1930s Kay-made Oahu 71K Jumbo Hawaiian Guitar

First of all: it was finally warm enough around midday to snag a few pictures of this beaut on the quick -- although it came at the cost of getting smacked by an icicle falling on my head! Bleeding in the line of duty, I suppose...

While advertised as a "jumbo" in the 37-38 Oahu catalog, this mid/late-30s guitar clocks-in at "mini-jumbo" size today with a 15 3/4" lower bout and 4" side depth. It would've been fairly big compared to average at the time, however, for a flattop, squareneck, Hawaiian guitar. Yes: this was meant to be played Dobro-style -- face-up in the lap with a steel/bar/slide.

Oahu guitars were made by several Chicago companies for the brand, though this one was almost certainly made by Kay. There's a slightly older variant with a smaller-width body that's x-braced (think "Nick Lucas" size) and often serves as a Spanish-neck conversion candidate for players wanting a different, old-timey voice. This big, ladder-braced, later variety, however, is all-in on the giant, open, Hawaiian sound. It's got a punchy, sing-song voice and almost responds like a Dobro in the way the mids stack-up on each other into a creamy "bark."

This was obviously a quality guitar when it was built as materials were not downgraded in the least: this has a solid spruce top, solid maple back, sides, and neck, and an ebony fretboard with rosewood bridge. Binding is all over the place, the pearl dots are a bit fancier, and there's a nice old Kay Kraft-style decal applied on the lower bout.

The guitar is all-original save for one replacement (same-type) period bridge pin, the two pearl dots on the bridge "wings," and the tuners which look like they were added in the 50s or 60s. My work on it included regluing every back brace and replacing one missing one (with a vintage brace refit for it), a bridge reglue, one seam repair, and general cleaning and setup. It's currently strung for open D with "light-tension" but balanced strings (approx. 160lb) for the tuning.

Rosewood headstock veneer, up here. Also note the heavy brass "extender nut." These were factory-original equipment as the original bone nut (under it) is unslotted. I see this a lot on old Hawaiians rather than a high bone nut.

Interestingly, the ebony board is lightly radiused and has big old medium-sized frets. There are still a few marks left on the board from someone's "slide education."

Check out the heavy pickwear! Someone played this like nuts.

The original bridge, curiously enough, has a compensated bone saddle (which is unnecessary for slide work). This is pretty common on later Hawaiian guitars as I'm sure the factories were just using standard bridge styles.

Snazzy decal, huh?

The maple back and sides are pretty plain but look great with the sunburst.

There's a small hairline crack repair (old) at the headstock running north of the "G" string tuner. All good.

Plenty of scuffing here... and note the only hairline crack on the guitar: a small few-inch tight one on the back. I filled it and sealed it but it was darn tight to begin with.

Oops! I replaced the endpin with a new ebony one, too. Note the missing section of binding. Fortunately it's on the back.

Here's some against a different background.

The guitar comes with a hard, period, arched-lid case.

1 comment:

NickR said...

There's a very similar guitar for sale on ebay right now in the UK- £750. That guitar has less inlays and what look to be the Waverly "Yoda" style single unit tuners- quite classy items at the time. £750 or make an offer.