Longevity does not happen by accident. Decades of chart-topping hits, along with tours and recordings with some of the biggest names in pop and rock, have earned Steve Stevens a place on top of the mountain of guitar accolades. He is known for a lot of things: his signature ray-gun, big hair (ok, HUGE hair), furious guitar playing, great tone, and a healthy guitar gear addiction. One thing he is not known for is subtlety.
Knaggs Guitars has been producing hand-made, high quality instruments for almost a decade now, and for those unfamiliar with the story, this guitar company’s expertise was first developed building guitars at Paul Reed Smith Guitars. Knaggs Guitars has been manufacturing the Steve Stevens signature guitar in limited quantities for a few years already. Most of the SSs1 and SS2s have been dressed in flashy colors and loud motifs, and the latest refinements of this guitar bring us to the SSC (C standing for Classic). Available in a variety of colors (as well as the original finishes if you love bling), the SSC showcases gorgeous, book-matched maple tops with a variety of appointments unique to this model. We’re already in love with Steve’s signature amp, and this guitar is yet another testament to his knack for killer gear.
Our Knaggs SSC test guitar shipped in a familiar, single-cut style, premium case bearing the Knaggs logo. Opening the case, the guitar filled the room with the blissful smell of nitrocellulose lacquer (this is akin to what a dozen roses do for some women, or what cheeseburgers do for the fast-food lover, naturally). The finish was impeccable, as if the guitar was somehow covered in glass. The green, plush material provided a beautiful backdrop to the guitar as well. Case candy included a build sheet, warranty card, tools, Schaller strap locks (an essential MusicPlayers.com favorite), and a Knaggs guitar sticker, which we immediately slapped on the guitar. Just kidding. Don’t even think about such vandalism.
Our test guitar came finished in a beautiful Tobacco Burst color. The color blends almost seamlessly with the guitar’s rosewood fretboard and one-piece mahogany body. The burst pattern complements the premium, T2 top perfectly and shows off the seemingly endless, three-dimensional appearing, flame to perfection. This feature is both classic and a bit flashy at the same time. Knaggs grades their line and their tops in a three-tiered scale, T3 being the most economical and T1 being their best stock. But the truth is, there is no bad Knaggs top. Having reviewed and/or played several examples, even the T3 tops are custom-shop worthy.
Familiar but refined appointments such as a 12” radius, bone nut, maple on mahogany body, and mahogany neck, are welcomed. It’s clear Knaggs did not set out to reinvent the wheel—just build a better, faster one. The medium frets and SSC custom neck profile are good examples of this. A recessed heel allows effortless upper register access.
The aesthetic of this guitar is unique and as we have stated, a perfect blend of flash and maturity. Gold-plated hardware includes (custom for this instrument) Bare Knuckle humbucking pickups, Kluson tuners, and a locking TonePro Tune-o-Matic bridge and tailpiece. A custom fretboard position marker scheme includes shrinking, offset rectangles going down the neck. An also custom for this instrument, the headstock veneer showcases the pairing of the Knaggs brand as well as Steve Steven’s signature ray-gun insignia. His signature is also engraved in the truss rod cover.
On the functionality end of the guitar, you’ll find a classic three-way pickup selector switch and four-knob configuration that provides independent volume and tone controls for each pickup.
Also included in the box is a Steve Stevens/Knaggs poster, which awaits future signature and framing for our MusicPlayers.com office
We find writing the Usability section a bit challenging at times because we do put these instruments through real world testing. You, the reader, do not buy a guitar to review it and send it back. You buy it to play it at your performances and rehearsals. One thing seldom spoken about in the industry in terms of usability is the weight of the guitar. A guitar which is too light may feel cheap and flimsy, while a guitar too heavy is not much good on a three-set night at your local gig. Our SSC came in right around nine pounds. We have heavier guitars in our collection that sound great but are just not viable to wear for long periods of time. A couple of pounds’ difference goes a long way in terms of usability. We played our SSC at several live performances and found it to be well balanced and comfortable, without being fatiguing.
We found the neck profile on the SSC, which is custom to Steve Stevens’ specifications, to be deep but not wide. This was particularly well matched to the 24 ¾” scale length and made the guitar very comfortable to play. While thicker than our shreddier guitar necks, this one isn’t the beefiest in our collection, either. The non-bound fretboard had no sharp fret edges to speak of and felt broken-in and well worn. This feels-like-an-old-glove attention to detail is what we expect from premium instruments.
