Review: Knaggs Choptank Trembuck Hollowbody T3, Severn Trem Hollowbody T2, and Steve Stevens SSC T2

We at GP were impressed with the first couple of Knaggs guitars we reviewed back in 2012.
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We at GP were impressed with the first couple of Knaggs guitars we reviewed back in 2012. Then again, there was no reason not to expect great things from this Maryland-based company founded by Joe Knaggs, former head of design and R&D for PRS, with marketing savant Peter Wolf at his side. But this was a young company even so, and it’s a tough business to break big into. Four years later, Knaggs has clearly broken big, forging a reputation for stellar guitars at a range of price points, and building a roster of major-name players in the process. This issue, we check out three new offerings—all with midrange price points (relative to the Knaggs line anyway) and mid-to lower-level Tier 2 and Tier 3 styling—including the signature model from the biggest Knaggs-wielding star to date, Steve Stevens, and a pair of the company’s new semi-hollow models, just introduced at this past winter’s NAMM show.

CHOPTANK TREMBUCK HOLLOWBODY T3

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Evolving out of the original solid Choptank, the Trembuck Hollowbody T3 ($4,630 street) adopts the set-neck, single-cutaway design with Knaggs’ characteristically upturned lower body horn. The top also sports subtle contouring that increases to a generous forearm relief at the back and upper edges of the lower bout, echoed in a ribcage contour at the back. The body is made from alder with a maple cap, the neck is rock maple with an unbound fingerboard of East Indian rosewood, and the headstock has an ebony face and Gotoh locking tuners. The finish follows a stylized two-tone Creamsicle motif: orange metallic for the inner silhouette, separated from the bright white of the body edge, back, and neck back by inlaid purfling. The bridge is Knaggs’ own Chesapeake Trem, a sleek unit inset into the body’s top, with rearloaded springs (à la classic Strat trem). Audio generation comes from a Seymour Duncan SH2N in the neck and a TB4 in the bridge, with coil splitting via a push-pull Tone pot.

The Choptank Hollowbody played extremely smoothly, and the chambered body not only keeps the load a light 6.8 lbs, but also encourages a lively, resonant acoustic tone. Plugged alternately into custom JTM45-and AC15-style amps with a variety of drive pedals in front, this guitar proved meaty and snarly in the bridge position, yet rounder and clearer in the neck, for a versatile balance. The only gripes for me personally, were a notable learning curve in getting my pinky finger to the Volume control with the vibrato arm in the way, and the need to lower the rather high-set bridge humbucker to reduce some of the low-end mud in that pickup’s clean tones. That said, the guitar sounded great once adjusted to taste, and while it clearly had a predilection to rock, it managed sweet and sultry textures with ease, too. The Choptank Hollowbody really sang with a Menatone Blue Collar overdrive engaged, exuding not only dynamic, blossoming lead tones, but a chewy and enjoyable playing feel, too. The split-coil sounds came off more Gretschy than Fendery—which is to say, fun!—and the guitar stayed in tune extremely well with moderate use of the smooth, effective vibrato unit.

SEVERN TREM SSS HOLLOWBODY T2

In this guise, Knaggs’ Severn Trem Hollowbody ($4,840 street) departs significantly from the Strat-inspired blueprint that birthed it. A clever masking of the flame-maple neck’s antique natural finish where it meets the exotic Sunrise finish of the chambered alder and curly maple body initially implies a traditional boltneck design—until you travel round back and, voilà, no bolts. A dramatic stage guitar, this Tier 2-dress instrument also carries gold-plated hardware, including the saddles of the Severn rendition of the Chesapeake Trem, which pivots against a black-nickel base plate that enables a Tele-like mounting of the bridge pickup. The fingerboard is a flame-maple “cap”, and trussrod access comes beneath a cover at the headstock end, where we also find a graphite nut and locking Gotoh tuners. The Severn Hollowbody’s three Seymour Duncan APS1 Alnico II single-coil pickups are wired to a traditional Strat control setup, wisely modified to give the bridge pickup its own Tone control, with a second shared Tone knob for neck and middle pickups. This is another easy-playing guitar: The neck’s rounded-C profile sits comfortably in the hand, action and intonation are flawless, and tuning remained stable under moderately heavy vibrato use.

Tested through the same rigs, the Severn Hollowbody kicked out a bevy of contemporary-leaning Strat-like tones, but with added breadth and roundness that arguably make it a more worthy all-rounder than a Strat. Close your eyes and, sure, depending where you set your EQ this could be a swamp-ash and maple pairing, or alder and rosewood, but this Knaggs’ semi-hollow alder-and-maple pairing has plenty of its own thing going on, and the guitar easily suits the modern player seeking a diverse range of sounds from a dramatic-looking instrument. Put another way, from rootsy Knopfler-esque cleans, to SRV-like sting with the amps cranked a bit, to Blackmore-ish sizzle with an Analog Alien Bucket Seat overdrive kicked in, the Severn ably checked all the boxes, but never felt anything close to being a copy in the process. Definitely a contender for the player searching for a new spin on an old formula.

