaggs, with its del­i­cately carved top and bulk-re­duc­ing rib-cage con­tour wraps it­self around you. There’s an up­lift in out­put from my Strat, as you’d ex­pect, but it’s not night and day and the Ke­nai be­gins to work its magic mov­ing ef­fort­lessly from muted jazz stabs through righ­teous blues, some Ben­sonesque wah’d funk end­ing up with a sim­ply colos­sal – al­beit still clean with a lit­tle hair – thick and chewy (neck pickup) late-60s-vibe solo. I’m play­ing less and let­ting the gui­tar’s voice shape my sound. It’s hugely dy­namic in this set­ting yet stroked or hit hard the sus­tain, par­tic­u­larly the bloom of the note, is ex­tra­or­di­nary. I feel gen­uinely hum­bled to be play­ing this gui­tar.

A func­tion gig fol­lows, with a dif­fer­ent band and dif­fer­ent set… or three. My well-gigged, re-voiced PRS S2 Sin­gle­cut Semi Hol­low stays in its gig­bag. Whereas I’d usu­ally switch be­tween full-coil and par­tial splits on the 58/14s (yes, they were pro­to­types), I just play the whole gig on the Knaggs. If I want cleaner, thin­ner I just pull down the vol­umes and/or tones which un­leashes a host of mu­si­cal colours.

Post-gig, my band leader – quite the gui­tar con­nois­seur – drops me a text.“Amongst many nice guitars you own I think you’ve found your sound – sits in the mix at many lev­els and the tones are just right!” I re­ply that, yes, I’m re­ally en­joy­ing it but it’s re­ally sen­si­tive and also am­pli­fies any mis­takes. “Well it’s a proper gui­tar then,” he replies. “I al­ways said that the bet­ter the gui­tar, the bet­ter one has to play – it raises the game.” A lit­tle while later, an­other text fol­lows.“It’s taken 30 years but you’ve fi­nally found your sound.”

Out of cour­tesy, I send off an email to Joe Knaggs re­lay­ing my band­leader’s com­ments. His re­ply was swift.“Sweet! Edgar Win­ter said the same thing to Doug,” as in Doug Rap­poport, Edgar’s rather handy gui­tarist who also uses a Ke­nai. Same tool, same re­ac­tion… if at a rather dif­fer­ent level!

“The Ke­nai moves ef­fort­lessly from muted jazz stabs through blues and Ben­son-es­que funk”

The Knaggs may be sim­ple but it suits Dave’s style per­fectly

Lust­ing af­ter his old – and long sold – Les Paul Deluxe, our re­views edi­tor gets gig­ging with a con­tem­po­rary re­place­ment. Just how Deluxe is this Knaggs?

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