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These days, Koll designs and crafts guitars for Premier Builders Guild, Empire, and Hottie guitars—in addition to filling custom orders from his Portland, Oregon, shop. And his roster of customers includes Elliott Sharp, David Torn, Henry Kaiser, and Lee Ranaldo—a virtual who’s who of today’s forward-thinking guitarists. That clientele makes a lot of sense when you check out the Koll solidbody catalogue, where you will see a lot of sci-fi looking shapes. The Tornado, though, represents a more traditional and straightforward approach.
Back to the Future—and Built for Comfort
The Tornado series features Koll’s typical asymmetrical double cutaway, a look that manages to appear both classic and new. And it’s essentially an offshoot of the Glide series, which is based on an instrument built for David Torn. The Tornado’s narrower headstock is a more recent look for Koll, and I found that its design balanced nicely with the no-frills appearance of the rest of the instrument. Designing a guitar that looks unique and classic isn’t easy. But Koll has nailed it here.
The Tornado’s handcarved, slim-C neck shape was quite comfortable. Measuring roughly .8" at the 1st fret and tapering to about .9" at the 12th, it features fretboard edges that are gently rolled to remove any sharpness. A 17th-fret body joint and a tapered heel provided easy access to the upper reaches of the set neck’s 22 frets. And Koll hand fits the neck into the body with a precision-cut mortise to maximize the gluing surface.
Junior is Special
With its unbound mahogany body and twin P-90s, this particular Tornado rocks a distinct Les Paul Special vibe, but it also improves on that simple and effective formula. The body is gorgeously finished in a transparent-red nitrocellulose lacquer. And the Lucite pickguard is an excellent idea, as it would be a shame to cover up the beauty of this mahogany or its finish. Arm and belly contouring—which are not found on Juniors or Specials—add to the Tornado’s playing-comfort quotient.
The fretboard is ebony rather than rosewood, too. And, unlike on a Special, the Tornado’s is unbound. Keystone tuners contribute a vintage look, but lock to help keep the vibrato system in tune. They are aided in this task by the straight string pull of the headstock and a beautifully cut nut. The strings rest on top of the nut slots, which prevents sticking and yet keeps them perfectly secure.