Besides being a fine-looking offset guitar, there are two features that really distinguish the Kauer Arcturus. The first is the choice of Spanish cedar for the body – a wood associated more closely with cigar humidors than lutherie.
Known scientifically as cedrela odorata, it’s neither Spanish nor cedar. Closely related to mahogany, it has long been used in the manufacture of flamenco guitars, and US guitar companies – including Martin – used it to make necks well into the 20th century. As an attractive, lightweight and cost-effective alternative to mahogany, numerous prestigious guitar manufacturers now use Spanish cedar.
Secondly, there’s the Lollar Gold Foil neck pickup made with authentic rubberised ferrite magnets, 44 AWG wire and a 1/8∫ tall bobbin. Proximity to the strings is critical in bringing out the best from these pickups. The originals had to be shimmed, but these Lollars are mounted in a pickup ring with height adjustment screws at each end.
In other respects, it’s a fairly straightforward build, featuring a bolt-on maple neck with a wenge fingerboard. The pearly headstock logo is set into a black veneer that, in turn, is set into the headstock – a subtle but classy detail.
Under the pickguard, there’s a universal rout, so you could order another Kauer pickguard with entirely different pickups to transform the guitar. When ordering, you can choose from a selection of pickups, hardware, colours and neck profile options.
The coatings are urethane and the quality is fairly high. However, in the absence of a spring cover, the Arcturus could have benefited from more sanding and prep time inside the rout. The spraying process hasn’t covered the recess entirely with colour coats and the white base coat shows in patches.
Guitarists tend to have fairly clear preferences for neck profiles, however most can make do with a neutral, medium-depth C. Consequently, many manufacturers use that as a default, but for this guitar, Kauer has opted for a road less travelled.
For starters, it’s decidedly fat, which is no bad thing. However, the sides of the neck are cut square to the fingerboard and the straight line goes about 3mm beyond the fingerboard binding. Only then does the curve begin, so this is about as `square shouldered’ a neck as we’ve seen in a long time.
The fingerboard edges have no rollover whatsoever – except at the very top of the neck on the bass side. None of this compromises the playability of the Arcturus, but it’s hard to imagine this neck quickly developing an `old slippers’ level of comfort and familiarity. It also feels at odds with the otherwise sleek and streamlined mid-century modern aesthetic.
Fortunately, though the guitar arrives set up with a higher-than-average playing action, the feel is friendly and the tuning is very stable. Our unplugged tests reveal a full low-frequency resonance, strong mids and treble that chimes nicely over the top. This loud and full frequency response, coupled with impressive sustain, seems closer to what I would associate with a mahogany Les Paul Junior than an alder or swamp ash-bodied guitar.
The Arcturus is also less pingy and lively in its transient attack, so the Spanish cedar definitely makes its presence felt. There’s even a hint of the `built-in reverb’ effect that S-type trem assemblies often provide. So, all things considered, there’s ample tone for the pickups to work with.
As T-type bridge pickups go, the Arcturus’ is a fairly hot one, but there’s plenty of brightness to balance out the thick and woody lows. The bridge setting has more of a throaty early-50s vibe than late-50s or 60s twang, and it dwells in the hinterland between Broadcaster and P-90. It’s actually smoother and not quite as bright-sounding as a vintage-spec P-90, although it has a touch more cocked-wah quack.
The Gold Foil matches the bridge pickup for output level, while providing a very appealing sonic contrast. There’s hi-fi clarity without excessive treble and single notes are sweetly rounded. There’s faultless string-to-string balance and clearly defined bass, but the Gold Foil’s defining characteristic is an ethereal shimmer in the treble.
Nothing ever seems to jump out at you, so it’s just as easy to play fingerstyle as it is to flatpick. Incredibly sensitive, the Gold Foil captures the most subtle of playing touches and sustains really well.
The pretty-sounding clean tones morphs into something more growly and aggressive with added overdrive. Single notes become even more vocal and the delicate highs acquire a softer and more diffused quality that almost compels you to dig in and play hard.
The Gold Foil is a fine match for the bridge pickup because it’s equally bright. The bridge pickup may not be a Nashville twanger, but if you prefer playing rocking riffs on a T-type it certainly delivers.
It veers off into something far more rounded and tonally complex and the middle setting provides the best of both worlds. Ultimately, it’s an impressive tonal range that covers country, R&B, blues, rootsy rock and more besides.
There are lots of classy touches, such as the laser-etched logos on the rear of the headstock and control cavity cover, the inset logo overlay and the retro knobs. The tuners are smooth and the pickups are amongst the very best.
The pickguard, bridge and switch tip have a `parts bin’ vibe that some will like, but others may find incongruous with a guitar in this price range.
As an example of high-end contemporary American guitar manufacturing, we don’t feel that the detailing or design here quite achieves the same level of coherence or panache we’ve seen from the likes of Dennis Fano and Saul Koll.
Having said that, the Arcturus is available in 26 different colours with a choice of three bridges, two fretboard woods, two body woods and numerous pickup options, so there’s huge scope for customisation. If you fancy something different with a cool blend of retro influences, give the Arcturus a whirl.
• Description Solid electric guitar, manufactured in the USA
• Price £2,049
• Build Spanish cedar body, birdseye maple bolt-on neck with fat U profile, 12” radius wenge fingerboard with pearl dot inlays and 22 jumbo frets
• Hardware Vintage-style tremolo bridge, Sperzel locking tuners with pearloid buttons
• Electrics Lollar Tele-style bridge pickup, Lollar Gold Foil, master volume & tone, three-way selector switch
• Scale Length 648mm/25.5”
• Neck Width 43mm at nut, 52mm at 12th fret
• Neck Depth 22mm at first fret, 23mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 36mm at nut, 56mm at bridge
• Weight 3.4kg/7.4lbs
• Left-Handers Yes (no upcharge)
• Finish Foam Green (urethane)
• Contact Coda Music