1960s Kay-made "Old Kraftsman" Dreadnought Guitar

I've worked on a number of these big old Kay dreadnoughts and, once they're spruced-up, they all have a big, thunderous, roaring, unrefined sort-of tone. They liked to be picked hard. They're x-braced so they hold up well and have some guts on the low-end that their ladder-braced Kay brethren otherwise wouldn't have. The long scale (25 3/4") also puts relatively low-tension strings up a notch or two in the tension department and the bigger, D-shaped neck profile feels very much "cowboy 50s." This model is listed in the Kay catalog as a K6100 but the "Old Kraftsman" moniker at the headstock denotes department-store draftee.

I gave this guitar a neck reset, replaced a missing fret, leveled and dressed the frets, installed a new saddle, tuners, and gave it a good cleaning and setup. It's crack-free and quite clean for its age. I'd put this at the very end of the 50s to early 60s for build-date. Action is spot-on at 1/16" DGBE and 3/32" EA at the 12th fret, the neck is straight, and the guitar is good to go.

The (plastic) nut is original and the truss is functional.

The low-ish medium frets are original and in good health. Check out those big pearloid dots -- cool, huh? This has a 14" radius rosewood board and 1 11/16" nut width.

The bridge's very rear edge shows about 1-2mm worth of separation but it's otherwise glued-on tight.

I replaced the original saddle with a larger, better-compensated, and much-taller one. It's glued-in to resist tension, however. The pins are replacements but are older plastic ones from my bins.

The strings are my balanced tension "custom lights" at 50w, 38w, 28w, 20w, 16, 12. These handle like 11s but have a more-balanced feel string-to-string and a thicker B&E string sound.

While the spruce on the top is solid, the back and sides are laminate mahogany. The finish, overall, is in great and clean shape.

I replaced missing original Kluson tuners with a set of repro Klusons from my bins.

The neck is reset both with glue/shims and a couple of screw/bolts mounted through the soundhole as well. It doesn't need them but I like to give these old somewhat-shoddy Kay neck joints the benefit of some extra insurance.

Here you can see that nice tall bone saddle and the x-bracing through the soundhole. The fretboard extension dips down over the body -- but who plays up there anyway? There's also one replacement fret -- the 15th -- which was missing when this came in due to an apparently-botched old neck reset.

The guitar comes with a presumably-original chip case.


P. Edward Chambers said...

Just looking to see if you've ever worked on the "1890" Kay series guitars.. not sure why your claiming these nice old Kays to have laminated backs and sides. I've had this exact model and it was solid mahogany as stated in the catalogs.

Jake Wildwood said...

I don't know the 1890 series -- but probably would by sight.

As for "claiming" -- it's not a claim, it's a fact. If you remove binding on these (for example, if it needs to be reglued) you can easily see that these have 3-ply back/sides. This is why there are barely ever cracks on the back/sides of Kays. Most Kays after the early 1950s had lam back/sides for strength and practicality. Only a very few top-tier Kays after the early 50s used solid back/sides, but the majority of mid-grade-on-up Kays had solid tops.

AFAIK, the catalogs state "spruce" or "mahogany" and don't use the word solid-- clear through the 70s.

FYI, I don't think laminate back/sides are a disadvantage or a reason to knock a product. I actually think it's a huge advantage for most players as they're more stable, practical, need less bracing, and sound more more or less as good as a mid-grade tonewood (solid birch, for example).

P. Edward Chambers said...

I'm just skeptical that many of these are laminated back and sides though, the catalogs did specify in the mid and later 60's when they used laminated woods.

Jake Wildwood said...

Skeptical or not, I've worked on at least a half-dozen of this model and they were all lam back/sides when I had the chance to peek.