Saturday, January 9, 2010

Kay Guitars and The Kay Kraft Guitar

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 which manufactured professional and student instruments since the 1890s. This company was no relation to Elmer Stromberg and 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 when it was sold to Stromberg-Voisinet in 1929 with Mr. Groehsl remaining and Henry K Kuhrmeyer as treasurer and later president of the company.

Early Kay Guitar
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.

Kay Banjo

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.

Kamico Guitar

 Kay also produced a line of Archtop Acoustic guitars under the brand name 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.

Kay guitars manufactured the Kessel archtop electric model named after him. Kay merged with Valco in 1967 and it's name was dissolved in 1968.

It is ironic that during the days of Stromberg-Voisenet ownership a guitar was offered for sale called The Kay Kraft Guitar. Most of these were made in 1920 through 1930.

The Kay Kraft had some very interesting features. For instance it came with a bolt-on neck that allows the player 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 Kay Krafts 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 guitars features included a mahogany neck and body, mother of toilet seat headstock overlay, an arched top and back, a round sound hole and a gold decorative motif.

The body has a shape is actually very comfortable with a cutaway that conforms to your leg while sitting. The 1930 line up included three guitars that were priced from $25.00 - $45.00.

Recording King Tenors and Mandola
Some of these guitars were sold under other names that were displayed on the headstock, such as "Recording King" which may have been a house brand for Montgomery Wards Department Store.

Style A is most common, and Style C is most sought after. All of the Kay Kraft 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.

As I have mentioned, perhaps 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 section of the guitars sound board was 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.


Nicole said...

Thank you so much this really helped me out.

mary shirley said...

where are the kaykraft four string guitars?i have one in excellent shape. would like to know how old it is.Bothe the case and guitar appear to be quite old and are in very good shape. Mary Shirley e-mail jasper jenkins

Anonymous said...

I have a Kay Craft with a folk guitar type headstock that looks as if it may have said Deluxe on the head stock. What do I have please.

TeeJae said...

I have a 1930's Acoustic 6 string Kay kraft with the letter "D" on the front at the bottom of the gold pattern decoration,,,it is a 14 fret with an adjustable neck for string this a rare guitar?

Lance Carter said...

Hi. I have a Kay Kraft venetian style B (maple back/sides) guitar I am in the process of restoring. This guitar is branded "Old Kraftsman", and does not have the adjustable neck, but does have the nice ornamentation on the top. Even more interesting is that this guitar is an "F" hole guitar. Also, it has a V-neck, unlike most of the Stromberg Voisenet KayKraft's I have owned in the past which had a very thin neck. Can anyone tell me more about the guitar I have described? If I refinish it, should I retain the ornamentation, or would it be better to refinish the top completely?

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roballen2/offical said...

Thanks. Nice- informative.

Music Crazy said...

Thanks for sharing the information with us.

Musical Instruments

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your kniwledge. I recently found what appears to be a kay kraft guitar branded as a gretsch broadkaster on the headstock.

Md Linkon said...

This post very helpful.