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  Elmore James with his Kay K-6000 Image Credit: The K-6000 Western Rhythm Guitar Image of 1958 Kay catalog r...

The Kay K-6000 "Elmore James" Guitar


Elmore James with his Kay K-6000
Image Credit:

The K-6000 Western Rhythm Guitar

Image of 1958 Kay catalog removed after threat of legal action by, 
claiming to be the owner of the copyright for this Kay guitar catalog

The Kay K-6000 is one of the few actually rare Kay guitars (people get confused and incorrectly slap 'rare' on everything they can't immediately find on Google images). It does not appear in the 1956 or 1959 catalogs but only appears in the 1958 Kay/Kessel joint catalog as the only acoustic and only guitar that didn't have any ties to Barney Kessel in its description. Its unclear if this was truly a production model that only lasted a few years or if it was a special run with Kessel and we may never know unless a 1957 or 1958 Kay catalog surfaces. But we can say with certainty that the model didn't last long in the Kay roster, perhaps owing to its steep $175 price tag.

It is also worth mentioning that this was not a "signature" model made for Elmore, as some may claim, it was simply a guitar that he owned and happened to use frequently and publicly

The K-6000 blended two Kay production models, the Kay K-6100 (produced: 1957-1965) dreadnought and the Kay K-27 (produced: 1952-1956; 1957-1965 as the K-8127) jumbo into one unique instrument
  • Maple neck 
    • Large headstock with black celluloid overlay and pearloid inlays (K-27)
    • Ebony fretboard
      • '1-2-1' pattern pearloid dots
    • Kanti-lever truss rod system
    • Nickel frets
    • Kluson "Waffle Back" Tuners
  • Dreadnought body (like the K-6100)
    • Solid Sitka Spruce top
    • Simple, two ring rosette (again, borrowed from the K-6100)
    • Laminate Brazilian Rosewood back and sides
    • Ebony bridge (from the K-27)
    • 15-3/4" wide at the lower bout, 4-1/4" deep

The Look-a-likes

Kay is an enigmatic company, and has been the source of much confusion for years, so it should come as no surprise that there are Kays being advertised as the "Elmore James" model when 

Features from both of these two models were borrowed to make the K-6000 but these guitars by themselves are not what Elmore James would've played.

Kay K-6100 with a refinished headstock
Image Credit: Mine
Kay K-27
Image Credit: Reverb - Bird House Music


Elmore's Guitar

Now that we know what his guitar is, we can focus on what makes his guitar unique.

He had his initials set in rhinestones on the bass-side upper bout of the instrument.

The electronics were the biggest contributor to his sound and can be seen best in this picture below. We can see there is a DeArmond RHC-B soundhole pickup mounted incorrectly in the soundhole (its backwards, the sunken pole piece should be under the B string not the A string). 

Below his right hand is the control unit for a DeArmond Rhythm Chief 1000 archtop pickup. It appears that the Rhythm Chief pickup is mounted directly to the soundboard behind the sound hole. Its been brought to my attention that the Rhythm Chief only appeared in this performance so it wasn't a permanent fixture of his instrument.

His guitar also has an archtop tailpiece fastened to it, likely due to a bellying top with the original pinned bridge. That is not an uncommon fix to see on these instruments.

Image Credit:

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