11/08/2015

1950s Kay Modded 5-String Electrified Hawaiian Guitar




This began as a run-of-the-mill late-50s Kay student box (14" lower bout so 00 size) with laminate back and sides and a ladder-braced solid spruce top. It also has a more-quaint-than-usual 24 1/4" scale length which is something absent on most Kays (which tend to tote near-26" scales). A very narrow nut (a hair over 1 1/2") and a back-bowed neck meant that I wasn't going to spend the time making this work as a practical regular-playing guitar, too, so I converted it to this bizarro rig (see here for another one) and I think the guitar's ghost is pretty happy with its transformation.

This is now, basically, a 5-string hollowbody lap steel -- though the acoustic sound is nice for on-the-lonesome playing or recording. My contributions were to replace the junked original bridge with a straight-saddle one, fill/redrill of the pinholes, a new tall nut, slight mod at the headstock, and of course installation of a fun GFS Dano-style lipstick pickup and volume control (just in the right place for "swells"). It sounds darn cool and the semi-acoustic chime that the lipstick pup puts out really works with the bright, sing-songy sound of the guitar itself.


My intention for the 5-string setup is to make open G tuning (GDGBD or GDGDG -- which is what it's in) nice and practical, though of course you can tune something like this however you want. Having it 5-string means that the awkward "low bass D" in 6-string G-tuning is no longer there -- and it makes use of the narrow nut width.


Filled "B" string post slot... and big new bone "raised" nut.


The board and bridge are both Brazilian rosewood.


All the trim is prettily-hokey in its painted-on form.


So -- why not pop the pickup in the soundhole?

Those of us used to lap steels (and playing "up high") will know that the 2nd octave position is usually in the middle of the soundhole. If you put a magnetic pickup in there your signal will drop right out as the steel/slide/bar goes over it. So -- I cut a hole between the ladder braces instead and dropped the pickup in there. Besides -- the awkward-but-fun design effect of the pickguard and control layout is too good to pass up.

Mounting the pickup this way makes it easily adjustable for height as well.


This is an older rosewood bridge from my parts-bin and you can see I've filled the old pinholes (as well as some ill-advised bolt holes) and installed it on here in lieu of the original (shoddy) bridge. The pins are plastic Martin ones from my bins and the saddle is bone.





These are all older tuners from around the right time.


The neck is actually set nice and tight.



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