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