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A stunning small-body steel-string with innovative high-tech construction and great sound.

by Teja Gerken
August 03, 2015

Luthier Steve Kauffman is best known for his collaborative role with fellow guitar designer and builder Steve Klein. Kauffman began working with Klein in the 1970s, and by the late ’90s, he was the primary builder of Klein acoustics. Kauffman took a several-year break from lutherie to focus on his high-end cabinetry business, and has recently moved his shop from Northern California to Eugene, Oregon, where he’s now building guitars under his own name.

We recently had the opportunity to check out a 2015 Kauffman Parlor model. Slightly larger than a typical parlor (with a width of 14.5 inches at the lower bout), the guitar blends modern construction concepts with a vintage aura. Kauffman used a beautiful set of Brazilian rosewood for the guitar’s back and sides (“It’s really old,” he said of the wood. “I acquired it from [luthier] Ervin Somogyi years ago and it was old then!”), matching it with an Engelmann spruce top.

The instrument’s hourglass shape; long, pointed headstock; and unusual bridge design (instead of using bridge pins, the strings are attached to small posts behind the saddle) make it clear that any vintage guitar heritage is more a matter of inspiration than a design template. A look inside the guitar confirms that Kauffman departs from tradition in even more radical ways. Similar to the Klein guitars that he used to build, the guitar includes a “flying” bracing structure to support the top between the bridge and the soundhole, allowing the upper bout area to vibrate more freely than with traditional designs. In addition, the lower bout features a carbon-fiber reinforced asymmetrical fan-bracing pattern, rather than the “X” found on most steel-strings. The instrument has a bolt-on neck with a small-heel design, and a large removable panel in the endblock allows easy access to the inside of the guitar for installing pickups or performing future repairs. Kauffman chose a long 25.5-inch scale length, and used a zero-fret design instead of a standard nut design.

Klein acoustics are known for having meticulous craftsmanship. Naturally, Kauffman is continuing this attention-to-detail in his own instruments. This Parlor’s fit and finish and overall workmanship are simply perfect, even under the most scrutinizing eye. The guitar is set up for very easy playability, with the zero fret possibly helping provide lower-than-typical action in first position. The Parlor’s sound belies its relatively small size, with great volume and a large dynamic range, particularly when played fingerstyle. Its tone is definitely more modern than vintage, with a pronounced midrange vibe and a very cool openness that allows the guitar to breathe along with the music.

It’s great to see Kauffman back in the custom guitar business, and if this guitar is any indication, he should be able to once again establish himself as one of the more innovative builders on the scene.

Thanks to Mighty Fine Guitars in Lafayette, California, for providing the instrument.

SPECS: 14.5-inch wide body with 12-fret neck. Engelmann spruce top. Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck. Ebony bridge and fingerboard. 25.5-inch scale. Schaller tuning machines. Made in USA. Email: s.kauffman@att.net

 

Category: Instruments & Gear

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