Modern enhancements like the recessed heel joint made sense anatomically. Why bother with a 22nd fret if you have to contort your wrist to get to it? The pickup selector switch and four-knob setup functioned as advertised. The Schaller strap locks were a nice touch and saved us a trip to our local retailer for a set.
We did not discover the locking bridge/tailpiece combination until our first string change. “Cool!” is our opinion of this. The locking bridge facilitates bridge height retention during string changes and it’s our first instrument to have one. We loved the innovative Knaggs bridge on the [previously reviewed] Kenai guitar, but this was pretty awesome as well. Anyone with a fixed bridge Tune-o-Matic has likely picked it up off the floor at one time or another.
Our first sound test consisted during a series of lessons we taught at Standing Ovation Music Academy. We typically teach with an acoustic, but for our electric guitar students, we broke out the new axe and plugged it into a Fender Supersonic 60w combo. We knew this amp to have a beefy and bright dirty channel and a lush reverb, which really sparkled nice on the cleans. Plugging in first on the clean channel (with its choice of Vibralux or Bassman voicing), the guitar commanded an unanticipated, up front authority. The bridge position pickup had an upper midrange accentuation to it, while (surprisingly) the neck pickup did not roll off as much brightness as we anticipated. This was not a typical, Les Paul style, muddy guitar tone at all! The Bare Knuckle pickups had a slightly compressed, punchy sound. After our lessons were over, we put the guitar through its paces a little more with the Supersonic’s dirty channel. Dialing up a healthy amount of gain, we found our test instrument made this amp more finished or polished sounding, most likely due to its higher-than-average-output pickups. We were actually considering trading our Supersonic for a more traditional silver face amp before this test, but we fell in love with the amp all over again, thanks to our SSC! [To read our review of the Fender SuperSonic, see here.]
Our next sound test was performed at a festival with several hundred in attendance. We paired the guitar with a Friedman SS100 (the Steve Stevens signature amp, but if you’re reading this review we probably didn’t need to tell you that). Being an outdoor performance, we didn’t know what to expect sound-wise. Our regular sound guy was not running our show, so this had the potential to be a worst-case scenario gig (other than perhaps having to use a backline with solid-state junk).
Aside from peppering in a little more mids, we were beyond pleased with the tone coming out of the Friedman 4x12 cab. It was quite simply, the sound of rock and roll defined. Thick, rich harmonic overtones were not only present, but accentuated by the upper mid frequency bump we dialed in. Although high-gain and beefy to start, rolling the volume back proved extremely effective in dialing the sound down to near-clean, while still able to make pinch harmonics sing off the fretboard.
The volume pots on both pickups had a linear taper to them, and there was no abrupt drop at any point throughout their range. This feature made manipulation of the amp’s gain saturation extremely enjoyable. There was not only an audible difference in between, say, 7-10, but the feel of the instrument was a bit different as well. We felt no need to goose the sound with any of our boost pedals for the entire show, and our overdrive pedals sat unused on the board. No worries, though… we still love pedals!
Documentation and Product Support
Our Knaggs SSC came witha build sheet documenting all the features as well as a warranty card. On the Knaggs website, Peter Wolf, co-owner of the company, lists his mobile number. We have seen no other manufacturer provide this level of support. We hope our readers let him rest at night, though!
Speaking of support, interestingly, Knaggs offers only a thirty-day warranty, at least “officially” speaking. We have word this thirty-day period is the time in which they’d like to be notified of a potential issue on a new guitar. They’ve assured us that they would make good on any defect well beyond that period; however there has been not a single warranty case to date to take them to task on that. Apparently, Knaggs owners are pretty satisfied with their guitars! For a company in existence for as long as they’ve been, to not have a single warranty issue (i.e. instrument failure not caused by misuse/abuse) is pretty remarkable, and speaks to the build quality of their guitars.
The Knaggs SSC (MSRP $5,960) sells for approximately $4,600. Considering the impeccable build, signature series branding, breathtaking top, and top-notch aftermarket pickups, we feel this guitar provides a reasonable value for a boutique build, single cut, maple-on-mahogany, dual-humbucker guitar.
You can spend as much (or more) on some high-end, “popular” brand instruments (and we’re not dismissing them, certainly), but there is something special about guitars built by small companies run by highly skilled, passionate luthiers.
Overall Rating - Product Summary
|Documentation & Support||10%|
|OVERALL RATING = 3.5 Stars
3.6 stars or better: Outstanding, WIHO Award