Peter Wolf: Knaggs’ Biz
Guru Outlines the Master Plan
Peter Wolf has more than 35 years of experience in the music
industry, including working as director of global sales and marketing for his last five years at PRS. He now heads up all facets
of sales and marketing for Knaggs Guitars. Here he reflects on
how—and why—he and Joe Knaggs became partners.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind about Joe when you
think about working with him over all these years?
He’s just a normal guy who has respect for people. He’s easy-going. He doesn’t let it hang out—he’s just a regular guy. He’s
appreciative of people and has respect, and that was something
I picked up on. That’s really what struck the friendship and kept
us connected all these years.
What were the first conversations between you and Joe like
after you decided to become partners?
I think it was early July when we went down to North Carolina
with our families for about a week, and we really dug in to what
we were going to do and how we were going to do it. One of the
very important things that made me think this was going to be
something important was the fact that Joe is one of the few people who is capable of designing in different directions. If you look
at the guitar designs of the last 60, 70 years, the market is dominated by two or three major camps: The Fender camp, the Gibson
camp, and the Martin camp. All of them adapted designs that
were invented back in the 1700s and 1800s in Italy—when there
was no trademark law. But none of them has been able to break
into each other’s camp. Fender has never really built a guitar with
a set neck or a carved top that has been successful. And Gibson
never really came up with a design with double-cutaway with a
bolt-on neck, six-on-a-side headstock, and a scratchplate. So what
I really found interesting and unique about Joe was that he was
able to come up with designs that weren’t copies. Yes, he adapted
from the past, but he didn’t copy anybody. He can do that in all
directions. He can design and build acoustics, he can design and
build six-on-a-side-headstock guitars that look awesome, and he
can do everything that is part of the G camp and the PRS camp.
I understand there are some legal restrictions—Knaggs guitars
can’t initially be carried by PRS dealers—so I imagine it was
tricky to figure out which design features Joe came up with at
PRS could be incorporated into his new line.
Not really. That part of it is pretty simple. The Chesapeake line—
which is basically the Severn, the Choptank, and the Patuxent and
Potomac acoustics—are guitars that Joe designed on his own when
he was at PRS. The original idea, or at least my original idea, was
to bring these designs in and sell them under the brand name of
PRS—or maybe create a second brand name of Chesapeake. But
that was not something other people wanted to do. So when Joe
left, the Chesapeake designs and all the drawings and all the trademarks went over to him. So that’s completely clean and there are
no restrictions on that end. And the Influence line—the Kenai, the
Peter Wolf (left) and Joe Knaggs
Keya, the Chena, and the Sheyenne—are completely also his own
designs, so there are no restrictions there, either.
That was a pretty magnanimous gesture on Paul’s part to
allow him to take those designs.
Yeah. That was definitely nice of him and cool that he was fine
with Joe taking these designs with him. I have a lot of respect
for him, and so does Joe. He’s been a big part of our lives, and
we’ve been a big part of his life.
Business-wise, what’s your vision for Knaggs Guitars?
Well, the vision is basically to build the best guitars that we can
without taking any shortcuts—doing what’s best for the sound
and the instrument and the looks—and to start slow and small,
and then build it up over the next five to seven or ten years to
become a respectable company that hopefully comes out with
designs and instruments that one day will be called classics. Or
at least appeal to the guitar-loving sector of that market that
we’re trying to get a little piece of, which is the very high-end
market—top-notch guitars—and do that in a way that we’re not
stuck going in one direction. Build acoustics, build electrics, build
mandolins, build basses, and see what else comes to mind.
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