Saturday, March 18, 2017

Slide 3 of 14: CIRCA 1956:  Rock and roll musician Chuck Berry plays electric guitar as he performs with his band in circa 1956. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
(c)Michael Ochs archives/getty images

RIP Chuck Berry - Wildman, showman, one of the greatest songwriters of all time.  You can't overstate his influence on the culture of music.  Here is an incredible picture that I had never seen before the announcement of his death.  Chuck plays an early 50's Kay Thin Twin.  No doubt that this guitar had yet to earn the "Jimmy Reed" nickname.  Would love to hear him work that Johnny B. Goode riff on this Kay.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Killer Kays!!

Top Row(L to R) - Truetone electric archtop, Orpheum 1/2 size terz guitar, Kay jumbo - Bottom Row(l to R) - Kay jumbo, Kay Value Leader, Kay Dread, Thin Twin

I've always had a thing for Kay guitars.  Many of them come with really good parts, some pretty nice woods and in some cases are solidly built.  I keep going back to them over and over again.  That dreadnought down in front is my number one guitar.  Every person that picks it up is blown away by its tone when they strum that first chord.  I think one of the biggest reasons I love these Kays is that many of them come with big fat necks - which i happen to love.  Most will need work if you are buying through ebay, but they are worth it.  James Ralston has worked on four of the pictured instruments and they are a joy to play.  Just thought i would upload a little family photo for the fun of it.  Here are some closer views.

Friday, April 15, 2016

2016 Gibson Hummingbird

If you follow this blog at all, then you must be wondering if this guitar is lost and can't find it's way home.  Yes, it is a brand new Gibson Hummingbird and plays a major role in one of the most wonderful guitar stories that you will ever hear.

Many moons ago, i purchased my wife an engagement ring, she accepted(much to her chagrin now!!) and returned the favor by buying me a brand new Gibson Hummingbird.  We would go out together and make an occasional stop at a local music store that had the Hummingbird and I wouldn't be able to keep my hands off of it.  At that time of my life(or any time for that matter), a Gibson Hummingbird and its price point was pretty high cotton for me.  Nonetheless, I had no intentions of purchasing it.  Well, some time later after I had presented the ring to my wife she presented me with the guitar after becoming acquainted with it by our visits to the music shop.

What a wonderful gift!!  I was blown away.  Unbeknownst to me, the neck was really wonky.  It had a nice twist in the upper register.  If you played it in first position it was fine.  Throw a capo on it and she had a tough time staying in tune.  This was a time in my life when i wasn't particularly guitar savvy.  I had really only owned one(a Taylor) and was playing out night after night with it with no real technical problems.  So i wasn't really sure what to do with the Gibson.  I had taken it to a repairman or two and no one wanted to touch it.  Nor was I aware of the lifetime warranty - i know - shame on me.

Well fast forward almost 20 years and that lifetime warranty really paid off.  I had mentioned the Hummingbird and the neck issues to my buddy Chris Carey at Parkway Music in Clifton Park, NY.  Parkway is an authorized Gibson dealer so Chris told me to bring it by.  He would look at it and see if it warranted sending it back to Gibson.  Chris looked it over, agreed the neck was a mess and sent the guitar back to Gibson Montana.  My wife still had the original receipt which made the return process a lot easier.

After a fair amount of back and forth between Chris and Gibson, it was agreed that the guitar was highly unplayable and that instead of fixing it, they would replace it with a brand new Gibson Hummingbird Standard.

Here is a link that provides all the specs and some great photos

A few weeks later Chris called me and said that the guitar was in and that he had a surprise for me as well.  I went to pick it up and it played like a dream.  It was set up perfect and sounded amazing.  I can hardly imagine what it will sound like in ten years when everything settles in.  The surprise was that Gibson had sent me back my old Hummingbird as well.  They advised that they knew it was sentimental and felt it needed to stay with me.  Chris said he had never seen or heard of anything like this.  What an effort by Gibson and Chris at Parkway Music to make things right.  I was blown away.  I didn't have to do a thing.  Chris handled all the details at Parkway Music.  All I had to do was pay the return shipping. Incredible!! 