STEVE STEVENS SSC T2

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This latest and most affordable guitar in Knaggs’ range of Steve Stevens signature models, the SSC T2 ($4,550 street) is a set-neck, 24.75"-scale guitar with a body made from mahogany with a carved maple top, and a mahogany neck with rosewood fretboard. No surprises there, although several subtle Knaggs-style tweaks for design and aesthetics render it very much its own beast. It’s an easy Les Paul stand-in for sure, but one clearly intended for the player seeking to carve his or her own path sonically and stylistically, rather than toeing the classic ’burst line.

The SSC on review looks superb in a metallic Cherry Ice top finish with walnut-tinted natural back and sides. Extra style points for the transblack maple binding with white purfling around its inner edge, ’board-edge block inlays in a beautifully figured slice of rosewood, and a mother-of-pearl Steve Stevens “ray-gun” inlay on the headstock. Die-cast Kluson tuners, a genuine bone nut, TonePros bridge and stoptail, Schaller strap-locks, a gently contoured neck heel, and a back ribcage contour further up the ante for overall performance and playability. Signature Steve Stevens PAF-style pickups from British maker Bare Knuckle made with alnico magnets and read 7.26kΩ in the neck position and 8.08kΩ in the bridge. They are routed through individual Volume and Tone controls, with “orange drop” tone caps.

Feel-wise, this guitar benefits from a superb neck carve—what I’d simply call a nicely full, rounded ’59 profile—and a modest weight.

Tested via the same rigs as used above, the Steve Stevens SSC impressed me from all angles. It might seem counter-intuitive since this breed of electric is conceived to rock, but what most got my attention was the SSC’s ability to clean up and sound clear, crisp, and snappy through the right amp settings, letting you twang and jangle when necessary. Kudos to the Bare Knuckles here, but it also takes the right kind of LP-inspired build to achieve that. When I wound up the amps or stepped on a distortion pedal, this guitar did rock, yet all the more sweetly thanks to the crystalline definition at its core. The vintage-wind pickups were still able to scream, sing, and sustain, yet they infused my riffing with great touch-sensitivity, making the Steve Stevens SSC an easy-feeling guitar under the fingertips. Top stuff all around at this price, and it earns an Editors’ Pick Award for the achievement.

SPECIFICATIONS

CHOPTANK TREMBUCK HOLLOWBODY (TIER 3)
CONTACT knaggsguitars.com
PRICE $4,630 street

NUT WIDTH 1 5/8" wide, graphite
NECK Rock maple
FRET BOARD East Indian rosewood, 8.5" radius
FRETS 22 tall-thin
TUNERS Gotoh locking
BODY Semi-hollow alder body with maple top
BRIDGE Knaggs Chesapeake vibrato
PICKUPS Seymour Duncan SH2N and TB4 humbuckers
CONTROLS Single Volume and Tone, 3-way switch, push-pull Tone control for coil splitting
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.8 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Excellent construction. Smooth playability.
CONCERNS Vibrato arm mounting might be in the way of the Volume control for some playing styles.

SPECIFICATIONS

SEVERN TREM HOLLOWBODY (TIER 2)
PRICE $4,840 street

NUT WIDTH 1 5/8" wide, graphite
NECK Flamed maple
FRET BOARD Flamed maple, 8.5" radius
FRETS 22 tall-thin
TUNERS Gotoh locking
BODY Semi-hollow alder with flamed maple top
BRIDGE Knaggs Chesapeake vibrato
PICKUPS Three Seymour Duncan APS1 Alnico single coils
CONTROLS Single Volume, two Tone, 5-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 6.8 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS Dramatic looks in a well-constructed and easy playing guitar. Excellent contemporary alternative S-style tones.
CONCERNS None.

SPECIFICATIONS

STEVE STEVENS SSC (TIER 2)
PRICE $4,550 street

NUT WIDTH 1 11/16" wide, bone
NECK Mahogany
FRET BOARD East Indian rosewood, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium-jumbo
TUNERS Kluson
BODY Mahogany with maple top
BRIDGE TonePros Tune-o-Matic and stopbar tailpiece
PICKUPS Bare Knuckle SSC humbuckers
CONTROLS Independent Volume and Tone, 3-way switch
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario XL, .010-.046
WEIGHT 7.6 lbs
BUILT USA
KUDOS A stylish and extremely well-built Les Paul alternative. Impressive PAF-fueled tones.
CONCERNS None.

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