12/16/2015

1940s Kay-made K90 Resonator Guitar




Update: Got a nice sunny day outside so I shot some new pics.

This is a mid-40s Kay-made resonator and it was sold through their catalogs as a K90, but I see these often listed under different brands as well (Orpheum in particular). When these have been gone-through and dialed-in setup-wise, they make tremendously loud, gutsy guitars with a lot more warmth on the bottom than usual for a biscuit-cone resonator guitar.

They have some of the usual period Kay "features," however, which can make them unusual for playing/maintenance reasons: a long 25 3/4" scale length coupled to an unreinforced neck -- this means that one needs to string the guitar with extra light (46w-10) strings for regular use to keep the neck happy, though that long scale really gives those strings the equivalent tension of heavier 11s on a regular National-style scale (25").


The body shape is borrowed from the Kay archtop line and is rather like a "mini jumbo" version of a 000 body size. It's a lot of airspace compared to a regular resonator guitar. Under the hood is a pine soundwell glued to the underside of the top (suspended) and while I usually block these up with legs on the bottom, this one was in really good shape so I left it as-is.

Work included a neck reset (glued and bolted internally), fret level/dress (which alleviated a bit of relief in the neck), new saddle and nut, cleaning, setup, and cone/coverplate swaps.

This guitar originally came with a 30s-style 9 1/2" National cone installed and a "b-stock" coverplate like on that Orpheum, but both the cone and coverplate are replaced on this, now. The biscuit is the original one (now with bone saddle) and the cone is a 70s/80s-looking thing that's possibly a Beard (or similar) version of a biscuit cone and actually sounds really, really close to the original-style cone with perhaps a slightly more honk in the midrange (think a bit more like spider cone response) and a smoother high end. The ever-so-slight loss of power with this cone type vs. the slightly lighter-weight embossed/ridged National cones is made-up-for by the bigger airspace that definitely gives this some juice.

As for the coverplate: the original was caved-in when it came here and had a bunch of denting/warping, so it was recycled for parts and a newer National Reso-Phonic-style coverplate (not sure if it's the real deal or an Asian import, but it's lightly used and so looks more "right") was installed. It has the removable bridge cover which makes setup a breeze.


The nut width is a hair over 1 5/8" and the rosewood board is flat-profile. This has a C-shaped neck that's fairly modern-depth in the 1-7 area and gets more "vintage" above that.


The brass frets are on the low side but that's how they were "born" anyhow. The inlay is celluloid and the board has been sprayed-over. That was done at the factory but I also think this whole guitar had a shot of overspray at one point as well.

There's still slight relief in the neck (between 1/64" and 1/32" overall) and so I've set this up with 3/32" overall action at the 12th fret. This feels right, anyhow, as my tendency is to dig a bit when playing reso, anyway. The strings are a custom "extra light" set of 46w, 36w, 26w, 18w, 15, 10 -- though any regular 10s set will do.


The body is all thick plywood with a top veneer of spruce and mahogany veneer on the back and sides. The neck itself is poplar, I think.

The treble side of the top has one break in the binding at the waist but it's not very obvious at a glance.




That's the original tail. I've added foam muting to cut down on overtones both under the tailpiece and also under the bridge cover.

I'm wondering if "Sonny Smith" is the same as this fellow who I'm familiar with from Sonny & the Sunsets.




These Kluson Deluxe tuners look like later additions to me, though they do fit the same footprint that the original openback Kluson tuners would've used.







The endpin is newer, too.

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