That's some good old fashioned, stand by your product, made in the USA stuff right there.  This blog has always been about the off brand guitar, but even I would have to admit that Harmony, Kay , Regal, etc never offered a lifetime warranty like the one Gibson does. 

Gibson for life

Friday, March 18, 2016

Me and Marie

Ed Carey | Me and Marie

I just received a royalty check from CD Baby last week.  Not exactly going to pay the mortgage, but a fun piece of mail to receive.

So lets take a moment to remind you that "Me and Marie" can be found at

You can listen to clips of each track and purchase the whole record or simply download a single track.  It's an amazing resource for the independent musician. 

Thousands and thousands of people have perused this blog.  If only I could get each person to spend .99¢ on a track.

And for all you funky guitar lovers - You will get a peek of my first electric guitar rig on the CD cover - an old Japanese, teisco/hy-lo setup that has since been retired.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ry Cooder

Had a chance last night to see Ry Cooder playing with Ricky Scaggs and The Whites.  If there is any player who I think could relate to the instruments on this blog, it would probably be Ry.  Though known and constantly connected to his famed Coodercasters, there are countless photos and recordings of Ry making use of some off the beaten path instruments.

I believe in an earlier part of the tour, Ry was carrying a 1950's Kay Barney Kessel electric archtop with the kelvinator headstock.  Unfortunately, he didn't have that with him last night as it seems he might have traded up for a big 'ol Gretsch Hollowbody.  He was carrying his Guyatone LG-200t with him and showcased some slide on this guitar.  I had previously read his description regarding the tone of this guitar - rich and muscular.  He wasn't lying - It was a super thick tone that you couldn't pin to any guitar.  It certainly wasn't any tele or strat.

Though I have seen Ricky Scaggs before and have been blown away by his versatility and exceptional musicianship, this was the first time I had seen Ry.  Like many of the people there, I was hoping to get to see him cut loose  on that slide.  But this was a different type of show where old time country and gospel music was on display.  Obviously that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for wailing slide work.

What I did get to see though was something more impressive.  What I saw was a musician who remains completely capable of being an evolving artist.  Ry only broke the slide out once on the aforementioned Guyatone.  The rest of the evening was spent playing swelling hollow bodies, funky 8 string instruments and 5 string banjo - not just background banjo, but up front, take a solo, bluegrass banjo.  One of his main jobs throughout the evening was to hold down the bass part in a 4 part gospel harmony.

There was a little chit chat on stage about him gaining confidence in this role as bass singer.  I thought it was a gutsy performance.  He completely took himself out of his comfort zone and held his own in the company of some pretty fine old time singers.  He showed an audience what its like to be a real artist, one who instead of falling back on his applause getter, walked into a new realm with the possibility of falling flat(which he didn't).  You won't see Bruce Springsteen do this, or Adele or Prince or any of the "Stars" in todays horrendous country music market.  In all these cases, image supercedes artistry, disallowing for any real chances to be taken.  Instead of worrying about being the leader of a band, we all got to watch Ry really seem to enjoy simply being part of a band.

Would have loved to interview Ry for this blog and i suspect that I got as close as I ever will when he signed a concert poster for me at the end of the night.  He looked tired as i was the last of at least 150 people in line at the after show signing.  I'm just not the kind of guy who could start bombing him with questions about Chicago made guitars after he had just dealt with every Tom, Dick and Harry who wanted to tell him their story(I'm sure he had to deal with a few cuckoo birds in the course of that signing)

He had given enough that night, instructing all those Tom, Dick, Harry's, Marie's and Debbie's to do it for the art and to keep on evolving.  One can only wonder what will be next for Ry.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

1930's Slingerland Songster Acoustic Guitar

Time to take a little trip back to the 1930's when Hoover was ousted by Roosevelt and Ludwig was ousted by Slingerland as the country's top drum producer.  What a time in our history.  So much despair and yet so much art being created.  At some point we will have to study whether the two are connected.  Do we create more art in the midst of despair and turmoil?  It was certainly a tough time to be a farmer, but what seemed like a fairly good time to be an artist.  The WPA was propping up artists and their work all through this period leading to some of the finest photographs, paintings, sculptures, books and music in our history.

