K\S Hawaiian


The resurgence of lap or hawaiian style of playing has taken the hollow neck design of German immigrant, Herman Weissenborn, from the custom builders to the American importers with copies being manufactured in Korea, China and Mexico. Under brand names such as Gold Tone, Enorez and Superior, the tones from the hawaiian craze of the 1920-30s have been brought back to life.

Two men had the foresight to see an opportunity early on. George Katechis and Marc Silbert brought a Weissenborn to the talented luthiers in Michoacan, Mexico who took it apart and copied every detail of the design. They began to manufacture hawaiians under the K&S brand name and attracted such luminaries as David Lindley. K&S evolved into the Superior brand name and production continues in Mexico.

Considering a plain 1920s Style 1 Weissenborn could easily set you back $2500+ the price tag of a Chinese made Enorez is a mere 10% ($250). Of course there is the matter of the woods used and 80+ years but the affordable copies have given legions of players the opportunity to discover the magic in its design. Like the Enorez with a top, back and sides of solid mahogany, Gold Tone is the next step up in price at about $600. The base Superior model with a case will hit the magic $1,000 number. Customs builders such as Lazy River, Bear Creek or Celtic Cross start around $1500 with many high end models matching if not exceeding a vintage Weissenborn's price. All offer stunning examples using highly figured woods and uncompromised attention to detail.

Even before folks will mention the hollow neck design the word KOA is almost always uttered. Old koa to be exact. The instrument's magic really comes from a combination of design and wood that was used. Top, bottom and sides all koa. Now the K&S breaks with traditional since it has a solid spruce top but its Acacia koa sides and back are stunning. I previously owned two (2) Superior labeled models one with a spruce top and the other cedar. Neither were koa but mahogany if I recall correctly, as its been awhile. Current models use highly figured Palo Escrito rosewood for less than $1200.

Since I have a "plain jane" Style 1 Weissenborn the rope binding and highly figured koa on this K&S gives me the panache of the Style 3.

Although I was always intriqued by the extra cosmetic touches of the Style 2, 3 & 4 models I made the conscious decision to go purely for tone with my Style 1. Unlike the Superiors with their extra wide nut and string spacing, the K&S conforms to the original, however missing the rolled aluminum saddle in its design. Metal buttoned open back tuners maintain its traditional look and feel.

The guitar has some play wear with a few good bar dings and a bit of "stand residue" on the back. The foam used for guitar stands seems to chemically react with some finishes. The overall fit and finish is on par with many custom instruments. Being handmade start to finish by one luthier is worth the additional $500 over a Korean or Chinese made model. An exact copy of a Weissenborn, it retains the endearing qualities of piano like tones that only come from this instrument. More akin to Weissenborn's Kona labeled hawaiians that were manufactured with spruce tops, the K&S is rich and powerful with a voice all its own. I'd love to hear what she sounds like when she turns 70 but then my Style 1 will be 140 and even sweeter. Will the same appreciation for these instruments exist anyway? I'd like to think the design is timeless.

Weissenborn's hollow neck design was quickly copied by other manufacturers looking to provide entry level instruments to all of the budding hawaiian guitarists. Using inferior plywood, smaller body size and often a trapeze style tailpiece, these l
ittle beasties typically had note charts right on the fingerboard. Labeled with school and "conservatory" names they helped fuel the hawaiian craze starting in the 1920s. I picked up this flea market "project" years ago with the intention of restoring as a wall hangar due to its numerous cracks. Note the tin cap used as a quasi resonator. The guitar has two sound posts but based on the woods used, must have sounded pretty awful. You'll find nice examples on eBay quite often but don't expect it to replace even that Enorez model.

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