Sunday, April 26, 2009

The story of two 1930's Kay Kraft Guitars (Part 6...)

So…. Now I have two of these. The one on the right is the one I have had for 20 years and now I'm thinking I might finally start collecting info on what it needs to be playable again. The one on the left is the “New” one. I adjusted the neck (which is adjustable!), lowered the bridge, and removed the shim someone had installed under the nut. It’s actually in very good shape for a nearly 80 year old guitar. The "new" guitar is 100% original accept for a re-fret it got sometime in the 50’s or 60’s judging by the tiny fret wire used and the fact that they are warn down too. It's missing about 2" of binding on the body and the whole treble side binding from the fret board is gone. I'll track down a new one.

These guitars are officially called the Kay Kraft Venetian - Style B. They were made by Stromberg-Voisinet for the Kay Musical Instrument Company in Chicago. They were built from 1930 to 1935 and were absolutely revolutionary for the time. Actually, some of the features are revolutionary even today. I guess I'm not exactly objective here but I don't think there has been a more beautiful guitar ever made. The Neck joint is unlike anything I am aware of any where else in the industry. But using a radiused neck block and a bolt and wing nut one of the most tricky and expensive

repairs in luthiery, a neck reset, is now as simple as loosen the string, loosen a wing nut, adjust neck joint, tighten... Brilliant!

The arched back is not braced at all and after nearly 80 years neither guitar shows any damage of distortion of the back. The top has a kind of hybrid X bracing system not unlike those on Martin guitars.

LittleBrotherBlues.Com has some great pictures of how the bracing in these great guitars work along with a few other Kay models that were based on these ideas. You should check them out.

Although the two guitars have different bridges they are both original as this guitar was offered with both types over the 5 years they were made. The bridge on guitar #2 has a very fancy bridge made of Bakelite and is reversible. It is straight on one side and compensated on the other for better intonation. There is also some small difference in the pick guards and clearly the left guitar is much darker in color than the right guitar. The #1 guitar on the right has replacement tuners from the 60's I think. It still has the original bar frets. The tails are slightly different as well but again they are both original as there are no additional holes inducting one of them may be a replacement. The tuners on the #2 guitar are original and come from the Guitar Prod. Co. in Cleavland Ohio.

My plan is to restore one back to original and make the other more of a player.I may use the binding from the trashed fretboard of the #1 guitar to fix up #2 and then just make a new fret board for #1. Well see what the next 20 years bring...

If you would like to hear this guitar just click on this picture below.


Kerem said...

What a great story!!! I wish you all the luck in restoring that Kay. I am about drop some $ on another Recording King on eBay but asking price is quite steep at 1K. Quite hesitant at this point since I can't touch the guitar & see the condition etc. That tone & sound is awesome though so I'm itching to give it a go... What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I have my Dad's guitar, it is a Kay Kraft and in beautiful shape. He had his initials put on with the same gold leaf as the trim. But the greatest thing about the guitar is his Finger Prints on the neck. He played every day, when I was a kid and sung his old favorites of "Jimmy Crack Corn" and "You get a line and I'll get a pole, babe". I am not sure of the titles of the songs, because this is over years ago.

Clint Searcy said...

Sorry if I'm getting here too late Kerem. I think $1000 is a bit high for an old Kay if you can't see it in person. The best you can do is read the sellers feed back and see if they have a reputation for properly representing their guitars. Be sure it's insured when it's shipped.

Good Luck!

Kerem said...

Hi Clint,

No problems at all. This was the eBay listing for the guitar :

It looked pretty decent so I decided going with it. Currently its in transit, insured of course. Will let you know how it turns out.

All the best.

Chris said...

I just got one today. The finish is more like the one on the right. It's missing the pick guard, the Kay sticker has been removed, one set of the inline tuners has been replaced with a kluson deluxe, and the upper body has a crack along the bass side of the body too... just like in your picture ( from part 2 of your story. I'm going to look into having it restored as I don't want my first attempt of a full restoration to be on something so old/irreplaceable.