In the mid ’80s, Joe Knaggs, a guitar enthusiast and painter, started his lutherie career in the finishing room at Paul Reed Smith, gradually working his way up to become Smith’s right-hand man as director of R&D and Private Stock. Knaggs helped PRS stake out new territory beginning in the late ’90s by designing such innovative models as the McCarty Archtop and Hollowbody, as well as the Mira and the Starla—guitars that were at once futuristic and retro.

In 2009, Knaggs amicably went his own way to create his own guitar company. With former PRS associate and guitar industry veteran Peter Wolf handling marketing, branding, and design input, Knaggs recently introduced a series of boutique guitars that use classic Fender, Gibson, and Martin designs as points of departure. Knaggs’ instruments include solidbody, hollowbody, flattop, and bass guitar models. Each is available in one of three packages—from the more spartan Tier 3 to the opulent Tier 1. We checked out two Knaggs models, the Chesapeake series Electric Choptank (Tier 3) and the Influence series Electric Kenai (Tier 2).

Download Example 1
Bridge Pickup
Download Example 2
Neck Pickup
Download Example 3
Middle Pickup (with distortion)
Download Example 4
Bridge and Neck Pickups
Clips recorded with a Fender Pro Junior mic'ed with a Shure SM57 into ART Tubeamp studio into GarageBand. Distortion courtesy of The Tone God NerFuzz pedal.
The Choptank
With its single-cutaway, contoured swamp ash body, trio of single-coil pickups, and 25 1/2"-scale maple neck, the Choptank clearly nods to both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster. But it also has a glued-in neck, an 8 1/2" fretboard radius (which is more hospitable to bending than the 7 1/4" radius traditionally associated with vintage Fenders), and a proprietary 6-saddle bridge designed to more directly transfer string vibrations to the body.

Our review Choptank guitar looked awesome—a little like a piece of mid-century Danish Modern furniture with striking, wavy grains. The plastic pickup covers, control knobs, and selector-switch tip were ivory in color, which was offset nicely by a dark brown pickguard, crafted from tropical wenge. The reddish-brown rosewood fretboard possessed an attractive swirling grain pattern, and the rock maple neck had a warm amber appearance, thanks to a judicious use of aging toner.

It was difficult to find fault with the craftsmanship of our Choptank. The 22 tall, thin frets were meticulously seated and polished, and the nut and saddles were perfectly cut. The glossy nitrocellulose finish was evenly applied and buffed, save for just a hint of unevenness on the back, where the body meets the string ferrules—admittedly, a very minor complaint.

The Choptank is a light guitar—a little over seven pounds on a digital scale—and equally comfortable to play when seated or standing. The guitar’s C-shaped neck was ample, but not too full, and its profile was a sort of cross between early ’50s and ’60s Telecaster necks. The guitar was very comfortably set up too, though the action was slightly elevated for my taste.

In terms of playability, the Choptank has a great broken-in quality. Chords and single-note lines were easy to play in all registers. Big bends that might have fretted out on other guitars rang true. And the Choptank had a lively acoustic resonance, as well as plenty of snap and sustain when unplugged.

The Choptank’s electronics are Strat-like in configuration: three Seymour Duncan SSL-1 single-coil pickups, controlled by a 5-way switch, one Volume, and two Tone controls. But as on a Tele, the guitar’s 1/4" output jack is located on the lower bout’s treble side.

I’m presently on a small-amp kick, so I plugged the Choptank into a recent-vintage Fender Pro Junior and was impressed right off the bat by the guitar’s tonal versatility. It was easy to dial in that classic Tele twang on the bridge pickup. The middle pickup had a bit more bark, and the neck pickup delivered darker tones that would work well for modern jazz. The two in-between settings had a complex chime that was perfect for sweetly voiced arpeggios.

The Choptank has a bit more sustain than a typical Fender, probably thanks in no small part to the glued-in neck and bolted bridge. The sustain turned monstrous when I introduced a NerFuzz distortion pedal into the equation. On the neck pickup, the guitar sounded awesomely thick and creamy, while with a bit of extra gain the bridge pickup sounded surprisingly aggressive and nasty enough for punk-rock rhythm work.
Buy if...
you’re looking to get a wide range of useable tones in a single, extremely playable, collector-grade guitar.
Skip if...
you’re either exclusively a Tele or Strat player.

Street $2900 - Knaggs Guitars -