At this time the maker of this guitar was called the "Slingerland Musical Instrument Mfg Co.", prior to that it was "The Slingerland Banjo and Drum Company" and prior to that is was "The Slingerland Banjo Company".

The story goes that Slingerland was initially a banjo company.  Apparently the Ludwig drum company started getting into the banjo business.  Slingerland contacts Ludwig and says if you don't make banjos, we won't make drums.  Ludwig basically says F-You, Slingerland says have it your way and proceeds to take over the lead in American drum manufacturing.  This is a nice little business lesson for all you future captains of industry out there.  Play nice - or you may get your ass kicked. 

The making of drums was a fairly easy transition for a banjo company(Ludwig should have known this).  The calfskin production is already in place, you already have a factory, you basically just have to start building shells and hardware.  But what about guitars?  It is still slightly up in the air as to who did Slingerlands' guitar manufacturing. Some believe they produced guitars themselves but most seem to think they were being built either by Regal or Harmony.  Unfortunately, we are going to need a time machine to definitively get to the bottom of this.  This is the first Slingerland I have owned, but I have had a number of Maybells over the years and both these instruments have had Regal and/or Harmony characteristics.  Maybell was a name owned by Slingerland and what seems to be a more prevalent offshoot product of theirs.  One thing we can be sure of is that it was Chicago made.  The mystique of guitar manufacturing in that town in the 30's is almost too much for me to handle.

Anywho - This is a damn cool guitar with a colossally funky vibe.  Part of the reason I acquired it was because I thought it looked like a piece of folk art.  The bonus was that the instrument played pretty well too.  The only issue that needs to be addressed is the string spacing at the bridge.  As the high E string comes down the neck it starts to fade a bit off the fretboard.  This shouldn't be too hard of a fix.  Nonetheless, the tone is cool.  Just like all these catalog guitars, it has its own thing going on.  It's tough to compare it with anything.  I can say that this will make a great recording instrument as it knows how to get out of its own way.  Not too loud, not too bassy, not too bright or midrangy.  Just right.

I have a thing for these 12 fret to the body guitars.  All those shredders out there get frustrated because they can't have a jerk off session up past the 12th fret.  But that's not my scene.  These guitars are normally great fingerpickers.  Great thing about this instrument is that it holds up to a pretty heavy strum or chunking rhythm as well.  It can do it all.  Not bad for something that looks like it should just hang on the wall!!

Ladder braced, 15.5" lower bout, 1.75" nut.  Spruce top that was sanded down and re-lacquered.  Normally, i run for the exits when I see that any type of refinishing has been done and might have done the same with this instrument if I had known it was refinished - believe it or not, it didn't show up in the pictures or was done after the photos were taken.  Either way it thankfully doesn't bother me too much in this case as the argument can be made that the new finish was to preserve the block lettering on the top.  Would still loved to have received it unfinished as i have a feeling the guitar top would have been even more responsive, loud and toneful.  I can't help but feel all that lacquer knocks the sound down a bit.  Maple back, sides and neck with a rosewood fretboard.  These Chicago companies were using real deal materials.

That's some crack repair - That big 'ol splice was pretty well done and gives the guitar a facial feature - kind of like a scar on the face of the bad guy in a western

It's amazing that they would possibly "job" these guitars out to Regal and Harmony and still come up with a one of a kind headstock like this.   

these are replacement tuners with a couple of filled holes in the center of the headstock 

She is curvaceous isn't she.  All that ink is of course a mystery.  I would venture a guess that this was a guitar that may have been overseas during the war and a bunch of wartime buddies signed their names.  Sounds like a good tale at least.  This is why I love these guitars - the stories they could tell!!

