Kawai KS11XL c1980

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TTonyTTony Frets: 15192
edited February 2016 in Guitar Reviews
This is a slightly tongue-in-cheek review of one my Kawai guitars.

The KS11XL model was pretty much top-of-the-Kawai-range back in the late 70s/early 80s.  Kawai had evolved from putting their brandname on a variety of fairly cheap, multi-pickup, multi-switched bolt-on neck models in the previous decade, and I've always thought of the KS range as their attempt to emulate the Yamaha SG range that had recently become pretty popular.

Having had a couple of the Yamaha SGs, I can definitely confirm that the quality and construction is up there with the SG1000/SG2000, the sound is similar, and so's the weight.

Where it came from
I bought this one from a s/h shop in Carlisle sometime in the mid 2000s.  I'd found it via an email through the KawaiGuitars website from someone who was aware of my search, and had seen it in the shop.  IIRC, I paid £300/£350.

Why I bought it
I bought my original Kawai - KS12XL - back in 1979/80 from Tim Gentle music in Southend.  I had to choose between the KS12 & KS11 models.  I chose the KS12 because it had an extra mini-toggle (a phase switch), and as "12" was higher than "11", it must have been the better model, right?  But I always wondered what the KS11 would have been like, so I set out to try and find one.  It took a good few years, and I was diverted by a few other Kawai models before I found this one, but eventually the search was successfully and I snagged this - a natural finish KS11XL.  I remember being fairly pleased that day.

Construction & Components
This follows the classic rock guitar pattern of;
- a 2 piece mahogany body
- a 2 piece maple top with a fairly plain grain pattern
- a 3 piece set-neck, with the KS range's defining design feature - the open headstock
- originally these were fitted with a pair of Mighty Mite distortion HBs, based on the DiMarzio Super Distortions of the era
- 2 vols, 2 tones, a 3-way selector switch and a mini-toggle coil split.

Pros & Cons
Noting my admitted bias, I'll try to be objective;
+ these are quality instruments, properly made with decent materials and have really stood the test of time
+ the maple top adds a bit of grain interest without being bling - I prefer this model to the flat-top/non-capped KS12XL.
+ the neck is straight and true, and is comfortable to my hand (I don't like the half-baseball styles) without being skinny
+ it sounds as you'd expect with a couple of high power HBs in a mahogany/maple body
- it's on the heavy side, mine is around 9lbs, so easily in the LP territory (but if you want a big sound ...)
- finding them is a challenge, they were never commonplace but nowadays they're just rarer than a rare thing

Mods
When I bought it, the original p'ups had been swapped out and the bridge saddles were too worn to do their jobs.  I've fitted it with a new Badass-style replacement bridge, and a set of PRS Dragon II p'ups.  Apart from that, it's needed no work.  The frets are still in good order, and look to be original, and whilst the bodywork has a few scratches & dings on it, it's in pretty smart condition for a 35yo guitar, and there's certainly no structural problems with it.  

Would I sell it?
You don't have enough money.
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Comments

  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15192
    edited February 2016
    The large scale version of my profile pic ...

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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15192
    Soundclips one day perhaps ...
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  • blueskunkblueskunk Frets: 2459
    Cool guitars them T :)
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 2275
    I also had the KS11 from Tim Gentle. He was blowing them out for £150 inc case, apart from the classical style headstock dividing opinion and the Mighty Mite pickups being a bit brash, they were and are great guitars . In hindsight I'd buy another in a heartbeat, but immediately replace th bridge studs with TonePros items
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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15192
    @sweepy - remember this ...

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  • Adam_MDAdam_MD Frets: 3081
    Very cool collection.

    How do you find the dragon ii pickups? I used them for 14 years in my main gigging guitar. I always thought they were great with gain but could be a little lacking when played clean. I definitely don't think they're as bad as the Internet makes out. There's a lot of different sounds when you use your volume and tone.
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  • TTonyTTony Frets: 15192
    Adam_MD said:
    How do you find the dragon ii pickups? I used them for 14 years in my main gigging guitar. I always thought they were great with gain but could be a little lacking when played clean. I definitely don't think they're as bad as the Internet makes out. There's a lot of different sounds when you use your volume and tone.

    re the Dragon IIs - I can count the number of gigs that I've done in the last 30 years on the fingers of one finger, so I'm possibly not best placed to comment on performance of the p'ups in that sort of situation.

    Nowadays - sadly - my playing is largely done in the lounge, through my THR10 and often through headphones, where the other factors will affect the sound as much as the subtle differences in p'up characteristics.  Also I tend to just play for relaxation and my own amusement rather than getting audiophiliac (?) about the precise tonal qualities of the p'ups (or anything else).

    That said, this is one of my favourite guitars and if I didn't like the sound it was making, I'd be swapping the p'ups out.  To my ears, they match the guitar's build and my playing style pretty well - they're reasonably rocky, reasonably refined, not brash/crude, and - as you say - can be managed pretyt well with the vol & tone controls.

    PRS - there's going to be lovers and there's going to be haters just because of the brand
    ;)
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  • sweepysweepy Frets: 2275
    I remember that ad like it was yesterday, I was fretting on Securicor delivering it in time for a New Year's Eve gig ;)
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  • Wow, our Tone loves his Kawais. proper 'andsome.
    "OUR TOSSPOT"
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