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

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Image Credit: Mine About The 1930s were the decade of wild experimentation among guitar builders as the depression slowed sales and the ...

Kay Deluxe Lyre Soundhole Guitars

Image Credit: Mine


The 1930s were the decade of wild experimentation among guitar builders as the depression slowed sales and the art deco movement inspired builders searching for any gimmick to sell a guitar. Hundreds of thousands of guitars were produced with clever paintwork mimicking expensive timbers, non-wood materials, and artistic scenes. This would carry into the 1940s and 50s with the proliferation of stenciled guitars depicting Wild West scenes.


These rare Kay guitars are most easily identifiable by their unique lyre soundhole shape which some folks may refer to as a harp shape (if they are unfamiliar with lyres as I was). The shape is cut out of the laminated wood top as more of a stylistic decision than one influenced by sound. These guitars are ladder braced. The top is segmented by a painted diamond with a sunburst on the outside and a faux-flame-maple on the inside. 

Two variants of this instrument's headstock exist.
  1. Gibson-esque "open book" headstock
  2. Harmony-esque "rounded point" headstock 

When Were They Built?

I had a picture of 3 lines of text here from a book on Kay guitars written by Michael Wright which identified the years these guitars appeared in a catalog. Nearly five years after I wrote this article, he threatened to sue me for using that image even with a citation and recommendation to purchase his book. If Michael Wright chooses to wake up and be an asshole to a blogger on guitar history, so be it. 

If you go to the website of the reissue Kay guitars, they have a PDF of the full page that my snippet came from. I will not support this author but I will support those.

Two scans from a 1939 Continental Music Catalog show the No.2091 (with the open book headstock) and a sister model, the No.5400 (with the rounded headstock). The No.5400 has the lyre soundhole but does not have the extensive stenciling. 

The open book headstock profile with the Kay DeLuxe label is a design used by Kay in the 1930s and is gone by '44. The yellow and red label disappeared by the end of the 1930s

Image Credit: Mine

By 1942, the open book headstock vanishes from the lower end models (the K-60 and K-62 still sport it) and the rounded headstock profile takes over.

These Kay guitars lack the lyre soundhole design but have similar stenciling and thus are still representative of the design choices of the factory.

The rounded point headstock shape began, at the latest, in 1938 and continued throughout the 1940s. The blue shield logo can be found in a variety of instruments from the 1940s and is one of the traits to look for when dating an instrument to that era.
Image Credit:
The open book headstock profile and/or  mustard yellow/red label denotes an earlier build of the lyre soundhole series of Kay guitars. The rounded headstock profile and/or a blue label denotes a later build shifting into the 1940s.


  1. Anyone out there interested in a 1932 Dobro Cyclops with a electromuse eagle eye pickup installed in it. Used to belong to Paul Tutmarc.
    Have megatone amp with it to called a troubadour

  2. Sure, use the contact form and send me some pictures


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