1/05/2012

c.1938 Kay-made Oahu Volu-Tone Spanish Electric Guitar





Kay made these electrified archtop-body "Spanish" guitars for Oahu from 1937-1939, hence my "1938" date. These are among the first generation of true production electric guitars (not lap steels) and have that hollowbody, jazz box sound and feel in spades.

This one had a number of things needed to be addressed when I got it: neck needed to be reset, it needed a fret dress, new bridge, new nut, and the pickup's (presumably for shielding?) "wings" needed to be taped back up so they didn't rattle or fall out. While I did that work I also replaced the old end pin jack (a screw-on style) with a new Switchcraft acoustic-style endpin jack and installed a strap button as well.

The result is a decent-playing, very cool, very rare, and stylish instrument perfectly suited to blues, old-timey jazz and swing, and for that matter... anything an electric player might want for that different, '30s and '40s jazz-box sound.


Crack-free instrument and bound on the top, back, and fretboard. The sunburst is pretty cool as well. Everything but the neck is laminate, though even with the lighter-gauge electric strings and 1/2 lb pickup installed, it still manages to have a pretty loud and decent acoustic tone with good projection.


New bone nut, cool Oahu decal.


MOP dots in a rosewood board. Nickel-silve frets are dressed. These old Kay-built archtops have a 25 7/8"-ish scale which means that they often have neck warp issues as the long scale coupled even with regular lights (54w-12) means a lot more tension than on a more normal 25 to 25 1/4" scale.

This one is no exception and has a 1/32" warp down its length. I managed to reduce the "feel" of that warp in terms of playability by leveling the frets more closely at the nut and neck join (so the action is 1/8" at the 12th) but it's still there and means this doesn't play super-fast but plays fast enough. Feels essentially like playing a typical old acoustic but springier.


Very cool radio-dial bakelite buttons and dial plates.


Such a profusion of fiery tortoise celluloid! Note the individual pole piece style pickup.


Rather than slap on a regular repro adjustable rosewood bridge, I cut this compensated one out of a scrap piece of ebony in my box of wood bits. I tend to think these one-piece bridges add a heck of a lot more in the way of tone to old archtops, but they sure are more of a bother to make and install.


Sturdy tailpiece.



The "look" of the guitar is too cool. It reminds me of some old sci-fi robot.




These appear to be later tuners (1950s/60s) but work just fine.







Here you can see the new standard-style Switchcraft jack and also a newly-installed strap button.


...and it even has a grungy original case.

3 comments:

Alexander Cardinal said...

how much would something like this sell for. i have a 40s oahu archtop flamed maple.

Antebellum Instruments said...

Sorry, I do not offer valuation on instruments that are not directly in front of me, where I can inspect them fully.

daklub said...

I jusst bought a 38 Ohau. and love it dearly, such great.wonderful uniqure tone and excellent action. Lokking over your site and teh images you have I've already come to term with how to add a strap... as these beauties were conosidered a COncert in instrument in those days. (One would sit behind the amp ) . So are these consodered the first electric guitars played in the traditional position,,,,, as opposed the lap Steels..... BYW I also own a 56 peraloid lap.... Any was any onfo oyu have about the insturment would be great,,,,,, As I said I love this beauty....