Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars. Formally known as STL Amateur Luthier

Home Top Ad

Kay Guitar Brand Origins Guitars from the Kay Musical Instrument Company were often sold to distributors labelled under that specific dis...

Kay Guitar Brands And Aliases Headstocks

Kay Guitar Brand Origins

Guitars from the Kay Musical Instrument Company were often sold to distributors labelled under that specific distributor's chosen brand name. This was a cheaper alternative to having to build your own in house brand of instruments. Often times tracking down the origins of brand names and the manufacturers of those guitars can be very difficult and so I've decided to try and compile a comprehensive list of all the brand names that Kay instruments were listed under. For the purpose of this article, I will only be including the US-built guitars by Kay and ignore the entire era of the 1970s and 80s where Kay outsourced their guitar brands to Japan.

Disclaimer: Brand names were often shared as distributors changed who they wanted to buy instruments from. There are brands listed here that were made by both Harmony and Kay as well as other companies.

Also would like to shout out to for having one of the largest searchable index of guitar brand names. I took quite a bit of info and some brand names from his site and simply compiled them into my list. All credit for those discoveries goes to him and the respective owners.

Check out my page on Harmony Guitar Brands and Aliases
And compare all 3 manufacturers on my page: Kay, Harmony, Regal Brand Cross Reference


Image credit, unknown author
Airline guitars were sold by Montgomery Ward through catalogs and physical stores. The brand was used from 1958 to 1968 and more recently reissued by Eastwood Guitars [5]. Airline guitars were also built by Harmony at some point in the brands lifetime.

In my experience these guitars seem to be the most highly priced Kay guitars around; even the basic acoustics tend to be more expensive for the brand name. Airline guitars are probably most recognized for the "Res O Glass" body construction and unique design styles that you see artists such as Jack White using. 


"Interesting factoid. Alamo purchased many parts from Kay when they went out of business and you see Kay tuners and fretboards on some of their guitars for a while after this." [Brian R]

Arch Kraft

Image source,
Budget archtops produced from 1933 to 1937 [Wright 172]. Distributed through the Vitak-Elsnic Company catalog which was based in Chicago, Illinois [25].


Image credit, Reverb - Creekside String Shop
Distributed by Unity Buying Service in the 1950s and 1960s [20].


Image credit, Reverb - BW Guitars
Distributed through Sorkin Music Co in the 1950s [26].

Distributed by Monroe or P&H according to the Kay Vintage Reissue Website [20]. I'm not able to find any definitive info on what either of those companies are.


Image credit, Rivington Guitars
"House Brand name for Abercrombie and Fitch" [Brian R].

The Catalina brand name might've also been used for guitars built by Harmony [22].


Produced from 1929 until the late 1940s [Wright 169, 170]. Produced for the Continental Music Company.


Image Credit: Casey G
Produced for Gamble-Skogmo, a retail conglomerate based out of Minnesota [34]. This particular guitar is a typical 60s Kay archtop with faux-flame and painted binding. 

Custom Kraft

Custom Kraft Archtop: Image credit, mine
Custom Kraft "900" Amplifier: Image credit, mine
Custom Kraft was a line of instruments produced for St Louis Music Supply Co. The guitars were made by Kay and the amplifiers were produced by Valco/Supro [2]. An article on Premier Guitars claims that the line was launched in 1961 and were produced until Kay was purchased and subsequently went under in 1968 though some instruments still bearing the name appeared into the early 1970s. [3]

I challenge this information based off of instruments I have seen in person and on the internet. My archtop, pictured above, has a 50s Kay tailpiece. I have another Custom Kraft archtop built by Harmony with the date stamp "S-36" meaning the second half of 1936. You can see more 1930s and 1940s instruments labelled Custom Kraft on one of my articles about Custom Kraft Numbered Models.

El Ranchero

Image credit, Reverb - Rivington Guitars
Produced in the late 1950s and distributed through the Sorkin Music Company [27].


Produced for the Carl Fischer catalog from 1929 to 1936 [Wright 169, 170]. The company is based in New York, New York [24]

Possibly produced by Harmony later in the 1950s. See this Reverb listing for evidence of a Harmony construction (headstock shape)

Franklin Music House

Made by Kay in the 1930s [17].

Distributed through its name-sake, Franklin Music House based in Newark, New Jersey [Spann 207].


Image credit, Reverb - Found Sound
Guitars built in the 1950s for an unknown retailer [16].

The headstock design includes two rockets and two airplanes flying towards themselves. The "F" in Futuramic is also very similar to the font used on Fender guitars.

Alamo guitars had a model of lapsteel called the Futuramic and Noble released accordions under the same name but there is no apparent connection.


Image Credit, Facebook Marketplace


Kay produced guitars for Gretsch during the 1940s [Wright 171]. I have a 1947 Gretsch New Yorker archtop that I have heard was a model built by Kay as well.


