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.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Stella/Harmony H1105 Grand Concert Acoustic Guitar

Here's a quick little post about a 1949 Stella flat top acoustic guitar.  This guitar was actually made by Harmony as they had bought Stella in 1940.  They retained the Stella name on many of their instruments, but the builds were clearly Harmony.

This is an all birch barker that shows its age with a bunch of nicks, scratches and dings.  Surprisingly, it plays pretty well.  I just changed out the tuners as the last ones were not particularly cooperative.  This was apparently the first model that Harmony made after they bought Stella.  With the 1949 date on this one we can see that this guitar had a pretty good run of production.  Harmony did a pretty good job dating their products.  It is a bit easier nailing down more exact dates than it is with Kay.

Real fun guitar to play.

during World War II, the tailpieces on these were made out of wood as all metal production went towards the war effort.  Kind of makes you wonder who was making the guitars in the Chicago factories during wartime.

Well there's something you don't see very much of any more - a Made in USA stamp.  One of the great things about guitars and guitar production is that guitars are one of the few things that are actually still made in this country. 

The name -Valentrina- is written in pencil.  A "V" is also etched into the top of the guitar.  Makes you think if Mr or Mrs Valentrina remember owning this instrument or if he or she ever wonders where it might be.  As I have stated before, the journey these instruments can take really fascinates me.  I can't help but wonder where this guitar started its life.

1954 Kay K10 Auditorium Size(OOO) Acoustic Guitar

Here we have a 1950's Kay 000 size acoustic guitar.  This guitar is in about as good a shape as you will find for something its age.  You will see from the pictures how clean it is.  She required a little work to get her into fine playing shape, but hey, they all do.  All we really had to do on this one was a neck reset.  Now she plays perfect.

This guitar came to me as a package deal with the Maybell from the previous post which has caused it to suffer a bit of an unfortunate fate.  If it had come on its own without competition from the Maybell, I would probably be spending a lot of time with it right now.  It is a fine player and really comfortable to hold and perform on.  The problem is the Maybell of the previous post is crushing everything in its path.  Tonally, this Kay has a vibe but can't compete with the Maybell.  The difference is most likely in the wood composition as it seems the Maybell is all solid woods.  Kays were known for there use of laminates and I believe this guitar probably showcases some of that laminate.  The slightly smaller body size and use of laminates leaves you with a slightly less refined tone.  Nonetheless, it is a spunky player and a joy to practice on.

This model was made in the 1950's.  There is a cool website out there called the King Of Kays( that has a nice listing of Kay catalogs that has this exact model in a 1954 catalog.  Kay made a number of these 000 size bodies with different wood combinations throughout the 50's and 60's.  I'm not sure how many years this model was in production.  The catalog claims that this guitar has "genuine" mahogany top, back and sides.  I'm not sure what the word "genuine" does for us in terms of describing if the guitar is made of hardwoods or laminates.  Catalog claims use of a rosewood fretboard and bridge.  I have a thing for these Kay bridges and try to save them whenever we can.  Many times the string slots have to be repaired after years of wire cutting into them, but I feel it is worth it.  These bridge types are synonymous with Kay products and a great way to help you identify the brand.

This guitar has a 15" wide lower bout - 10.5" wide upper bout and a 25.5 " scale.  The nut width is 1.5", but feels bigger due to the depth and shape of the neck.  This has that classic Kay baseball bat feel to it which I love.  This guitar is a great fingerpicker, but if you are looking to hit it a bit harder you might want to opt for a Kay dread(one of my favorites) or a Kay jumbo as they can both handle a hefty strum a lot better.  This is a fun guitar, nice playing instrument.  We all know it can't compete with your 000 1950's Martin, but then again you should be able to pick one of these up without having to clean out the bank account which has always been one of the greatest draws to these instruments for me.

cool, slightly retro style headstock logo that comes in a plate form.  You don't see many of these

classic Kay headstock shape.  another great way to identify the brand

Kay loved using Kluson tuners

an unfortunately meaningless serial number.  wish that Kay had given us a better way to date their instruments.  Harmony was often able to do it and they were producing just as much as Kay was.