Friday, November 15, 2013

1960's Kay Dreadnought

Here we have a 1960's Kay dreadnought.  This guitar follows as a great companion to the Kay jumbo in the previous post although a bit more of a project and not quite as amenable as the jumbo was.  It took a lot to get her to its current state.  Again, I pulled the bridge on this one.  The old bridge was shaved down way beyond where it should be.  It was so thin that I'm surprised it supported any string tension.  When I pulled it off, it came off in pieces because of how thin it was.  Thankfully I had a period Kay replacement bridge that fits nicely.

The real work on this guitar was the neck work done by James Ralston.  I steamed the neck off and attempted a reset, but had little luck.  I sent it to James and after a lot more hours than either one of us expected he got it reset to perfection.  James had to do a bunch of work on the fretboard as well as a fair amount of fretwork to get everything to where it should be.  The neck is now straight and plays great.  I like the neck on this guitar.  Its not as smooth as the aforementioned Kay jumbo but it has a unique profile.  It has that baseball bat depth but the fretboard is not as wide as you would expect.  Note the nice big frets and the oversized pearloid dots.
The amount of time James had to put into getting this dread to act nice was a lot more than any low budget guitar should require.  A testament to his work ethic.  He comes highly recommended by me.  Check out his website at

The good news is that I probably have one of the few Kay dreads from this period that plays well, has a straight neck and intonates properly.  The guitar itself is not rare, but the fact that it plays well is. 
Note how the Kay dread features more of a square shouldered body.  To my eye is doesn't look like any other dread, which is amazing.  Again, just think, Kay was a company that was pumping out tons of guitars yet they were still able to incorporate elements of style and design that said this guitar is uniquely a Kay.  Kay had many elements of design that made their instruments unmistakable.  There are still a number of their older models on my wish list.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

1950's/1960's Kay Jumbo

All of my life I have considered songwriting to be a trade.  A trade not unlike that which the carpenter , plumber, electrician or house painter performs.  I am sure I envy the carpenters skills more than he envy's mine.  As much as I would like to fancy myself a woodworker, I have put the bulk of my time and efforts towards the task of songwriting.  Needless to say, because of this effort I feel that I am a competent writer and a somewhat incompetent carpenter.
Through the years I have considered the guitar the tool of my trade.  I played one guitar for years, wrote tons of songs on that guitar, played tons of gigs and watched as that instrument accumulated  the nicks, scratches and road rash associated with a well loved and worn guitar.  I kept this guitar in shape.  I buy good products and then treat my possessions well.  I am a firm believer in the old adage "if you buy crap, you are going to buy it twice".

Then something happened along the way.  It wasn't that I had plans to separate myself from my number one guitar(it still gets a lot of playing time) it was just that I felt that guitar needed some company.  If you follow this blog you will see that my number one now has quite a bit of company.

I have become a somewhat fastidious collector, quite adept at finding a diamond in the rough.  In fact, that is essentially how I focus my efforts - finding the diamonds in the rough.  I search out instruments that cost very little and seem to be somewhat unwanted due to their condition or lack of super vintage pedigree or distinction.  This is the world I live in because this is the world I can afford to live in.  It's not for everyone which I suppose is why it is for me. 

With that said I have found another diamond in the rough.  A 1950's/1960's Kay jumbo guitar.  There is something about the Kay line of guitars that keeps me coming back to them.  I love the design elements, the look of most of them and their history.  They are often very hard to date.  Kay never used factory order numbers because they were churning out so many guitars for the department store trade they probably felt no one wanted to know that they were the proud owner of guitar number 135,632 off the line.  You will find serial numbers inside the body of most Kays but that information has been deemed essentially useless unless someone stumbles upon a secret log one day.  It is unfortunate we can't date most of their instruments, but in some ways this just increases my fondness for these guitars as there will always be some intrigue and mystery tied to them.

I would love to know what the serial numbers were intended for

This guitar required quite a bit of work to get her up and running.  When I got it the neck was pulling away from the body - the bridge was warped and lifting - a small metal bar was used as a saddle - the frets needed work and the spruce beneath the bridge had been mangled in a previous repair attempt.  I pulled the bridge and soaked it.  I then clamped it down for days and was very happy to find the bridge had reclaimed its old shape.  I had a lot of time consuming touch up to do after the bridge was off.  I had to fill a lot of chips with tiny pieces of spruce.  It was clear a previous owner wasn't particularly patient when pulling the bridge off in the past.  The bridge border shows a fair amount of abuse.
The bridge was replaced and is tight to the body.  I then took off the neck and sent the guitar to James Ralston of Road Toast Guitars.  James did a magnificent job resetting the neck as well as refretting the guitar and cutting a new saddle slot.  A lot of these old Kays are infamous for somewhat poor intonation due to a certain part not being in the right position.  This was the case with the saddle.  Remember these were mass produced guitars - in order to love them you have to be willing to deal with some of the faults.  Thankfully in GuitarWorld there aren't too many things that can't be fixed.

What we ended up with is probably one of the most tonally balanced guitars I have ever played.  This is a ladder braced jumbo - but the ladder bracing combined with the big body make for a wonderful combo.  The bigger body knocks down some of that trebly ladder braced tone while kicking up the mids and rounding out the lows.  The lows on these x-braced jumbos(and on many dreadnaughts) can be overbearing in my opinion.

James did an amazing job on the neck and fretwork.  This guitar is surprisingly one of the easiest instruments I have ever played.  Remember its a Kay and supposed to be a bit wonky.  Not so.  I will put the playability of this guitar up against any $2000 instrument out there.  It is straight as an arrow and the action is perfect as is the intonation.

You don't see many pearl parallelogram inlays, especially on an instrument that wasn't considered a top of the line product. 

Here is a shot of the unmistakable Kay headstock.  The woods used on this guitar are beautiful.  They used mahogany on the faceplate to match the back, sides and neck.  The top is spruce with a rosewood fretboard. 
What a beauty.  I wish you all could play it to hear and feel what I am talking about.  This is the kind of guitar that keeps me on the hunt.  It is a real score and worth way more to me than what I payed for it.  Keep an eye out for this jumbos sister dreadnaught in an upcoming post.