The latest model from Portland, Oregon, based luthier Saul Koll is an upscale tribute to down-market American guitars of the 1960s. As such, it’s part of an emerging trend among boutique luthiers: re-envisioning the funky budget guitars of the past as immaculately crafted, high-performance instruments.
According to Koll, the Super Cub shares “aesthetic DNA” with the Harmony Bobkat, Epiphone Wilshire, and Gibson Melody Maker. Back in the ’60s, these were considered relatively humble models for beginners. Both Hendrix and Springsteen played Wilshires in their youth, while Billy Gibbons started out on a Melody Maker. Nowadays, though, they’re often embraced for their innate warts-and-all coolness. For example, Annie “St. Vincent” Clark has recorded amazing things using her Bobkat.
The Super Cub’s curiously cubist headstock is an obvious Bobkat reference (though it pays homage to Kay and Custom Kraft designs, too). And while the Cub’s body features Koll’s signature “Glide” shape, that offset, double-cutaway design isn’t worlds removed from the Bobkat’s silhouette. Meanwhile, the Cub’s sides are rounded relative to other Koll models, much like the Bobkat and Wilshire. And like the instruments that inspired it, the Cub has a thin, light body. It’s a svelte 1 1/4" thick. Players who prefer lighter/smaller instruments are likely to be happy here.
Improving the Past
Unlike its ’60s inspirations, the Super Cub is an exceedingly high-performance instrument.
The set neck, with its 22 medium-jumbo frets and relaxed C shape, is a joy to play. The ends of the expertly installed frets are rounded to pearly smoothness. The lower cutaway lets you access the 22nd fret as easily as the first, with no need to stretch out of position. Despite the six-on-one headstock, the neck is set into the body via a clean, comfy joint. The bone nut is a beaut. Unplugged, the guitar’s tone is complex and rich in sustain, thanks in part to the spiffy Schroeder bridge.
The Super Cub’s cosmetics are a delight. Staring into the black-sparkle nitro finish feels like gazing at the stars on a dark night. Lovely single-ply binding complements both the starry black body and the golden-brown mahogany neck. The curvaceous aluminum pickguard evokes mid-century modern coffee tables and swimming pools. It looks magnificent surrounding the custom Curtis Novak silver-foil pickups. Transparent plastic knobs complete the Space Age effect. And while there are position markers on the neck binding, the fretboard is free of ornamentation.
Though other pickup options are available, the pickups in our review guitar are reportedly copies of the foil pickups in some Japanese Guyatone models. These seem to be customized versions of Novak’s Guytone NB model, with silver foil embossed with the Koll logo. I’ve never used original Guyatone foil pickups, so I can’t address the historical accuracy of Novak’s replicas. But I can tell you that these “silver-foils” sound cool and unique, and that they’re largely responsible for the Super Cub’s distinctive voice.
Like other reproduction gold-foils I’ve spent time with recently (Jason Lollar’s version and the Roadhouse models in recent Supro guitars), the Guytones have a bright, almost acoustic-like high end—only more so. Clean tones have crisp, decisive attack with bold, clangy overtones, as heard at the start of the demo clip. It’s a spectacular tone for fingerstyle picking, vintage R&B, and maybe even for jazz.
Those highs never seem shrill—probably because they’re grounded by round, warm lows with rock-solid fundamentals. The unrestrained treble can sound at times like a direct-recorded guitar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you told me the riff at the clip’s 01:20 mark was a blend of miked amp and DI signal, I’d believe you. With heavy overdrive and fuzz, tones get loose and spattery in a bitchin’ punk rock way. Dig the sheer mass at 00:29.
The Super Cub features a Les Paul-style 3-position selector switch. Each pickup has its own master volume, while the single tone knob affects both pickups. A high-end G&G deluxe hardshell case is included.
I love the Super Cub’s unique voice and modernized retro styling. The guitar is light, comfy, and ridiculously fun to play. Its tones are surprisingly versatile, ranging from authoritative and articulate clean tones to brash, punky chunk. The only stumbling block for me is the price, which seems lofty despite the instrument’s distinctive design and fine hand workmanship. Still, Koll’s Super Cub is one of the most appealing and inspiring guitars I’ve encountered lately.
Watch the Review Demo: