Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

Home Top Ad

Image Credit, Mine As is typical of my content, this will focus primarily on pickups found in instruments build in the United States a...

Kay Guitar Pickup Encyclopedia

Image Credit, Mine

As is typical of my content, this will focus primarily on pickups found in instruments build in the United States and not of the later, import instruments.

Who Built Them?

Gibson? DeArmond? Teisco? Guild?
There is a lot of misinformation about who built these pickups and I want to try and share my research and things I've noted about the instruments I've had my hands on.

The Barney Kessel "Kleenex Box" pickup is commonly claimed to be a Gibson P-35 but I have yet to see any evidence to support it.



I measured the wire from a completely dead Kay Speed Bump pickup and found the gauge to be closest to 44 AWG

I've found pickup lead wire from Kay and DeArmond to be quite different from each other in both the insulation and conductive wiring. They have both used plastic or rubber formulas which have turned brittle in age but DeArmond included an extra attempt at insulation with cloth in some of their wire. DeArmond wire is typically twice as large as Kay wire.


As far as I can tell Kay only began consistently stamping their pickups in 1964.

I have seen 5 Speed Bump pickups in person from the early 60s without stamps. When they were stamped it was with black ink in a distinct font in MMDDYY format. The first digit of the day is often skewed lower than the rest in 1965 and 1966.

The font was not used by any DeArmond pickups that I can find and isn't that close to any of them. The font does appear in the stamps inside the body of Kay instruments (when they remembered to stamp them)

Kay Pickups

1966 Kleenex Box pickup, Image Credit: Mine

1965 Speed Bump pickup, Image Credit: Mine

DeArmond Pickups

DeArmond pickup stamps, Image Credit: Music


I cannot find any evidence to support that Kay brought in pickups from outside manufacturers. It is much more likely that they were built and designed in-house .

That is not the case with Harmony which used Gibson pickups for the H63 Espanada and H1446 "Chris Isaak" models and frequently used DeArmond pickups in their guitars.


"Jimmy Reed" Thin Twin (1948-1965)

Image Credit: Reverb - TheElectricVintageGuitar
Most famously used on the Kay Thin Twin bass which was famously used by Jimmy Reed. These thin pickups appeared on the Thin Twin bass and some 1950s mandolins

Inductance: ~7k

Speed Demon Adjustable (1955-1956)

Image Credit: Ebay - Lawman Mike
Predecessor to the Speed Bump pickup with adjustable pole pieces that are very similar to the Kleenex Box pickup.

Inductance: ~5k

Barney Kessel 'Kleenex Box' (1958-1968)

These pickups were found on high end hollow body guitars and sometimes a solid body guitar.

Commonly referred to as a "Gibson-built P-35" pickup, I am unable to find any evidence to prove that Gibson had such a model or provided parts to Kay.

Inductance: ~11k

Speed Bump (1959-1968)

Image Credit: Mine
Appeared on archtop instruments and most commonly the Speed Demon models. 

Inductance: ~5k
Alternative designs:
  • Gold plated

Pancake (1959-1965)

Image Credit: Reverb - Luthier's Closet
Surface-mounted pickup that was sometimes mounted via rivets. Commonly seen on solid body electrics like the Value Leader and Vanguard series but also appeared on archtops.

Inductance: ~5k
Alternative designs:
  • "Cheese grater" metal cover with raised bumps (Example)
  • "Star" metal cover with stencil (Example)
  • "Kleenex box" plastic cover with stencil (Example)
  • "Arrow" metal cover with stencil (Example)
  • Thicker variant which also appeared on lap steels (Example)

Kleenex Box V2 (1965-1968)

Image Credit: Reverb - Thunder Road Guitars PDX
The successor to the Barney Kessel Kleenex box pickup. This one featured a more simple, yet just as reflective design, and appeared on hollow and solid body instruments.

As with the original Kleenex Box, I am unable to find any evidence that Gibson built these pickups or that they were labelled 'P-35'

Inductance: ~11k
Alternative designs:

Vanguard Gold Foil (1965)

Image Credit, mine

Appeared on the revamped Vanguard models of the mid 60s with a textured gold plate and mounted via rivets. Only was around for a year before being redesigned.

Inductance: ~5k
Alternative designs:

Vanguard P90 (1965-1968)

Image Credit, Reverb - Chicago Guitars
Appeared on the newly revamped Vanguard models and replaced the previous year's gold foil pickup. This one has a sleek black panel and adjustable pole pieces.

Inductance: ~5k


Most of my dates came from catalog scans at and I would not recommend using anymore because I was threatened with a lawsuit by the owner.
Images are cited unless they were taken by myself


  1. Those Kay pancake pickups appear as early as 1953 in the single pickup K-136 and double pickup K-142 solid-body electric guitars.

  2. Hello, my son and I are restoring what we believe is a 1960ish Kay Arch top electric guitar. Any suggested resources?


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

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.