Kay Guitar Company produced guitars and other musical instruments from the 1930s to the 1960s. The Kay Guitar Company was a division of the Kay Musical Instrument Company formerly known as Stromberg-Voisinet that manufactured professional and student instruments since the 1890s.
This company was no relation to Elmer Stromberg & Son, the Boston luthiers that built high quality, collectible archtop guitars.
Kay's roots go back to 1890 to The Groehsl Company, a manufacturer of musical instruments. It was sold to Stromberg-Voisinet in 1929 with Mr. Groehsl remaining and Henry K Kuhrmeyer as treasurer and later president of the company.
In 1931 Kay was formally established in 1931 when the assets of the former Stromberg-Voisinet company were acquired by businessman Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer. The companies initial line up were only traditional folk instruments, but eventually grew to make a wide variety of stringed instruments, including violins, cellos, banjos, upright basses, and a variety of different types of guitars including Spanish acoustics, Hawaiian lap steels, hollowbody acoustic-electrics, and solidbody electrics.
Some of Kay's lower-grade instruments were marketed under the Knox and Kent brand names. Kay also manufactured guitars for department store and catalogue retailers under different house brand names such as 'Old Kraftsman' guitars for Spiegel, 'Sherwood' and 'Airline' for Montgomery Wards, and 'Silvertone' for Sears. Additionaly Kay produced a line of Archtop Acuostics called Kamico. The company outsourced its amplifiers to a rival company called Valco.
Kay produced a high-end line of guitars it called the Gold K line. Some were archtop and some solidbody. These are valued by collectors, however because of Kay's reputation for producing budget department store guitars, artists of the late 1950's and early 1960's did not take them seriously, with the exception of Barney Kessel.
Mr. Kessel had an archtop electric model named after him. Kay merged with Valco in 1967 and it's name was dissolved in 1968.
Kay produced a very unique instrument that was ahead of its time called The Kay Kraft guitar. These were actually made during the time the company was owned by Stromberg-Voisinet in the 1920's through 1930.
The Kay Kraft featured a bolt-on neck that allows you to adjust the neck angle and set string height. The end of the fretboard floated over the top which aided in adjusting the pitch of the neck. The Venetian style body resembled a mandolin. For those of you acquainted with some plucked/strummed string instrument history you will know that mandolins were very much in vogue during this era. The Kay Kraft Kay Kraft guitar was manufactured from 1929 until 1937.
The Kay Kraft Jumbo was made in the 1930s had a pressed(rather than carved)arched spruce top and laminated mahogany back and sides. Kay pioneered the use of laminated woods in high-volume guitar production. This wood combination gives the guitar its model designation. STYLE A came with mahogany back and sides. STYLE B- maple back and sides. And STYLE C- had rosewood back and sides.
The Kay Kraft's features included a mahogany neck and body, mother of toilet seat headstock overlay, an arched top and back, a round soundhole, and a gold decorative motif. The body has a shape similar to a violin and is actually very comfortable with a cutaway that conforms to your leg while sitting. The line included three guitars priced in 1930 from $25.00 - $45.00.
Some of these Venetian guitars had other names written on the headstock, such as "Recording King" which may have been a house brand for a department store or may have been an attempt to market the instruments using a name similar to Epiphone's Recording Series guitars.
Style A is most common, and Style C is most sought after.
All of the guitars feature a white double bound two point body designed by an Italian-born violin maker named Joseph Zorzi who supervised archtop production for Kay, a black acetate pickguard secured by two screws with rubber stand-offs. The headstock had a white acetate overlay with a logo written in gold. The soundhole was bound. The 19 fret neck had a 25 3/4" scale and was topped with a bone nut. Fourteen frets cleared the body. The rosewood fingerboard was bound.
The headstock featured 3 per side chrome open back tuners with white plastic buttons. As the body and back were arched, there was no internal bracing on the inside of the back. The top had ladder style bracing. Kerfling held the body, back and sides together. These guitars had a plain chrome tailpiece and a wooden strap button. The headstock's shape is unique to the Kay Kraft line.
The neck was the most interesting feature since it had a tilt adjustment mechanism and a height adjuster. Making a neck adjustment was simple. You reached inside the guitar and turned a wing nut. By doing this you have essentially done a neck reset.
The tilt adjustment was accomplished by a screw on the bottom of the heel.
The bottom of the bodies were decorated with elaborate gilt decals.
The guitar incorporated two styles of floating bridges, One was referred to as an oval sway bridge and the other is a traditional floating style, which is made out of plastic and has a flip compensated / non-compensated saddle with two height adjusters. The oval sway bridge could be turned 180 degrees to assist with compensation.