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Inspiration can arise from the most lifeless and prosaic sources. Just ask luthier Doug Kauer who accredits his “Ah-ha!” moment to a single solid piece of maple. “I grew up in the family’s woodworking business and one day a piece of maple came in the shop,” remembers Kauer. “I just mentioned something in passing to my girlfriend—now wife—that ‘I should build a guitar from this.’” A few months later Kauer’s birthday came around and she bought him some pickups, tuners, and some other parts so he could properly jump-start his DIY-luthier career. Seven years have passed and he’s constructed over 130 guitars under the Kauer name, and 54 guitars in 2010 alone. But that first piece of maple still hasn’t been built into a guitar.
While most builders are grabbing the last batches of endangered species of mahogany and rosewood, Kauer generally goes with Spanish cedar—aka South American mahogany—and ambrosia maple. “Spanish cedar is an amazing, warm, clear sounding mahogany that is also very light weight and ambrosia maple is just as fantastic sounding as Eastern maple,” says Kauer. “I’d rather put all my efforts into making the most of what I think is the best-sounding, most-reliable tonewoods available to build something I know will sound good and I won’t run out of… and to be honest, I’m tired of seeing 10-top after 10-top [laughs]. What I truly enjoy about the Spanish cedar and ambrosia maple is they create a familiar sounding guitar that still produces its own voice and character.”
In addition, Kauer’s goal from the very beginning was to build a clear, articulate guitar with lots of dynamic range at a comfortable, balanced weight. “I took the positives from guitars I enjoyed playing and threw out the flaws that frustrated me as a player,” says Kauer. All of Kauer’s standard Daylighters are an offspring that is one-third-Jazzmaster—body style—one-third Les Paul—scale length, radius and humbuckers—and one-third Firebird—playing position and neck access.
Most of Kauer Guitars’ Daylighters— Express, Standard, Semi-Hollow, and Hollow—share a similar thumbprint: a Spanish cedar body with an ambrosia maple cap, 24 3/4" scale Spanish cedar neck with a wenge fretboard, WolfeTone pickups, and TonePros hardware. “The biggest requirement I have for the entire package is a clear, articulate guitar with lots of dynamic range and a comfortable weight [8 lbs or less],” says Kauer. “I really strive to build a consistent, well-built, excellent playing guitar that I could play three hours a night, every night without a struggle… [laughs] what’s the point if it can’t do that?”
The Express is the stripped-down, no-frills workhorse of the Daylighter family. It features a pau ferro fretboard and wenge binding. Kauer explains its tone as being “warm expressive tone that compliments the WolfeTone P-90s—Mean (neck) and Meaner (bridge)—cranked-up rock tones.”
The Standard is currently Kauer’s only solidbody model. It’s loaded with WolfeTone Kauer-wind PAF-style humbuckers. Kauer explains it as having a “thick, full tone with loads of sustain and surprising snap thanks to the wenge fretboard.”
Anointed the Swiss Army Knife of the Daylighter models, this Semi-Hollow is loaded with three Klein Pickups Firebird Minis giving the guitar a sweet and fat low end, with well-defined mids, and single-coil-like clarity.
After being unveiled at the LA Amp Show as a prototype—tentatively named the Double Hollow—the Argonaut won the hearts and fingers of enough players for Kauer to put this model into production. It features a carved Eastern maple back and a 4" Spanish cedar core block which is attached to the Spanish cedar top giving the guitar 60–70 percent more internal volume. Initially, Kauer was disappointed because he was hoping the guitar would be somewhat ES-175-ish, but he was happy to discover the guitar is very much like an ES-335.
Pricing and Availability
Kauer’s handbuilt guitars start with the Daylighter Express at $2500. The STD starts at $3450, the Semi-Hollow models enter at $3900 while the just released Double Hollow begins at $5500. And because Kauer Guitars is a one-man shop—with occasional help from family members—Doug has an open-door policy on tweaking and tinkering. “You name I’ll try it,” says Kauer. “Color choices, pickup options and configurations, neck profiles, and wood packages are all configurable on the Daylighter models.” Currently, Kauer Guitars’ current wait time is 3–4 months.