When you pick up a guitar from a well-known manufacturer, it's hard not to have expectations concerning tone and feel. With small, boutique shops, it's hard to know what to expect, period. Long before a player straps on a guitar built at a one-of-kind, handcrafted shops, some musician/craftsman thought long and hard about the combination of woods, the choices in hardware and electronics, the feel, the tone, and ultimately, the statement his or her brand will eventually make once it goes to market. With the days of planning, thinking, rethinking, construction, testing, painting, finishing and setup all said and done, it's the player's first few moments with the instrument that leave the biggest impression. Strapping on the Kauer Guitars Daylighter Standard, three things hit me immediately—its tonal liveliness and depth, its very comfortable weight in spite of being on the large side, and, “Man, this guitar smells nice!” Those three attributes come down to one unique element to the Kauer line—the primary wood in their guitars is Spanish cedar. In the realm of acoustic guitars, especially classical acoustics, Spanish cedar has long been popular as a highly resonant tonewood. It is, however, far from standard material in the world of solidbody electrics. A bold choice by Kauer to be sure, and, overall, a smart one.
More Than a Pretty Smell
The guitar feels and looks bigger than a Les Paul, yet lighter, warmer, brighter, and more resonant. Its weight made me wonder if perhaps the guitar was a semi-hollow body, or at least chambered. It is, in fact, solid Spanish cedar with an Eastern maple cap over the body and headstock. The neck is also Spanish cedar with curly maple bindings and a wenge fretboard—another unique choice, as wenge is far more common on bass necks and fretboards than electric guitars. The wenge fretboard is polished but otherwise unfinished, with inlaid with mother-of-pearl trapezoids. The neck is smooth and well-lacquered, though the grain can be felt on your palm, especially with lateral movements. The grain feel did not impede my playing or speed, and was just another reminder of the organic and lively nature of the instrument. The d-cut neck and 12" radius seems built for tone and comfort with minimal compromises to speed and dexterity. The neck's 22 frets lie across a 24.75" scale, all making for very Les Paul-like dimensions. With the Gibson-esque goldtop finish on the maple body cap and P-90-style soapbar pickups, a mental comparison is immediately drawn to early Les Paul Goldtops. Builder Doug Kauer confirms that the sought-after vintage instruments were an inspiration for the Kauer Daylighter Standard.
With the wenge and Spanish cedar wood selections, clearly Kauer is aiming for a guitar with its own feel and tone, and not just an artisan version of the tried and true. And while the neck specs may remind a player of a Les Paul, the feel of the neck didn't quite. It felt good, but thicker than its measurements, and despite gravitating toward slinkier superstrat profiles, I was surprised out how natural it felt moving up and down the neck.
The guitar features a pair of custom-wound Wolfetone P-90s based on the company’s “Mean” model (8k output with alnico II magnets) with an underwound neck pickup. The model sent to me shipped with a typical three-way pickup toggle mounted in the upper horn, and a set of gold-finished volume and tone bell knobs for each pickup. If you prefer a simpler setup, the guitar is also available in a two-knob master volume and tone setup. The open-back Sperzel SoundLock tuners have an anodized finish and pearl-colored tuning keys. As the name implies, the tuners incorporate a string-locking feature that is friction-based and allows for quick, reliable stringing. Just run the string through the shaft and out into a slot on the post. A quick turn of the tuner locks the string in place. The tuners were very smooth and ultra-precise strobe tuning was a breeze.
The Daylighter Standard also comes stock with a TonePros wraparound tailpiece and an optional bridge. That's the right, you can get this guitar with or without a bridge, like early Les Paul goldtops. This setup did cause me to worry a little about intonation, but I perceived no intonation issues up and down the neck.