Groehsl was founded in 1892 and later acquired by Stromberg-Voisinet which rebranded itself as Kay [11]. Their instruments were produced between 1918 and 1921 [Wright 169]


Distributed by Aldens [20]. Also manufactured by Harmony. Commonly seen from the 1960s. 


Made for (or with) the Shireson [sic] Brothers in 1933 [Wright  170]. 

The company is properly spelled as Schireson Brothers Manufactured Musical Instruments. The resonators were made by Kay with cones and hardware supplied by Schireson Bros [12].


Kamico Parlour Flat Top: Picture credit, myself

Kamico was marketed as a cheaper line of Kay guitars and distributed as a lower priced version of Kay's regular guitar line [1]. They were introduced in 1947 and continued to be manufactured until 1951 [Wright 130, 173]

Kay Kraft

Image Credit: Jake Wildwood's blog

Kay Kraft were an early brand of instruments produced from 1927 to 1937 by the Stromberg-Voisinet Company which later became Kay Musical Instrument Co [Wright 94]. This brand is occasionally confused with Custom Kraft due to both having the same spelling of "Kraft" but they are entirely unrelated.

Kay Kraft guitars are also known for having an adjustable bolt-on neck construction which allowed for the angle of the neck to be adjusted by a plate between the neck and the body. They are also known for the "Venetian" mandolin style shape.


Image credit, Reverb - Martys [sic]
Produced for one year only in 1934, these resonators featured either a curly maple or mahogany construction with a wooden resonator plate [Wright 170].

Lark Jr

Image credit, Reverb - Clayton Audio
Likely made between the 1930s and 1950s

Lee Gibbs / Concertone

Brand name of Montgomery Ward used from 1914 till the 1930s.


Image Credit: Craigslist (archived)
Appears to be built in the 1940s with open-back Kluson tuners with stamped posts (not screwed on) and a distinctly Kay bridge. Blonde finish with painted white binding on the body and painted blue binding on the headstock


Marathon flat top: Picture credit, myself
Marathon was a house brand for the original Southland Musical Merchandise Corp. in Greensboro, NC. It was primarily used for cheaper guitars mostly of Japanese  origin. If yours was made by Kay, in those days, Kay was a US made brand. The original Southland ceased to exist in about 1990 after being sold to a company called Onsite Energy Systems in 1972. I went to work for the Original Southland on Aug 1, 1972 as a stock clerk. I became a road rep for them in April of 1973. I still do the same thing today, 46 years later, but with different companies these days. In 2003 I "resurrected" Southland. Whatever history of the company that exists is in my brain. All the older employees have passed on.
Sorry I can't give you specific information about your guitar. Kay Guitar Company still exists today. Perhaps they can help you;
Ed Rider
Marathon branded guitars were distributed by Southland Musical Merchandise Co in Greensboro, North Carolina. The brand's origin date is unknown but my acoustic (pictured above) has Kluson tuners that date it to the late 1950s. Youtube user Joseph Macey dates his collection of Marathon guitar picks to the late 1950s at the earliest and continuing into the 1960s [4].

Many thanks to Mr Macey for his video led me to the Southland name and then to Mr Rider who gracefully responded with his knowledge about the brand.


Image Credit, Music Go Round - St Charles
Marvel guitars were marketed by the Peter Sorkin Company out of New York, USA. Made in the 1950s through the 1970s according to Jedistar [9].

I've played the model pictured to the left and it feels like a normal, low end Kay arch top guitar. Nothing particularly impressive about it except the name and headstock logo.


Notable model, 1933 Marveltone Arch Kraft No.778 archtop [Wright 172]. Also produced or distributed by Regal [13].

No apparently relation to the Marvel line of Kay guitars.


Distributed through the Barth-Feinberg catalog based in NY in the early 1950s [28]. Also might have been constructed by Harmony


Guitars and banjos manufactured by Stromberg-Voisinet in the 1920s [Gruhn 442]

Melody King

"Was a Bronson guitar and amplifier brand [31]". Also produced by Harmony.

"The Bronson Music Corporation was established in 1931 by George Bronson the half-brother of Harry Stanley, who owned the O'ahu Publishing Company in Cleveland OH. Bronson lap-steel guitars were made by  Rickenbacher, National, Valco and Magnatone. [32]"


Image credit, Jedistar
Produced during the 50s and 60s by both Harmony and Kay [19]


Picture credit, Elderly Instruments
Oahu was a brand of instruments produced for the Oahu Publishing Company based in Cleveland, Ohio. These instruments were built to appeal to the Hawaiian genre of music and commonly feature square necks. These instruments likely were made as early as 1927 [Wright 116] and as late as 1938 [Wright 170]. The Oahu Publishing Company closed in 1985[8].

Old Kraftsman

Picture credit, Music Go Round - Greensboro
Old Kraftsman instruments were marketed through the Spiegel catalogue which was based in Chicago, Illinois. Found as early as 1942 in the Spiegel Holiday Catalog scan [14].

In my experience, most of the guitars under this brand name were basic Kay models with nothing extraordinary about them.


