Thursday, July 24, 2014

1960's Kay Value Leader Single Pickup Electric Guitar

What a beauty!!  Here we have a 1960's Kay Value Leader guitar.  This particular model has been on my "want" list for quite some time.  I had to wait to get a good deal, but finally came across one.  The prices on a lot of these "budget brand" guitars are creeping up at a pretty fast rate.  I have seen versions of this guitar priced at $800-$900!!  Again, it's capitalism and you can ask whatever you want.  Whether you get it is a whole other thing.  Generally, I see Kays and the like that are way overpriced sit for very long periods of time unsold.  It seems that many of the sellers are trying to manufacture more of a market for these instruments than there really is.  Maybe someday they'll be worth what people hope, but my love for these guitars not withstanding, the vintage market is still ruled by Fender, Martin and Gibson.

A while back I put up a link to a video on you tube of the great Lonnie Johnson doing a song called "Another Night To Cry".  That link was disabled due to some apparent copyright infringements.  No harm was intended, but I'm not quite sure who's rights were being infringed or who even owned the video.  Nonetheless, it is a video that every guitarist should see.  No facial contortions or guitar neck choking, just smooth, soulful blues played not only by a master, but a man who knew the blues first hand.  This was not a man on a mission to search for reasons to have the blues like many of the white blues players who followed him.  Hell, he didn't even really want to be considered a blues artist.  Lonnie thought of himself as a Jazz guy who had to play the blues to get by.  I've always liked the blues, but really gravitate towards those who reference the blues as opposed to those who straight out co-opt it. Lonnie was an original, and he wasn't co-opting anything, but it seems that if Lonnie had his way he would have been a player that chose to reference the blues in his playing.  There was apparently a lot more than just a strict blues artist standing behind that guitar.  Just listen to his work with Eddie Lang to hear what I'm talking about.

Lonnie Johnson was by many accounts the creator of the single string solo on the guitar.  This is mind blowing and sad at the same time as Eric Claptons, Jimi Hendrix's, and Jeff Becks estates are all doing very well I would suppose.  Lonnie died penniless in 1970.  Lonnie seemed to be a complete musician who was competent at a number of instruments and was a wonderful vocalist.  To this day he has yet to really receive his due.  Two of the biggest bullshit quasi musical enterprises in history - Rolling Stone magazine and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - lack paying any sort of tribute to him.  This is the man who invented the guitar solo!!!  Nothing against ABBA, but i have to feel that Lonnie Johnson just might be a little more important to the history of music and a bit more worthy as an inductee.  I could go on and on.  Hopefully you get the point and spend some time with Lonnie Johnson.

The reason for going off on a Lonnie Johnson tangent is that in that previously mentioned video, Lonnie is playing a Kay Value Leader guitar.  For me, it is pure proof that it is the guitarist and not the guitar.  He is using a very simple and inexpensive guitar and he is not using any effects, yet his tone is beautiful.  Its all in the hands.  I think Ry Cooder would tell you the same thing.

Like I said, this guitar is simply made and constructed in a way that it allows for easy repair and setup.  The neck is a bolt on, there is a truss rod, single pickup and easy access to the electronics which lie attached to and underneath the chrome pickguard.

I've said in the past that I am a sucker for a single pickup guitar and this one is no exception.  It's all right in front of you.  Keep your volume dialed in below half way and you get smooth blues and jazz tones.  Turn your volume up all the way and things get nasty.  I love the neck on this guitar.  It is wide, yet very easy to play.  The fact that the fretboard is maple is pretty cool as well.  You don't see that on a lot of Kay products.  I would say that the maple reminds you of a strat or a tele, but you will never play a fender with this wide of a neck.  I think these wide necks are one of the major reasons I love the Kay product line.

I happen to like the sound of the single pickup which many call a pancake pickup or, I think the more descriptively accurate "zippo" pickup.  They are not the hottest pickups, but I usually don't concern myself too much with that.  I get all the volume that I need from them.  These pickups have often been mistaken for Dearmonds, which they are not.  They were actually manufactured by Kay in the Kay factory.  There were three versions of the value leader - a single pickup, double pickup and triple pickup.  Their model numbers were k1961, k1962 and k1963 respectively.  The pickups are dated on the underside of them.  I have yet to pull the pickup, but I would suggest that this guitar is mid sixties - 1964 or 1965.  They came out with this line in 1960 and the earlier versions did not have a truss rod, but came with a "steel reinforced neck".  Mine has a truss rod and I am thankful for that as I have read that many who owned the earlier versions, own a guitar with a warped neck.  The neck on this one is amazingly straight.  I took a bit of a chance on buying this one and it worked out.  The guitar plays and sounds wonderful.  I haven't been able to put it down since I got it.  Let the vintage snobs fight over their Gibsons, Martins and Fenders.  If the Kay Value Leader was good enough for Lonnie Johnson, than it is most certainly good enough for me.
Some honest wear on the neck.  This guitar didn't just sit in someone's closet.  It was played, and I love that.  Would be great to know of its history