Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

REVIEW: Knaggs Kenai (Tier 2) – PRS, LP or Tele… or The Best of All Three?

REVIEW: Knaggs Kenai (Tier 2) – PRS, LP or Tele… or The Best of All Three?

Nov 19, 2015

It’s very hard to come up with a truly original guitar design. Deviate too much from the traditional 50s designs and it looks jarring and weird – but don’t deviate enough, and it’s just another Les Paul or Strat copy…

Paul Reed Smith is one of the few designers in the past 50 years to have successfully built a brand based on his own, unique designs – and today, guitars like the PRS Custom 22/24, Santana and Singlecut can proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of yesteryear, and take their rightful place among the upper echelons of “classic” designs.

But hold on a minute – why on earth am I rambling on about Paul Reed Smith? Isn’t this a review about a Knaggs Kenai guitar?

Well, luckily, I haven’t lost my mind. This is exactly how I wanted to lead in to…

Knaggs Guitars

Joe Knagg worked for Paul Reed Smith for a good 25 years – doing everything from designing guitars like the Starla and Mira, to his final post at PRS as Director of R&D and Private Stock. That’s pedigree if I’ve ever seen it. And in 2009, after a long time of designing guitars that he thought Paul would like, Joe finally made the break to form Knaggs Guitars – to design his dream guitars.

The Kenai is one such guitar. And if this is the Knaggs dream, well… don’t wake me up.
PB180060  Aesthetically, it’s an interesting mix that could have so easily gone wrong, but ends up just so right. It takes the utilitarian Telecaster body but gives it some loving curves that a Les Paul lover would embrace… then adds an absolutely stunning flame maple top that pays tribute to its PRS heritage. Seriously, no one knows how to make figured tops pop like PRS, and Knaggs have obviously spirited away some of the secret recipe to mix into this beauty.   PB180049  

The body woods are the classic Les Paul combination of maple and mahogany, but a bulky guitar this is not – the body is SO thin that you’d swear that it was borderline anorexic from the side view. However, the larger body silhouette manages to balance it all out in terms of overall mass, and at no time does the Kenai feel like a featherweight (one of my pet hates for LP type guitars), or sound like it’s lacking tonal oomph.

PB180047  The neck is mahogany with an East Indian rosewood fretboard, adorned with these FANTASTIC “Morningstar” inlays. Quite possibly one of my new favourite inlays of all time. The design is geometric yet doesn’t look like it’s trying to be too modern, and is complex without looking too busy. And in the PRS tradition once again, the inlays are cut with laser precision (I assume, quite literally, with a laser!) with zero filler or glue able to be seen. PB180041

Top it all off (at the top) with an ebony overlay on the headstock, which is matte finished, providing a classy offset to the highly glossed body. The headstock design has great potential for becoming a modern day classic, with a nod to the Gibson-style symmetrical open-book headstock, but pushing it out instead of in, and adding several crests and waves to the mix.

The bridge is a splendid piece of engineering, combining the tailpiece and bridge into one part. Looks good and is functional as well – my kind of design.


Tier Who?

So, the Knaggs “Influence” series guitars are subdivided into distinct Tiers for each model. Basically, Tier 1 is the Mac Daddy of them all, with all the options except for cruise control and a sunroof. Tier 3 is the more basic spec set, while Tier 2 (like the Kenai in question) falls nicely in the middle. Check out the website to geek out on the differences:

Kenai Hear the Clips or What?!

Okay okay, here you go. I had an awesome time putting this one together and I hope you guys like it. The Kenai just felt so freaking premium that I felt compelled to slow down for once and savour every note – and with the awesome Seymour Duncan Seth Lover set in this guitar, every note just sounds full and beautifully three dimensional. Anyway, enough talk from me – let’s press play on the video!

What did you think??

I can’t reiterate enough how inspiring a guitar this was to play. Acoustically vibrant, harmonically rich when amplified, refined yet fully capable of bringing the rock – everything about this guitar just makes me want to keep playing. Which is really what you want from a guitar, at the end of the day.

On The Shoulders of Giants

The Knaggs Kenai has some impressive heritage, and it certainly does not let itself down. Probably my favourite review guitar of the year, and definitely a worthy contender for the Private Stocks and R9s of the world! Unfortunately for me, like the Private Stocks and R9s of the world, the Kenai carries a pretty hefty price tag, which probably rules poor old me out as a future owner :( That’s really the only down side of this wonderful guitar, so I’ll quit my whining and let’s call it 4.5 F*ck Yeahs!!

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