The Bluesbox Collection

1940's Kay archtop

If you came here from the "Guitar Museum" page, you might be confused because the guitar is pictured there with it's new finish. I bought this guitar in August of '99 at the Blue Note guitar shop in Berkeley. The top is solid carved spruce, sides and back are made of solid maple and this model would have been close to top-of-the-line for Kay at the time. Notice the nicely figured rosewood fingerboard with unusual "pick shaped" inlays. I attached the pickguard myself, made for a Gibson L5, and the tuners were apparently replaced with individual units by a previous owner. I call this guitar "Old Scarface" because it has some cracks on the upper and lower left hand bouts which have been repaired rather inexpertly by a previous owner. The guitar has a great tone and is surprisingly loud for a small bodied archtop. It also has an unusually (for a war-time Kay) fast neck. Knowledgable guitarists always comment on it whenever I bring it out. Here's the back.

Update March, 2002: I eventually got tired of looking at the scars on the face of this guitar, so I decided to refinish it. I stripped off the old finish, which was pretty easy since it was chipped in several places, and used a clear rubbing oil stain then varnished it to give it an antique natural finish. Here is what it looks like now. This closeup of the face reveals that the scars still show, but they are not nearly as objectionable. Sanding off the sides and back revealed a nice quilted flame. The pickguard has been changed to more authentic Kay tortoise shell model. This shot also shows the fancy binding around the face (my previous camera wasn't capable of showing this kind of detail).

I faced the headstock with matching tortoise shell material and installed the diamond shaped, mother-of-pearl inlay by cutting through the facing.

I got this Art Deco style tailpiece off of another guitar many years ago and had it laying around. It was all chrome before I attached the tortoise shell facing to match the headstock and pickguard and installed the inlay.

A funny story about this guitar: I perfomed at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival the weekend of August 14, about two weeks after I bought the guitar, and ran into a friend, a luthier named Tom Ribbecke who builds wonderful archtops, and showed him the guitar. As we were talking, another luthier, Ralph Novak, walked up to take a look. Ralph is a collector of vintage "House Brand" instruments and quite an authority on the subject. He picked the guitar up and looked it over, telling me most of the information I have printed above concerning the instrument's origin. He turned to Tom and thinking to make a funny, cracked "Now you could learn something about tone from this guitar..." and strummed it. He looked surprised and said, "Wow! This sounds pretty good!" He continued to play it and told me I got a real bargain for the $200 I paid for it.

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