Picture credit, Reverb - Willie's American Guitars
The Orpheum brand name appears on a variety of instruments from different manufacturers but was initially created by the American banjo manufacturer William Lange Banjo Co [6]. In the 1960s, the name was recycled and applied to Japanese-built guitars and the brand has recently been resurrected again. The American-built models were made in the period between the 1930s and 1940s according to Jedistar [7]

I was unable to find a clear builder for these guitars since the name passed through so many hands but the guitar pictured is an exact match for my Kay-built Marathon acoustic guitar.


Distributed by the William Lange Banjo Co up until the 1940s [15].


Image source: Blog - Craigslist Vintage Guitar Hunt

Penncrest was the in-house brand for J.C. Penney. Sold through the 1950s and 60s but the exact dates are unknown.

Looking through the catalog scans at the Wishbook Web archive, I was unable to find any references to Penncrest in the 1966 JC Penney catalog.


Image credit, Jedistar
Made around the 1940s for Sears [18].


Mentioned a time or two on the internet, I currently don't have any information for it yet.


Kay produced some guitars for Regal in the 1930s such as the model numbers: 2106, 2110, 2112 [Wright 170].


Image credit, Keith Holland Guitars
Sold through Gretsch catalogs only in 1948 [Wright 132]. 


Image Credit: Ebay - Stratoblaster55
Built for RCA Victor stores [30]


Image credit, Reverb - ToftHill Music
The pictured guitar is from a Reverb listing that claims its a 1950s Kay. The headstock matches the 3-bump design and the dovetail neck places its construction before 1961. They also mention that it might've been from a Montgomery Ward catalog though I am unable to confirm that.

Possibly badged for an unknown local retailer.


Image credit, Jake Wildwood's Blog
Silvertone guitars were manufactured by both Kay and Harmony for Sears, Roebuck and Co. The pictured model is a 1941 Kay Crest archtop.


Image credit, Reverb - Meacham's Music
Made between the 1940s and 1960s and distributed through the Mongomery Ward catalogs [20].

S. S. Maxwell

Produced by both Harmony and Kay but between 1933 and 1934, they were produced by Kay [Wright 170, 172]. Not to be confused with S.S. Stewart which was produced by Harmony.


Image credit, Blog "Your Grandpas Guitar"

Distributed by Tonk Brothers Co in the 1930s


The original name of the Kay company. Instruments were distributed under this name from 1921 until 1932 [Wright 169]. I speculate that the name might've possibly appeared again until the company's rebranding to Kay into 1937.


Made for Silvertone by Harmony [23] and possibly Kay as well.


Some Supro branded acoustic guitars were built by Kay in the 1960s up until 1968 [Wright 172].


Image credit, Reverb - Needful Things
Distributed by the Canadian catalog, Eatons. The listing that the included picture is from claims the guitar was built in 1936.


Image credit, Reverb - CGS
Approximately 1950s based off of the bridge shown in the Reverb listing and the fretboard wood color but nothing is nailed down.


Exact same construction as my Wabash parlor guitar


Picture credit, mine
Distributed by Western Auto in the 1950s and 1960s.

This particular model is an early 1960s Kay Speed Demon.


Produced during the 1930s and distributed by Tonk Brothers Company as late as 1938 [Wright 172].


One of the house brands of Montgomery Ward [10]. Produced banjos and flat tops as early as 1925 and as a solid body guitar as late as 1961 [Wright 169, 175, 178].


Image credit, mine
Wabash guitars were distributed by the David Wexlar Company [21]. Personally, I've seen claims that they were made by both Kay and or Regal. 

The headstock pictured is from a 1/2 size "Buckeye"-stenciled cowboy guitar project that I haven't started work on yet. The tuners on the right side of the headstock are 1930s patented "Safe Ti-String" and the tuners on the left and unbranded.


Image Credit: Ebay
Made in the 1950s


Image Credit: Ebay

Distributed by Montgomery Ward. Made by Lyon and Healy early on in the brand's lifetime. [33]




Wright, Michael. Guitar Stories: The Histories of Cool Guitars. Vol. 2, Vintage Guitar Books, 2000.

Gruhn, George, and Walter Carter. Gruhns Guide to Vintage Guitars: an Identification Guide for American Fretted Instruments. Backbeat Books, 2010.


  • Brian R (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Nate G (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Gary B (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Walter C (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Casey G (Facebook - The Original Japanese Guitar Fanclub)

Updated: 4/16/2019

1 comment:

  1. You show Lee Gibbs/Concertone as a Montgomery Ward brand until 1930. Concertone was a Montgomery Ward brand until about 1930 when the names of Recording King and Wards were used until the 1940s when Sherwood was then used. I have a feeling that Lee Gibbs Concertone was a Montgomery Ward brand like Airline in the 1950s but it may not have been. Lee Gibbs Concertone guitars you see appear to have been made by Untied Guitars of New Jersey.


Please include a form of contact or reach out to me directly ( otherwise you likely won't see my response