It should be noted that Slingerland has a pretty important place in guitar history.  Many believe(including myself) that they built the first solid body electric guitar.  Not only that, but they initiated the neck through design.  They have a songster model that looks like a lap steel, but was built with a spanish style neck and string height that would allow for fretting. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

1950's Kay K161 Thin Twin Electric Guitar - AKA - Jimmy Reed

At long last, my very own Thin Twin.  I have been on a search for this guitar for a number of years now and have never been able to nail one down mostly because of price considerations.  The price of this guitar and its Silvertone companions has skyrocketed.  I have seen them listed for as much as $2500!!  I think you would have to have your head examined to pay that much, but hey, if you got the big bucks and feel like tossing it to the wind, go right ahead.

I generally try to hold off on advice and opinion unless I am being asked, but this is cyberspace we are dealing with here so the rules of engagement change a little bit.  So here it is.  Of course there is something to be said for "striking while the irons hot", but just as much should be said for patience.  Patience has been and will always be the right method for me with regards to buying guitars.  In most cases you can be assured that if you don't feel completely right about an instrument, you will have other chances.  I am a cook by trade, I have a family and a mortgage and fears of how I am going to be able to afford college for the kids.  I don't make a lot of dough so I have to be extremely careful about where the money is going.  I can't make "passion" purchases.  I have to be smart, somewhat cagey and above all else, patient.  I have been looking for one of these Thin Twins for over 5 years now.  I wanted to pull the string a few times, but as I said the prices are crazy and sellers are for the most part standing by their prices.

Then came this deal.  I received this guitar from a sweet woman in Indiana.  She had it on ebay and according to her was forced to take it down because she was being blacklisted by one of her selling competitors.  I found this out after she had taken the guitar off ebay.  Thankfully I had it saved in my watch list and was able to contact her.  She provided me with a number to call her at and after hearing her story, we were able to make a deal.  It was touch and go.  The story was a little sketchy and after we made the deal, communication wasn't great nor was the speed of delivery.  I actually had to call her back to consider/threaten cancellation of the transaction because I was sure I was being screwed.  We were able to deal through Paypal so there was some protection there.  I hung in there and eventually received the guitar being very pleased about the shape it was in.  In the end patience is important, but sometimes you have to take a chance and know when the deal and the time is right.

I hesitate to go to deep into the specs on this one as these guitars are fairly well documented.  They have a funky ass tone.  Neck pickup is really sweet sounding and the bridge pickup is nasty blues.  Rarely will you find such a divide in your selector switch for pickup position.  I was actually taken aback a bit by the bridge position pickup tone.  I wasn't sure what to do with it.  Wasn't long before I made it my friend realizing what a cool asset it is.  You just have to dig some fairly piercing trebles.  It's not an all the time tone, but when you throw a little reverb on it to soften it up, it can be pretty magical.

The guitar was in pretty darn good shape when I got it.  James Ralston did a neck reset on it as well as reworked the electronics.  The electronics were the biggest burden as they were all mixed up and had to be rewired.  Good luck finding a wiring schematic for one of these old dogs or any Kay guitar for that matter.

This guitar plays great now.  I can't put it down.  I get up early to play it - I go to bed late to play it.  It has the fattest neck of any guitar I have ever played and I love it.  It is a fairly big guitar and fairly heavy as well even with the chambered body.  The whole thing just feels substantial.  It feels like something that was made in the USA in the 1950's(as it was) - big, tough, funky, artistic, and something that will last forever if you take care of it.  Lord - please take us back to the 1950's with regards to manufacturing - what a cool time!!

We need to talk about this headstock for a little bit.  This particular model guitar with the maple body and tiger stripe guard is generally referred to as the "Jimmy Reed" model because of this picture of Jimmy holding this model Kay.

Jimmy Reed

The headstock on the guitar Jimmy is holding is the style headstock Kay used for its Kay branded models.
 Here is a closer look

1952 Kay Thin Twin (Jimmy Reed)

The headstock on my guitar was reserved for Silvertone branded models like this one


Never before have I seen the Silvertone type headstock on a Kay branded instrument.  The one I have is the only one I have ever seen.  I would love to know why and how this instrument came to exist.  Is it a one off, are there others that I haven't seen?  Was it because this model was at the end of a production run and they  were just using up parts any way they could?   Another wonderful guitar mystery brought to you by the Kay Guitar Manufacturing Company.