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

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1966-1968 Kay with Kluson "double line" tuners About I recently completed a restoration of a Kay jumbo guitar that had bee...

The Bankruptcy Kay Longhorn Jumbo Guitar

1966-1968 Kay with Kluson "double line" tuners


I recently completed a restoration of a Kay jumbo guitar that had been weathered for decades in an abandoned shack in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and was in serious need of repair. It belonged to an unknown individual who did enjoy some pipe tobacco (there was a faint smell of it on the instrument before I began) and played the guitar to pieces. When the nut fell off of the instrument and was lost, they carved grooves in the first position for the strings to slide down by using the first fret as the nut.

My work included:
  • Filling the divots behind the first fret and in front of the nut
  • Redoing the filler around the inlays with rosewood and superglue
  • Patching a screw hole in the heel
  • Full refret
  • Neck reset
  • Stabilizing de-laminations on the sides
  • Fabricating a celluloid tortoise pickguard to replace the missing one
  • Removing the rough, factory x-bracing and rebracing the top with properly oriented spruce

Kay Factory X-Brace

This jumbo guitar originally had X-bracing from the factory but it is barely a step above the ladder bracing that most of these instruments have. Note the use of PVA glue instead of hide glue to attach the braces but that the kerfing is still attached with hide glue. They didn't seem particularly attached to any one adhesive towards the end of the company.

These braces are massive, unscalloped pieces of coniferous woods with random grain orientations. Note the spruce bridgeplate which has been chipped out by the ball ends of the strings I decided that since I was going to be fully restoring the instrument that I might as well redo the x-bracing
Original Kay X Bracing

In-progress picture of my bracing (not all braces are pictured)
I opted to keep the tone bars in roughly the same positions as they were originally to give this instrument a unique tone in line with what Kay had originally designed (intentionally or otherwise). My bridge plates are made from spruce, to allow for the best tonal quality, with the important distinction that I cap them with maple to protect the delicate spruce and add a little more strength. Of course I went ahead and addressed all of the cracks.

What is this instrument?

I continued to research the origins of this instrument but was unable to find an exact match. I tossed around a couple ideas until I took a closer look at the catalog.

The body of the guitar did not match the neck...

K-6104 "Professional" Country-Style 

The K-6104 was a top of the line dreadnought model built between 1966 up until Kay went bankrupt in 1968. It featured "genuine Australian pearl" position markers in a "longhorn" shape which is the colloquial name given to that model of guitar. It featured a quite intricate "batwing" bridge design.

Note the catalog says "Grover machine heads" yet all of these guitars came with Kluson tuners. 

K-8130 Solo Special II

The K-8130 "Solo Special II" was a jumbo guitar also built between 1966-68. It was slightly less expensive than the Country model seen above but built just as well without the flashly appointments. It had a straight Rosewood bridge and simple binding. 

The Instrument

My guitar had the body from a K-8130 and the neck from a K-6104 and they were so perfectly mated together that I was completely stumped. Part of the appeal to restoring vintage instruments is the "forensics" and looking for details or evidence of modifications 

The heel had begun to separate from the body and a bolt had been driven through the heel to keep it in place but the neck had never been removed. I was the first person to steam the neck out which was evident by the original hide glue remaining in the pocket which matched up with all the Kay glue jobs I've seen. The weathering and playwear was consistent on both pieces which meant they had been together for many years. 

I first wondered if they had simply swapped the bridges but the K-6104 was a dreadnought with different binding and a different rosette and so there was no way that this instrument was a modified K-6104. The K-8130 had block inlays and was finished in a brown lacquer as opposed to black and so the neck certainly didn't belong to a K-8130

My Conclusion

The Kay Musical Instrument Company merged with Valco in 1966-67 and folded the next year in 1968. (corrected 2/12/20)

I believe that this instrument was built by Kay when they were scrambling to sell their remaining inventory and liquidate their assets. This guitar was thrown together from parts belonging to two different models and then promptly left the factory in a last ditch effort to get their money's worth. It had been assembled in a manner consistent with every other Kay guitar I've worked on and so I had no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Did this instrument get taken home by a worker? Was it shipped out as a factory-second or did Kay send it to an unsuspecting owner who ordered one of the two aforementioned models? Did the owner even notice or care? We'll never know. 

Where is it now?

I listed it on Reverb and it sold fairly quickly to a player out in North Carolina. Hopefully the instrument continues to get played and lives another life for the next 50 years! 

I suspect a refinish or an overspray might be the proper method to ensure the wood is properly protected for decades to come but I leave that decision up to the next owners.

Here is an iPhone 7 video of the instrument that I recorded, unfortunately I didn't think to mic it up and do a proper demo

Here is the original listing for the instrument with more detailed photos

All catalog images came from:

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