11/25/2013

c.1940 Kay-made Oahu Mahogany Hawaiian Guitar



This squareneck (made for lap play with a steel/slide), solid-mahogany cutie was made by Kay for the Oahu catalog of instruments. It closely resembles the Kay-made versions of the 65k and 66k models but lacks the fancy binding that are usually present on those. The only binding on this guy is around the soundhole. Otherwise -- it's the same guitar. I've handled a few of the fancier versions and this is braced and built the same.

Work on this included changing the neck joint from a dovetail to a bolted tenon design (it had a botched-up dovetail joint when it arrived here), some fills and sealing to a couple of hairline cracks on the back, general cleaning, and setup. The tone is quite forward, loud, and zingy with that sweet high, focused bottom that one comes to expect from mahogany. It's got way more horsepower than I'd expect for a shorter (24 1/2") scale and a set of 12s detuned to open D. I think of this tone as very much suited to faster Hawaiian or country-style work or blues.




While in-person the roughed-up finish doesn't look too bad, in photos you can easily see the distressing in the glare. It's a quite-dark two-tone sunburst in line with the style Kay used on their lap steels and other Oahu products of the time.

The body is solid mahogany while the neck is dark-stained poplar. The bridge is rosewood and has a graceful pyramid design while the fretboard is dyed/ebonized maple.


The Oahu decal is nearly gone at the headstock. The tuners are original and work great. Note that they're the "Safe-T-String" type made by Kluson which loads like those 50s and 60s types used on Fenders. The raised metal nut is original, too.


Pearl dots.


The bridge must have been reglued in recent memory -- and it's holding just dandy. The pearl-dot rosewood pins are newer types but look nice with it.

Crack-wise, the guitar is in pretty good shape but there are the (above mentioned) two hairlines on the back and also a couple of very tiny ones on the top where screws used to mount a plastic pickguard. The pickguard is long-missing and I've drop-filled the holes so they don't detract from the look.





The build is light as a feather.



Despite re-working the neck, there's a paper-thin gap at the very bottom of the heel which is caused by the heel-cap being placed not perfectly flush with the rest of the neck. On many of the Kays and Regals from the time, the necks were never built perfectly flush to begin with -- and it hardly matters on a lap guitar like this guy, anyhow.



There are the two new sunken bolts that attach the neck to the body nice and snug like the "upper" bolt in a Gibson coordinator-rod design.


The Oahu branding in the soundhole is clean and clear...

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