Will this guitar finally be the perfect Les Paul Junior for me?
Cost: $3200.00 from Knaggsguitars.com!
Overview & Final Score: 9.0
When it comes to double cut aways with P90s it is pretty easy to win me over. Even so, I think Knaggs really got me with this one. Their newest release, the Keya J, came to me in their TV Yellow Gloss Relic finish and boy is this thing relic’d. Aside from the relic job, the other really note-able trait has to be their “Influence 2 in 1” bridge and string holder. While I was more than thrilled with the simple wrap around bridge on the Kenai J, they may be onto something with this piece of hardware.
Featuring a resonant slab of Mahogany for the body, the Keya J sports a Rosewood fretboard atop the Mahogany neck. 22 medium frets with dot inlays adorn the 24.75″ scale length guitar with Vintage Kluson tuners that even look worn in. A single dog ear P90 pickup provides all the tone you could want while being controlled by master volume and tone knobs. Much like its single cut sibling, a rather unique and eye pleasing pickguard wraps up the spec sheet here.
While it clearly isn’t the most versatile or featured packed guitar, this Keya J has the sweetest sounding pickup of anything I’ve played this year. It beats out the Silver Sky, the Sabre and Majesty, and everything else. It is honestly just the best sounding guitar to my ear specifically. Well dialed-in control knobs also do make this guitar a bit more versatile than you’d expect, especially if you move your picking position up and down the body of the guitar. For the price, there should be no surprise, but this guitar is crazy resonant and sounds absurdly good unplugged, just strumming chords. The unique bridge also adds quite a bit more sustain than I anticipated, especially without the output of a humbucker. I mean, I’m certainly biased because I love Les Paul Juniors, but this is by far the best one I’ve ever played from any brand. The dog ear sits perfectly between a single coil and humbucker, with a bit more bite and output, but with some surprising clarity and snap.
Two words, “broken in”. Knaggs’ Keya J is wonderfully relic’d to the point that it isn’t just for looks, it is for feel. This guitar just sits so nicely in your hands and feels like something that has been played for years, without taking any real damage. I think skeptics and anti-relic players will say this is just a fad or marketing ploy, but it feels awesome to pick this up and feel like I’ve owned it for 20 years. The tuning stability was also great, feeling a bit better than your average LP-style guitar, which are famous for some tuning problems. The neck also feels a bit slimmer than expected, much like the Kenai J, which is a plus in my book as I think it opens up the guitar to a wider variety of players, not just baseball bat neck fans.
Finish & Construction: 10
I know the relic’d look is a pretty contentious topic but I loved it. It looks and feels broken in, all under a solid gloss finish and clear coat. To be sure they didn’t miss any spots I did a solid wipe down of the body and neck and found zero real chips or scratches. All the apparent relic spots are actually covered in a smooth gloss like I said. The single dog ear P90 was perfectly installed and adjusted under the strings too. This Keya J was a perfect example of the attention to detail you get from these smaller, boutique builders. Whether you think it is worth it or not, that is what that extra cost gets you, a perfectly built guitar. TV Yellow is a pretty iconic Les Paul DC Junior finish, and even this faded version perfectly captures the feeling and vibe of my dream guitar. Plus, I’m really into the exaggerated horns that give this guitar a DC Junior vibe without making it just another copy of the iconic guitar. It feels both familiar and not, and that works for me.
As much as I personally love this guitar, I still to this day, find it ironic when Les Paul Junior-style guitars are expensive. This guitar is worth every penny, which is why I still am giving it a high value score, but most of that price and value is derived from the looks, craftsmanship, and USA origins. Sonically, the guitar is phenomenal, but to say you get more tone for the $3k price tag is a bit egregious. Simple electronics mean you’re not paying for fancy features or versatile wiring and in true punk spirit, I think you get 75% or more of this amazing tone at a cheaper price. At the end of the day this guitar is worth the price, but it isn’t one of those guitars that will make you say “how is this only x amount of dollars?”. Overall however, Knaggs killed it with the Keya J and this guitar will absolutely be mine in the future no matter how much it costs me.
Good for: Garage Rock, Punk Rock, Johnny Thunders/Mick Jones Fans, Gigging Musicians, Players Looking For Better Engineered Les Paul