4/12/2011

c.1938 Kay-made Archtop Guitar




Update 2015: This guitar came back for some new work and resale and so I updated the pictures.

This is a customer's archtop guitar, in for a neck set, fret dress, and setup, as well as some cleaning and hairline crack repair. It's turned out nice -- plays well -- and also has good volume and punch. The top is a press-arched solid piece of spruce, while the back and sides and neck look like solid birch to me (though it's possible they're plain-wrap maple). Fretboard looks like ebonized maple. It plays well but the neck angle is a little shallow so the bridge is lower than average.

Inside there's a "December 1938" stamp that fits for the hardware and style of the instrument, and the 25 3/4" scale length and neck profile gives this one away as a Kay-made instrument. Update: I'm fairly certain this is a Kay build.


It's bound on the top and back with cream/white celluloid, has a simple tailpiece, simple open-backed tuners (that function well) with cream buttons, and full s-shaped F-holes, rather than 3-part F-holes typical of other press-arched makes at the time.


This has a bone nut and 1 3/4" width.


MOP dots inlaid in the board, narrow frets, and board is lightly radiused. I've got the guitar strung with 50w-11 strings but have the trebles stepped-up a gauge (to 12 and 16) for extra power on leads. The long scale and unreinforced neck meant that with 12s the neck added a hair of relief when tuned to pitch -- and thus threw the action off a tad. I prefer to be pretty conservative about such matters and as the guitar sounds great with 11s -- why not leave it there?

Action is good at 3/32" bass and 1/16" treble at the 12th fret -- spot-on.


The instrument's neck pocket was not quite in the same condition it was when the guitar was built, so both before and after neck set the neck angle is less than ideal. The old bridge had been modified to begin with, but I used the original rosewood bridge base and added a new topper. Update: this has been replaced with a compensated aluminum saddle from a Bigsby whammy bridge -- a very cool mod that gives a unique tone and good intonation.


Cool firestripe tortoise pickguard with heavy-duty bracket design (this is better than typical brackets which only have one screw for support).




Note that I have the strings riding under the edge of the tailpiece -- this keeps the tail thoroughly off the top and increases back-angle on the saddle (for better tone).



Finish is weather-checked and scratched up all over but still gives a nice gleam.

Open-backed tuners are in good shape. These are old Kluson units.









Overall, a nice-playing, old-timey guitar equally suited to lead or blues work. Update: after the recent work it's a bit more aggressive and gutsier and really has a nice jazz-comp voice, too. Note the original chip case that comes with it as well.

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