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Tell me about your new bridge designs.
That’s one of the most unique things about both electric lines. They transfer the sound into the guitar like no other bridges I’ve heard. That, to me, is a big, huge impact on the sound of a guitar. On the Influence series—which has shorter scale lengths, three-on-a-side headstocks, and carved tops—I actually put a Tune-o-matic on top of a plate that holds the strings, and that’s screwed down to the top. The bridge on the Chesapeake Severn Trem model is really a pretty big deal. It’s a steel bridge with brass saddles, and I’ve basically combined a Telecaster bridge with a tremolo—it’s all one piece. The bridge plate is bolted to the top of the guitar, and then the tremolo is on a hinge. So you’re not counting on these knife-edge screws to hold the pressure of the bridge going back and forth. It’s stable. Another unique thing we’re doing is bluing the steel on the bridges of the Chesapeake electrics. Bluing is a process that uses black oxide to change the chemical makeup on the outside of the steel. It has this bluish black tint to it, and they’ve been doing that with rifle and gun barrels forever.
Intricate inlay work on a Knaggs acoustic headstock
The electronics are pretty standard: Three-way toggles, five-way blade switches, volume, tone. Pretty basic, but stuff that people have always loved. The Chesapeake electrics will have Fralin pickups in most of them, Peter Wolf has more than 35 years of experience in the music industry, including working as director of global sales and marketing for his last five years at PRS. He now heads up all facets of sales and marketing for Knaggs Guitars. Here he reflects on how—and why—he and Joe Knaggs became partners.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind about Joe when you think about working with him over all these years?
He’s just a normal guy who has respect for people. He’s easygoing. He doesn’t let it hang out—he’s just a regular guy. He’s appreciative of people and has respect, and that was something I picked up on. That’s really what struck the friendship and kept us connected all these years.
What were the first conversations between you and Joe like after you decided to become partners?
I think it was early July when we went down to North Carolina with our families for about a week, and we really dug in to what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. One of the very important things that made me think this was going to be something important was the fact that Joe is one of the few people who is capable of designing in different directions. If you look at the guitar designs of the last 60, 70 years, the market is dominated by two or three major camps: The Fender camp, the Gibson camp, and the Martin camp. All of them adapted designs that were invented back in the 1700s and 1800s in Italy—when there was no trademark law. But none of them has been able to break into each other’s camp. Fender has never really built a guitar with a set neck or a carved top that has been successful. And Gibson never really came up with a design with double-cutaway with a bolt-on neck, six-on-a-side headstock, and a scratchplate. So what I really found interesting and unique about Joe was that he was able to come up with designs that weren’t copies. Yes, he adapted from the past, but he didn’t copy anybody. He can do that in all directions. He can design and build acoustics, he can design and build six-on-a-side-headstock guitars that look awesome, and he can do everything that is part of the G camp and the PRS camp.
I understand there are some legal restrictions—Knaggs guitars can’t initially be carried by PRS dealers—so I imagine it was tricky to figure out which design features Joe came up with at PRS could be incorporated into his new line.
Not really. That part of it is pretty simple. The Chesapeake line— which is basically the Severn, the Choptank, and the Patuxent and Potomac acoustics—are guitars that Joe designed on his own when he was at PRS. The original idea, or at least my original idea, was to bring these designs in and sell them under the brand name of PRS—or maybe create a second brand name of Chesapeake. But that was not something other people wanted to do. So when Joe left, the Chesapeake designs and all the drawings and all the trademarks went over to him. So that’s completely clean and there are no restrictions on that end. And the Influence line—the Kenai, the Keya, the Chena, and the Sheyenne—are completely also his own designs, so there are no restrictions there, either.
That was a pretty magnanimous gesture on Paul’s part to allow him to take those designs.
Yeah. That was definitely nice of him and cool that he was fine with Joe taking these designs with him. I have a lot of respect for him, and so does Joe. He’s been a big part of our lives, and we’ve been a big part of his life.
Business-wise, what’s your vision for Knaggs Guitars?
Well, the vision is basically to build the best guitars that we can without taking any shortcuts—doing what’s best for the sound and the instrument and the looks—and to start slow and small, and then build it up over the next five to seven or ten years to become a respectable company that hopefully comes out with designs and instruments that one day will be called classics. Or at least appeal to the guitar-loving sector of that market that we’re trying to get a little piece of, which is the very high-end market—top-notch guitars—and do that in a way that we’re not stuck going in one direction. Build acoustics, build electrics, build mandolins, build basses, and see what else comes to mind.