Blending elements of Fender and Gretsch and built by the reliable Premier Builders Guild in California, this Koll guitar provides a new angle on ‘affordable custom’. Review by Huw Price
Description: Electric guitar. Made in the USA
Contact:Coda Music – 01438 350 815 – www.kollforpbg.com
It would be fair to say that vintage Gretsches have provided Saul Koll with much of his inspiration up until now. However, with the Troubadour he’s taken a different path by attempting to imagine what he might have come up with had he been an employee of Leo Fender’s during the mid-1950s. Like many other owners of successful guitar companies Saul Koll still builds guitars, but his personal involvement is now confined to custom orders.
Most Koll guitars, including the Troubadour II, are built in the Premier Builders Guild’s Arroyo Grande workshop in California by Gene Baker and his team. The Premier Builder’s Guild provides the marketing, management and customer service for various high-end brands, including Fano, Two Rock, Tone King and b3. The Troubadour was devised specifically for the PRG, and for a handbuilt custom guitar it’s relatively affordable.
The new Fender influence means that the Troubadour models have bolt-on maple necks rather than Koll’s usual set necks, and the scale length has been extended to a Fender-like 25.5″. The Troubadour also gets a fresh headstock, but Koll has retained a 10 degree back angle. It’s narrower than Koll’s signature headstock, and the strings follow a straight string path over a polished Tusq nut to a set of ’50s style Gotoh tuners. Our review model, the Troubadour II, has a pair of TV Jones Power’Trons rather than the regular Troubadour’s single bridge pickup.
Although the Troubadour has a retro flavour, Koll is content to adopt modern features where appropriate. Ideally, vibrato bridges will operate
smoothly and hold tune; low friction is key, so Koll’s preferred bridge is a Gotoh unit that moves against two knife-edge pivots rather than six round screws. The arm is a push-fit but even so, the bridge saddles are vintage-style folded steel.
It’s not easy to find handsome tortoiseshell these days but the Koll’s plastics are superb, with a glow that suggests there may be a metallic or reflective coating on the rear surface. They’re superbly shaped too, with polished rounded edges. The control cavity cover is a very tight fit, but we popped it off anyway to check out the wiring. Cloth-covered wire is used for hook ups and the tone control is connected, ’50s style, from the output (centre) lug of the volume pot. Koll has used a Sprague Orange Drop capacitor, and the pickup wires have been left nice and long for owners who may wish to explore coil-tapping possibilities.
The front of the slab rosewood fingerboard is devoid of markers; there are dots on the side, but the clay-like hue may be hard to discern on a dimly lit stage. Two neck profiles are offered – a vintage V or the ’50s style C profile, as on this review model. The two-piece alder body is centre-jointed with a Strat-style chamfer on the top and a tummy tuck at the back. It balances straight on the knee and feels comfortable. The top edge is bound and, like the neck, the rear of the body has a satin finish.
It’s said that there were several shades of Fender’s fiesta red. Koll’s mix is on the pinker side of the spectrum and it almost screams ‘vintage Strat’. As far as we’re aware this Troubadour II isn’t marketed as a relic, but the top’s gloss lacquer has checked somewhat. The way the pattern has developed around the screw holes suggests that this has occurred naturally. More attractive? It’s a matter of taste, but it does indicate the finish is nitro.
Despite the Fender influence in design and construction, the Troubadour sounds nothing like a Fender. Given the different nature of the Power’Tron pickups this may have been predictable, but Fender’s similarly-equipped La Cabronita does hit a middle ground between Tele and Gretsch, though with lower-output Filter’Trons.
The Power’Trons give the Troubadour II a dark and gutsy tone that’s excellent for grinding indie rock rhythm and scorching solos. With all Filter’Tron type pickups, though, the height of the pickups is crucial. As supplied we felt that the Troubadour’s were a little too low, and we found that raising them closer to the strings improved definition with some much needed brightness.
The bass end is fat and powerful, and rock players will enjoy the chewy mids. The idea behind ’50s wiring is to avoid loss of clarity when the volume control is turned down and it works very effectively for maintaining the highfrequency sheen.
The Troubadour has ample woody resonance, and backing off the volume allows it to come through. It also reveals more contrast between the tone of the pickups, bringing out a touch more sprang from the bridge and a sweeter roundness from the neck. In clean mode, however, the middle position steals the show as the reduced midrange content improves the Troubadour’s touch dynamics.
Given the construction and the materials we felt that the Troubadour II would be better-sounding and more versatile with slightly lower-output pickups, as the quest for power detracts from the subtler tones and dynamic response of this unusually resonant guitar. Still, it’s beautifully made, plays superbly, and looks fantastic.