Knaggs Chesapeake Series Severn

November 9, 2012

THE TEAM BEHIND KNAGGS GUITARS— luthier Joe Knaggs and marketing guru Peter Wolf—met at Paul Reed Smith, where the former was head of design and R&D and the latter was director of marketing. They established their own company in 2010, hitting the ground running with two full lines of electrics consisting of several models each, all dubbed with the Native American names of rivers on the eastern seaboard, many in the region of Knaggs’ workshop and design studio in Maryland. Guitars are constructed in three Tiers representing levels of finish, adornment, and componentry (Tier 1 being the highest), although all are designed and built with the same attention to detail. While certain Knaggs models might offer a visual nod toward the team’s years with PRS, they are more notable for their overarching originality, and for the several new twists they bring to themes that we might have thought were well played out by now.

The “super Strat” of the 25.5" Chesapeake line, the Severn boasts a beveled double-cut- away solid alder body with a glued-in, beautifully flamed maple neck. Although it’s a more Spartan Tier 3 instrument, the level of fit and finish upholds Knaggs’ claim that the Tier system applies to appointments and component complement rather than build quality. The body’s gloss-black nitro finish and the neck’s vintage natural coat are neatly applied and buffed (and merge at the joint in a nifty “semi-widow’s-peak” line), while everything from the rounded-C neck carve to the dressing of the 22 medium-jumbo frets in the cocobolo fretboard encourages unfettered playability. There was one small retaining screw missing from the genuine wenge pickguard—but hey, these things happen.

The Severn carries the complement of Seymour Duncan APS-1 single-coil pick- ups with a Strat-style control layout and a 5-way switch. The chrome bridge is a proprietary Knaggs Tremolo system, a nifty design with an integrated semi-Tele-style pickup mounting plate that transmogrifies the traditional floating vintage trem into an inset unit for a low-profile playing feel. Its action is extremely smooth, and the guitar exhibits great return-to-pitch capabilities.

Through a Matchless HC-30 head and cab, a tweed-like 15-watt combo, and an assortment of pedals, the Severn jumps adeptly through all the expected Strat-like hoops, but with a little less of that bolt-neck compression in the pick attack, and a precision and clarity that would be difficult to top. With clean amp settings the bridge pickup shimmers in the extreme, while the neck position is plummy and rich with piano-like lows. The latter makes a surprisingly good jazz voice, or a classic vintage-electric blues tone with a little grit at the amp. All of this translates to overdriven lead tones that grind and sing with no danger of getting lost in the mix, but dial it back some and there’s still archetypal quack and honk in the Severn’s palette. An extremely versatile update on the S-style, the Severn has a smooth playing feel that never fights back and is a great alternative in a boutique-grade instrument.

PRICE    $2,850 street 
NUT WIDTH    1 5/8", GraphTech
NECK    Flamed maple, early-’60s C profille
FRETBOARD    Cocobolo, 8.5" radius
FRETS    22 medium-jumbo 
TUNERS    Locking Kluson-style tuners
BODY    Solid alder
BRIDGE    Knaggs tremolo
PICKUPS    Three Seymour Duncan APS-1 single-coil
CONTROLS    Single Volume, two Tone, 5-way selector
FACTORY STRINGS   D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT    7.6 lbs
KUDOS    A sleek update on the S-style, with excellent tonal clarity and an easy playing feel.

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