Knaggs Shootout: Keya J Versus Kenai J

I compare two Knaggs flat top guitars against each other in my search for the ultimate punk rock guitar.

Credit: Knaggs

Getting to review these two guitars from Knaggs was a blast, especially because they are both so similar yet different. Obviously, these boutique flat tops are heavily influenced by the Les Paul Junior family. That just happens to be one of my favorite guitar models, so you can imagine I was pretty pumped when someone recommended I compare these two side by side. So without any more unnecessary text, let’s take these two guitars apart, compare them, and go over some pros and cons!

Kenai J H2 Semi Gloss Overview Find It On Knaggsguitars.com

The variation of the Kenai J I was sent had a semi-gloss, Ferrari Red finish and two Seymour Duncan humbuckers, the SH4 and SH2N. The Mahogany neck and body give it a familiar design and tone, especially with the Rosewood fretboard. The wrap around tailpiece is a nice touch, especially on a two pickup flat top, and it gave the strings a real slinky feel. Typical controls lie within, including a 3-way selector and just one master tone and one master volume. Personally, I don’t miss the 4 pot setup you find on more traditional versions of this design, simplicity goes a long way here.

While I did get a dual humbucker model, you can get the Kenai J in pretty much any configuration. Single dog ear P90? Yup! Two P90s? Of course! Even just one humbucker in the bridge. Don’t be fooled by the flat top construction though, this thing doesn’t lack sustain. In fact, this was far more rich, clear, and sustaining than the Gibson Les Paul I recently reviewed (sorry Gibson!). This thing is definitely for the Les Paul lover that wants something with more top end and chime. Plus, it will set you back about $2800 based on the finish option you choose. But, with some of the quality controls issues we’ve seen at Gibson, that may be a sound investment. There were pretty much no flaws on this thing, as I said in my review.

Read the Kenai J review: Click Here

Keya J Dog Ear P90 Semi-Gloss Relic OverviewFind It On Knaggsguitars.com

Now let’s turn our attention to the double cut side of things. I’m biased but the relic’ing and TV yellow color really won me over with the Keya J I reviewed. I mean, this is the LP double cut of my dreams. It shares the same construction and basic features as the Kenai J, down to the wiring options, pickup configurations, and tone woods. Where it gets interesting though is Knaggs’ new bridge system.

The Keya J is rocking Knaggs’ Influence 2 in 1 bridge which beautifully mixes a tune-o-matic style with my preferred wrap around style bridge. While it doesn’t have that snappy, slinky feel of strings wrapped over the metal bridge, it added plenty of sustain to the equation to make up for it. The relic’d finish came out great, but came at a bit of an added cost. While I’m going to directly compare the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 to the humbuckers, there were some slight differences in tone thanks to the bridge choices.

The Keya J definitely had more sustain, something I think is due to the difference in bridges. The wrap around is great for adding some harmonic frequencies you don’t normally get on a dual humbucker LP, but I got way more sustain from the double cut Knaggs. Now if you wanted to customize a guitar to feature either bridge, I’m sure Knaggs would oblige, but I’m just working with what I got sent.

Read the Keya J review: Click Here

Key Differences

The biggest difference between these Knaggs is the two bridge designs. You can easily get the same pickup configurations as well as the same finish options on either guitar. So it really comes down to comparing the body shapes and bridge systems. I think the Influence 2 in 1 system on the Keya J had a bit more sustain than the wrap around tail piece, but the Kenai J had a bit more chime and top end that surprised me considering the bass-heavy, beefy humbuckers installed. I also prefer the feel of strings that are wrapped around, so maybe I’m a bit biased?

Now to the body shapes. The necks felt very similar, both phenomenal and smooth, with the relic’d Keya J feeling more broken in. However, I’m sure a relic’d Kenai J would have felt the same. Personally, I think their take on the double cut is far more unique and eye catching than their take on the single cut. The Keya J just pops out of the screen to me, and I love the de-emphasized horns and slim top. Because so many of the specs are the same, and the prices are as well, I have to pick the Keya J because of how much better it suits me.

Visit Knaggs Guitars To Learn More

Final Thoughts

Both of these guitars were my first experience with Knaggs, and I was totally blown away. The Kenai J placed really strongly in my Les Paul roundup for Ultimate-Guitar. That being said, the Keya J is in the “dream guitar” territory for me, as someone who has always wanted a real LP Junior Double Cut like Mick Jones of The Clash. Knaggs’ construction and built quality was absurd, with pretty much no flaws on the guitars. True, the guitars are a bit pricey, and are out of my price range, but they don’t feel upcharged or overpriced. They have a real luthier feel to them, and play like carefully crafted instruments. Overall, if you’re looking for a Knaggs, I’d say go with one of the flat tops, especially the Keya J!

Published by Matt Dunn

Guitar and music journalist for Ultimate-Guitar.com and Guitarsforidiots.com as well as a contributor for Guitarniche.com and Stringjoy.com. Reach out to talk about guitars, commission a partscaster, or ask for a review.

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