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Hand Made Guitars by Luthier Dan Koentopp

Review of a 2013 Chicagoan

Front Profile of Koentopp Chicagoan


“My first advice to anyone thinking of having Danny build you a guitar, is to stop thinking and go for it! Danny is a little genius of luthiery, very agreeable to work with, and a real artist.

As I waited for long months from the time I secured my place in Danny’s lineup to the time he began building my guitar, we exchanged a lot of communication. I was so impressed with the careful answers he gave to my many, many questions. In fact, along with a great guitar, I got a nice education in the factors at play in building a guitar! As we exchanged ideas, the clear image of my guitar began to emerge. Some of our original intuitions were scrapped – it was going to be a 16” Blueline, and it became a 17” Chicagoan; it was going to be parallel braced, it wound up with x-bracing; wood choices changed, as did much of the aesthetic. The whole process of walking with Dan as his idea of how to express what I was communicating was a lot of fun!


Chicagoan Back with Flamed European Maple


I wanted a guitar that was acoustically round, had a lot of shimmer, yet was not too bright in the midrange. I wanted something that could handle complex voicings and maintain clarity, while also remaining full and quickly responsive for soloing – a modern sound, yet deeply influenced by the tradition. I sent Danny a number of videos, recordings, and even made a stop in Chicago to discuss things and try out a few of the guitars in his shop. In the whole time of working to communicate that difficult thing of “tone,” Danny was always responsive, correcting my misconceptions, and affirming where my intuitions were right. In short, we conceptualized the instrument together – I with an idea, Dan with the artistry to understand and achieve it. Many of the particulars came into clearer focus after Danny saw and heard me play. I think that is when my instrument was finally born in his mind!

A number of elements of my instrument were standard to Danny’s “Chicagoan” model. It is a 17” Chicagoan with 22 frets and the curved fingerboard extension. It has a 25” scale length, a Kent Armstrong floating humbucker, Danny’s trim package and a 3-piece maple neck.


Neck with Maple binding and pearl position markers


There are also a number of non-standard touches that Danny did just for me that I’m very proud of. He planned a new f-hole design for my guitar that matched both aesthetic (symmetry and softness) and acoustic (I’d let Danny say more here, but some of it has to do with a combination of openness and the complexity that comes from more top surface vibrating) goals that we had. He also let me get creative at the last minute to have a gorgeous inlay of St. Cecilia designed and created that he set in the back of the headstock. We discussed wood options to best meet our aesthetic and tonal goals and settled on really beautiful European tonewoods.


Inlay of Saint Cecilia in a Macassar Ebony veneer


Headstock face with Chicagoan logo inlay


What’s the verdict? Aesthetically, it looks so warm and at home. All of the fit and finish work is top notch. I communicated with Dan recently about the color, which seems to be getting more complex and rich with time. He assures me that this is normal. The extended integrated use of Macassar ebony and rich layers of organic brown finish all tie the aesthetic together. Whenever I take it out of the case for a new group of people, there are a lot of “Oohs,” and “Aaaahs.” I’ve never seen a guitar with a finish quite as rich an interesting as this, and I am certain that few I know have either. One of my bass player buddies remarked, “I almost don’t care what it sounds like!!”


Back arching and with figured Maple binding


But I’m not a bass player it is my guitar, so I do care! So, what does it sound like?  It came out of the box with so many of the characteristics I wanted. It was a bit tight at first and needed to open up, but already had the clarity, a good deal of complexity and some of the shimmer. Since then, the sound has developed greatly. It is open, huge and responsive. In fact, I’ve never played a guitar this responsive. If I want it to sing with delicacy, it will; if I want to unload with drive and focus, it will; if I want clear focused single-note be-bop lines, it handles it without a problem; if I want to play complex chord voicings with every note balanced and the whole voicing rich, it delivers that with confidence. It can be dark, warm, shimmering, penetrating, gentle, and if I play in the lower register and a bit of extra attack, sounds like a roaring lion!


Chicagoan front and back


There are a couple of things I’m still getting used to and will be for a while. First, everything must be set up perfectly for the full range of tonal color and shadings that are possible. Not long after the guitar arrived, I was wondering why the tone seemed to be lacking. I discovered that the 4th string had come out of its bridge slot very slightly. One it was restored, everything returned. The only flaw I have discovered was a tone pot that was slightly loose and was causing a lot of buzz at one frequency. Once I finally figured out what was causing it, and gave the hex key a little turn, the problem was solved! Every nuance of playing drastically affects the overall tone quality, including pick choice. I find that I am becoming a more accurate player, not least because I’m inspired to play much more often, but also because of the subtlety with which this beast responds.

I see this guitar as an investment. Its value has already increased greatly since I ordered it. The personal value, though, cannot be measured. Danny crafted a guitar that not only exceeded my expectations, but has changed my idea of what a handmade guitar should be. Those who own a Koentopp know what I mean. Those who do not, give him a shot. You won’t be disappointed.”

-Nick Schneider


Close up of modern Chicagoan Fhole


Front perspective


Macassar Ebony appointments with Kent Armstrong floating pickup and curved fingerboard extension


Fhole bound in Flamed Maple





2 Responses to “Review of a 2013 Chicagoan”

  1. GARY FISHER Says:

    great guitar the wood is superb my blog is under construction it’s fpr the love of guitars
    i have included a photo of this guitar if this is a problem for you i will remove it thanks great work

  2. admin Says:

    Thanks Gary! Feel free to use it but please just include my information.

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