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.

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