BY MICHAEL ROSS
Even before he discovered the guitar, Saul
Koll was interested in how things worked—
deconstructing his toys and reassembling
them to his taste. When he was 12, he discovered the joys of playing guitar—and the
book Classic Guitar Construction by Irving
Sloan. By the time he came across the book
again while studying sculpture at San Diego
State University, he was building his own
instruments. And after some tutoring by Jon
Peterson and Glen Mers at The World of
Strings in Long Beach, California, the former
sculptor founded the Koll Guitar Company.
These days, Koll designs and crafts guitars
for Premier Builders Guild, Empire, and
Hottie guitars—in addition to filling custom
orders from his Portland, Oregon, shop.
And his roster of customers includes Elliott
Sharp, David Torn, Henry Kaiser, and Lee
Ranaldo—a virtual who’s who of today’s
forward-thinking guitarists. That clientele
makes a lot of sense when you check out
the Koll solidbody catalogue, where you
will see a lot of sci-fi looking shapes. The
Tornado, though, represents a more traditional and straightforward approach.
Back to the Future—and Built
The Tornado series features Koll’s typical
asymmetrical double cutaway, a look that
manages to appear both classic and new. And
it’s essentially an offshoot of the Glide series,
which is based on an instrument built for
David Torn. The Tornado’s narrower headstock
is a more recent look for Koll, and I found
that its design balanced nicely with the no-frills appearance of the rest of the instrument.
Designing a guitar that looks unique and classic isn’t easy. But Koll has nailed it here.
The Tornado’s handcarved, slim-C neck shape
was quite comfortable. Measuring roughly
. 8" at the 1st fret and tapering to about . 9"
at the 12th, it features fretboard edges that
are gently rolled to remove any sharpness.
A 17th-fret body joint and a tapered heel
provided easy access to the upper reaches of
the set neck’s 22 frets. And Koll hand fits the
neck into the body with a precision-cut mortise to maximize the gluing surface.
Junior is Special
With its unbound mahogany body and
twin P-90s, this particular Tornado rocks a
distinct Les Paul Special vibe, but it also
improves on that simple and effective for-
mula. The body is gorgeously finished in a
transparent-red nitrocellulose lacquer. And
the Lucite pickguard is an excellent idea, as
it would be a shame to cover up the beauty
of this mahogany or its finish. Arm and belly
contouring—which are not found on Juniors
or Specials—add to the Tornado’s playing-
The fretboard is ebony rather than rosewood, too. And, unlike on a Special, the
Tornado’s is unbound. Keystone tuners
contribute a vintage look, but lock to help
keep the vibrato system in tune. They are
aided in this task by the straight string pull
of the headstock and a beautifully cut nut.
The strings rest on top of the nut slots,
which prevents sticking and yet keeps them
Of course, no Junior or Special ever came
with a Strat-style vibrato bridge. The sturdy
Wilkinson version here was set up to float,
and it rocked smoothly and stayed in tune