We recently caught up with Doug Kauer, founder of boutique guitar builder, Kauer Guitars. Built to the highest standards by Doug and his team, Kauer offers three flagship models: the Banshee, the Starliner and the Super Chief. Doug shares the early history of the company, his influences and the line's unique qualities.
The HUB: When did you begin building guitars?
Doug Kauer: I started building as a hobby in the early '00s but Kauer Guitars started full time in late '07.
The HUB: Where are Kauer Guitars manufactured?
DK: All Kauer Guitars (and our Titan Guitars series as well) are built in our shop in Sacramento, CA.
The HUB: How many guitars do you produce each year?
DK: We build roughly 90-110 Kauers a year.
The HUB: How large is your production team?
DK: Currently, we’re a 5 person shop. That includes: Doug Kauer (design, programming and finishing along with business related duties), Andrew Rascher (necks start to finish, cnc machining, fretwork, inlays etc), Delano Thomas (wood prep, glue up, machining), Ben Jacob (final assembly, final fretwork, making pickguards etc) and our newest employee Alex Parks (paint and paint prep).
The HUB: What simple philosophy do you apply to each guitar you make?
DK: I have a pretty few hard and fast rules; we want to build guitars that we in the shop would want to play. That means for us, personally, great weight and balance, fantastic tone and fantastic playability. If the guitar is comfortable enough to play for 3 hours, that’s a great start.
I’m also big about wanting to build something unique and not just another Strat or Tele copy. There’s so much room for creativity or making big improvements to otherwise forgotten designs.
The HUB: What theme or design element ties your product line together?
DK: I’m a big offset junkie, so that does tend to find its way into most of our designs (especially our older Daylighter series). You can see elements of my background being around '60s muscle cars and '80s European cars. We tend to have a '60s American element going into my designs, but in a way that takes advantage of modern elements or ideas. It’s really just a matter of making something that appeals to me and hoping for the best!
The HUB: How would you describe the tone of your instruments?
DK: This varies a bit because we have a pretty wide range of pickup offerings, but we do stick a specific wood formula because it gives us the foundation we want. I think Kauers generally have a good clear voicing that supports high quality pickups. I tend to voice our pickups to be clear but meaty in the neck, and the bridge pickups to have a bit more push without going nasally. That gives you a great foundation to layer on with amps or pedals.
The HUB: How would you describe the feel or playability of your instruments?
DK: We want them to play a very specific way, and we set them up to a very specific standard. Setups are personal choices but we want to set them up as low and clean as we can from the factory. I actually like my personal guitars to play a bit taller than our factory spec.
The HUB: What led you to taking the plunge into building your own guitars? How did it evolve into a full-fledged company/business?
DK: I grew up working with my dad in his cabinet shop from age 5 or 6. I was always there, probably because my mom couldn’t stand me at home taking things apart and ruining them every summer vacation!
It was years later before I realized that guitars weren’t mythical devices that someone carried down from the mountain top with doves and trumpets playing (though… I’ve owned a few that might have been that good). I had the realization that it's just wood and metal, like anything else, and I should try building one instead of always messing with mine and my friends.
I also had a piece of maple that showed up one day that was so pretty it just sealed the deal. I made that first guitar, and while it was playable, I never quite got around to finishing it. Just jumped on the next one to try to improve the mistakes from the first, then the next and so on. I think I’m still doing that now all these years later; I just want to make the next one better than the last.
I will say this, I did 100% get into this as a business because of encouragement from other boutique builders (namely Nik Huber). When I started building guitars, I had no idea there was a boutique industry at all. What I knew about pretty much stop and started with whatever the guitar shop in my town had. It wasn’t until I designed the Daylighter that I started to clue into this big underground well of talent and creativity. It’s such a wonderful community, I really got into because of them.
The HUB: Which aspects of a guitar’s build and sound do you think players respond to?
DK: I honestly don’t believe there’s a best guitar or even a best formula out there. If there was, guitars would be really boring. I think from a visual or tonal point of view, it's completely subjective to personal tastes, or even what mood you’re in that moment in time. That’s what makes it great.
But, that being said, there are some hard and fast rules to what makes a great playing instrument we can all agree on. Great fretwork, nut and intonation is pretty universally standard. Pickups and tone that has clarity but isn't sterile or weak. Those aspects are absolutely essential.
The HUB: What do you hope for players to experience when picking up your instruments?
DK: Hopefully not regret! I just hope they can appreciate it and explore it for what it is. Sometimes I think we fall into the trap of buying guitars hoping they’ll be like X or Y and never really give ourselves a chance to find out what that specific guitar is truly capable of.
The HUB: What future do you imagine for boutique builders and where do you see yourself in it?
DK: I think the future is strong for the boutique market. There’s just endless creativity. I’m surprised every year at NAMM and other boutique shows with how many great new ideas, styles and designs come out.
There’s a flexibility in being a small company that I wouldn’t trade compared to the large companies. Sadly, it seems like once you reach a certain level, you get kind of locked into a specific thing by the general public and it’s very hard to do things outside that box. But for us small builders, if I want to go off and build a 7-string, fanned fret, semi-hollow baritone (or something bizarre like that), I can go do that. It may not be a commercial success, it may not even be a successful project, but that ability to go experiment and try new ideas keeps the entire industry fresh.
The HUB: Thanks, Doug!