c.1959 Kay Barney Kessel Artist Archtop Electric Guitar

Update: I've added new photos and updated the description as the owner of this guitar has decided to list it for sale.

This is a Kay "Barney Kessel" Artist model guitar and when it was made it was part of Kay's attempt to appeal to a higher-end audience by attaching jazz guitarist Barney Kessel's name to the product. It's a fancy guit, for sure, and full of bling. It also sounds fabulous! The neck pickup gives a deep, full-range jazz/blues tone while the bridge pickup is remarkably nasal and sparkly. It's almost like one gets a thinner "acoustic" or "Fender-y" tone out of the bridge pickup which lends itself to chimey backing chords while one gets a thick "jazz" tone from the neck pickup for leads. Between the two there's a wide tonal palette to dig into.

Features like the Rotomatic-style tuners (which appear to be original?) and the presence of the signature on the pickguard lead me to believe this is a 1959 model. In 1960 the signature was dropped, so we know it's from between '57 and '59 already ('57 was when the model was introduced).

This guitar came into the shop via the "Skanktone" collection and was part of a buddy's hoard of cool and eclectic vintage gear, some of which is sourced from his "Skanktone Guitars" business.

Work included slightly repositioning the pickups, adjustment to the Melita bridge (saddles), and setup. The guitar plays great, has excellent frets in good shape, and is remarkably clean. It also appears to be all-roginal! I've had the chance to work on two other Kessels just like this one for customers and both were in much worse-off condition and had numerous replacement parts.

There are a couple of "melts" to the bass side of the peghead veneer, which are more than likely cigarette burns. Still, check out that lovely reverse-painted gold and silver '50s bling! I love it. These headstocks go by the "Kelvinator" moniker since they're so similar to the refrigerator badges.

This has a bound rosewood board, medium-big frets, pearl-block inlay, and a long 25 7/8" scale. I've set the action "on the dot" at 1/16" at the 12th fret with a hair above that for the bass side.

The single-coil pups have very cool clear-textured plastic covers, adjustable polepieces, and stamped metal surrounds. The pickguard is raised like on any other archtop and is reverse-sprayed silver.

The top of this guitar is actually solid spruce (press-arched). The back and sides are laminate flamed maple and the whole thing has a lovely sunburst throughout.

The adjustable Melita bridge is a great help for intonation. This means it didn't need to be modified at all to rock the plain G that's on this guitar at the moment. String gauges feel like 11s to me (they're whatever were on the guitar when it arrived).

Nice "made in Germany" tailpiece. The knobs are for tone/tone and volume/volume with a three-way switch. Everything works fine.

Don't ya love those big pearl blocks?

This is definitely a deluxe guitar. It's toting all sorts of fancy trim.  The 15"+ lower bout hollowbody archtop feel is also quite at home to any rockabilly or jazz guitarist and the long scale gives it plenty of snap and zing feeding into the pickups.

Truss rod access is in the heel.

Hands down, one cool guit -- and it has an (older) chip case that comes along for the ride!


Larry Luthi said...

How much is this or what did it sell for.

Jake Wildwood said...

Never sold it, sorry. The values on these are up/down/up/down. Try using eBay's "advanced search" feature targeted to "sold listings" to find any that have sold in the past to get a ballpark.