Sunday, October 11, 2015

More 'Pickin'!

The second of two vintage Kay guitars that my friend Tim had for me is the most interesting, and completely original.

Kay Kraft Venetian-Style Arch Top Double Cutaway Acoustic Guitar

When Tim (my 'picker' friend, (whom I introduced in the previous post) presented this guitar as a an option for my collection, he couldn't possibly know how excited I was over this rascal.

In the early 1930s when the Depression was in full swing and many instrument makers were barely surviving, the Kay Musical Instrument Company contracted with Stromberg-Voisinet, a violin maker to build a deluxe arch top acoustic instrument with an adjustable neck and other innovative design features. Sorry folks, Taylor Guitars didn't invent the bolt-on guitar neck. This bolt-on adjustment is so simple and effective you don't need a technician to perform a neck reset. You can do it in about three minutes . . . loosen the strings, reach in through the sound hole, loosen the giant wing nut, adjust the neck up or down to adjust string action, retighten, and you're done!

I could continue with information about the Kay company and its history, but all that info is available online if you're really interested. I just want to introduce my 'new' vintage guitar.

This 80+-year-old Kay Kraft Venetian Arch Top Style A six-string acoustic guitar is completely original, right down to the neck adjustment sticker visible through the sound hole and the blade-head screws holding the original three-on-a-stick tuning machines in place (note the original tuning keys are not bent or broken).

Notice the shape of the headstock, which is so stylized to match the shape of the body, which was way out in front of its competition in the day.

The gold-leaf enhanced mother of pearl-style headstock overlay carries the Kay Kraft logo.  It's a little faded, but it's in better shape than I and most of my friends, and we're a decade younger.

The bone nut is original and in perfect condition.

The 14-fret neck is in great original condition.  It's straight, and the rosewood fingerboard and frets show no wear. The ivory-color fretboard binding is in great condition, but it has slight distortion at every fret location due to shrinkage of the rosewood board. Pearl position marker dots are also perfectly in place with no indentation.

The original bridge/saddle and stainless tailpiece are original and in great condition.

I did install aftermarket Martin strings, because the 'originals' were well beyond their effective playing days.

As you can see, the body is in near perfect condition. There is finish crackle and tiny scratches on the top surface, but all the ivory-color edge and sound hole binding is tightly in place. Geez, the glue they used in the old days was really good. Finish on the back and sides shows the same finish crackle, and there is a small area of 'buckle rash', which suggests the guitar was played, but the fretboard suggests 'not much'.

Here's an image of the neck adjustment mechanism.  

And, if you look closely you can see the finish crackle, but there is never going to be a 're-finish' as long as I own this little devil. It's too nice to screw around with, and besides a re-finish would lessen the value.

The simple wing nut adjustment.

The adjustment assembly apart.  Pretty simple mechanism.

That's it for the presentation of the Venetian.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Check back for more new and exciting additions and changes within the boundary of TotalRojo Guitars.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pickin' and Grinin'!

My friend, local 'picker' Tim, messaged me a couple weeks ago about two guitars that he recently found on a vintage scrounge. He identified them as Kays and wondered if I'd be interested. You never know for sure about the condition of instruments found on a pic, but Tim is pretty reliable, so I had to take a peek, especially since my very first guitar a lotta years ago was a Kay acoustic.

I took one look and knew that I would be leaving with them. But, I couldn't let Tim know how enthusiastic I was. Tim is a very sharp cookie, and a damn hard negotiator . . . he knows what his stuff is worth. After too long dickering over price, I loaded those beauties up, before my buddy woke from his coma realizing I hasd picked his pocket.

Before I get to the good stuff, I'd like to introduce you to the Kay Musical Instrument Company, so you will have a more clear understanding of why I was excited about adding these guitars to my collection.

Kay was a musical instrument manufacturer of the United States in operation between the 1930s and '60s. Established in 1931 at Chicago by Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer, from the assets of the former Stromberg-Voisinet, which was founded as Groeschel Mandolin Company in 1890. The company initially manufactured only traditional folk instruments, but grew to make a wide variety of stringed instruments. Kay was best known for its mid-priced guitars, as well as its budget instruments.

 Kay Jumbo, which I'll introduce to you now.

This is how the Jumbo looked on day one. It was missing a few pieces and had seen better days, but not beat up. The tuning machines were worn out aftermarket pieces, which needed to be replaced. The nut was gone. The adjustable bridge was in a box, but it too needed help. And, the pick guard and tailpiece were missing. The greatest concern was a slight crack on the centerline between the bridge location and the back, but it turned out to be an easy fix. Overall, this is a very sound instrument. It just needed some TLC.

So what did I have?

A Kay Jumbo 14-fret archtop cutaway acoustic guitar. Maple neck with rosewood headstock overlay and ziricaote fingerboard. Position markers are unusually large, probably to match the oversize curley maple body with spruce top, bound with cream color binding.

Its called a Jumbo for a reason . . . the body is a bit larger than a dreadnaught or comparable-size guitars.

During the initial stage of repair, I discovered the headstock logo was a cast brass piece that when polished was quite nice, which lead me to add gold accessories -- tuners, strap button, pick guard mounting arm, and tailpiece attachment.

This photo taken in bright sunlight doesn't due justice to the beautiful deep rich color of the original rosewood headstock overlay, but the grain is clearly visible. Gold color Klusen style tuning machines match the logo. The replacement nut was hand crafted from corian. Purists claim nothing is better than bone, but corian works for the girls I go with.

You can't miss the boulder-size position markers in this photo, and it will be hard to get fingers in the wrong place while playing.

The grain of the original ziricote fretboard is pretty visible here, but again the bright sunlight has over exposed the image. Ziricote is a very dark wood and there is, in my humble opinion, no wood in the world with a more interesting grain than ziricote.

Original jumbo frets are in good shape, so I polished them and they were good to go.

The finished top is really classic Adirondack spruce, which is evidenced by the wider grain and the age of the guitar, which as near as I can research is the early '50s. The 'f'-hole design is really clean and provides a nice sound. I crafted the pickguard from a sheet of rosewood to match the headstock overlay, and the gold attachment bar and screws match the other accessories. The original adjustable bridge was in pretty good shape, so it made things a little simpler. But, the original metal tailpiece was missing, probably used to prop up geraniums in some old gal's flower pot, so I hand crafted a special design from ziricote to match the fretboard.

Ideally, the tailpiece should be able to move (hinge), so I added a gold color cabinet hinge for an anchor at the back of the guitar. The hinge is smaller than the original mount, so original screw holes are visible, but that's a small item that has no effect on sound . . . and, sound is what it's all about, right!

This shot of the body shows the cutaway, binding, and grain of the curly maple sides and arched back.

She wasn't very good looking when I brought her home, but she cleaned up well . . . I think I'll let her hanging around a while, or until someone makes an offer I cannot refuse.