A P-90 equipped boutique beauty
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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.
Of course, no Junior or Special ever came with a Strat-style vibrato bridge. The sturdy Wilkinson version here was set up to float, and it rocked smoothly and stayed in tune as well as any nonlocking whammy I have played. Further, the instrument’s 24.625" scale, 12" fretboard radius, and medium-high, flawlessly finished frets made the Tornado a dream to play—sliding into notes and bending proved equally easy, while its 7 pound 10 ounce weight was easy on the shoulders.
Bark and Bite
The Tornado’s pickups stray from the ordinary, as well. They’re made by TV Jones, and they use Gretsch Filter’Tron-style magnets to produce a variation on the traditional P-90 voice. And when driving an Orange Tiny Terror or the lead channel of an Egnater Rebel 30, they delivered all the bark—think “Mississippi Queen” or Humble Pie—that has made the P-90 style pickup a rock-and-roll legend. But with the Tiny Terror set clean, or through the Rebel’s clean channel, they offered a bit more twang than your average soapbar. These pickups make this particular Tornado model especially versatile. The neck pickup had enough bite for articulate solos in everything from clean-ish blues to higher-gain hard rock. Pairing the two pickups in the middle position produced plenty of jangle for pop or, with a little whammy-bar rocking, creditable Gretsch sounds. In clean mode, I felt right at home chicken-pickin’ with the bridge pickup, but as soon as I started pushing the gain, the classic P-90 snarl reared its aggressive head and fattened my leads.
The P-90 pickups could be a little noisy— like any high-output single-coil. The signal-to- noise ratio of these pickups ensures that, in most live situations, you will not be bothered by the hum while you are playing. However, when you stop playing you will want to be quick on the volume knob or pedal (or use a noise gate). Such are the trade-offs for a sweet-sounding P-90.
There are some custom builders who build objects for collectors, and there are those that build guitars for working players. Saul Koll has several years of practical touring and playing experience, and it shows in this instrument. The Tornado is beautiful and meticulously constructed and finished. But it is, first and foremost, a player’s guitar that reflects the savvy of someone who knows what performers want and need. Such an essentially simple instrument might seem pricey at over three grand, but what you get is a guitar that can serve a variety of purposes without requiring a manual— and that rings and plays like only an brilliantly constructed instrument can.
you love P-90s and want them mounted in a first-class instrument.
more traditional single-coils, humbuckers, or stop tailpieces are your thing
MSRP $3700 - Koll Guitar Company - kollguitars.com