c.1935 Kay Kraft Archtop Round-hole Guitar

This super-cool guitar is just that: super cool! These Kay Kraft archtops were made by Kay (Stromberg Voisinet until 1930ish) in Chicago and are entirely a "Kay" affair in terms of build, sonority, and style. In fact, this body style (two point) was a patented Kay shape and can be seen on mandolins, tenor guitars, guitars, mandolas, and mandocellos as far as I know. There's a fellow -- Kerry Krishna -- who's way into these guitars and you can check him out on FaceBook.

Anyway, this guitar came to me in fantastic condition... except... the neck was warped. The body was perfect -- only finish crackle and a tiny scratch here or there -- but I had to remove the old fretboard, plane the neck straight, and install a new board (rosewood) to correct the neck issue and stiffen it up. This also changed the scale length from about 25 1/2" to 25" "straight up" which puts a little less tension on the instrument. And speaking of tension...? This guitar needs extra light or silk and steel strings only, since the neck is good mahogany but the profile is almost like a modern, fast guitar neck save that it's unreinforced and I felt leery about routing out the neck at all and installing extra support.

The good news is that the instrument totally does not needing anything heavier. This machine is incredibly loud, saucy, punchy, and rumbly-warm good. It sounds a heck of a lot like a Selmer-Mac gypsy guitar, to be honest, though with that Chicago thump when you play choppy jazz chords up and down the neck. Fiery would be an understatement!

Such a pretty design!

The top is curiously x-braced with two ladder braces below the soundhole, which makes the top very sturdy and controlled and certainly opens up the tone in a different way compared to the ladder or tonebar bracing I'm more familiar with.

Kay Kraft logo/veneer at the headstock is super-cool. Note the new hefty bone nut.

This is a new rosewood board along with banjo-size frets installed to approximate old fret sizes. I used gold pearl dots rather than white pearl to fit in with a more "aged" look to the instrument. Side dots, too!

Originally this neck was 1 13/16" wide, but after fitting the new board it trimmed down to 1 3/4" which makes it a great, fast, all-around player.

This is not the original bridge, though the original bridge is good-to-go and staying with the guitar. I opted to fit a new (old stock) adjustable rosewood bridge to the top instead, since it makes on-the-fly setup much easier for a gigging musician.

This has a lovely red-brown sunburst all over.

The yellow/black/cream binding is at the top, back, and soundhole and adds some understated elegance. There's pickwear to the treble side of the hole since there was no pickguard on this particular guitar.

See the back? That's a big sheet of flamed mahogany veneer and it looks so classy. The sides of the guitar appear to actually be the solid version of the same stuff, and the neck is solid mahogany as well.

Typical 30s tailpiece is in good shape.


Fun "Gumby" headstock shape with original tuners. I lubed them and they work nice and cleanly, now. Only one screw is a replacement. Note the missing screw? I guess I took photos before putting it back! It's on there now, heh heh.

This is the patented Kay neck adjuster -- there's a big wingnut on the inside that tightens a bolt attached to the neck's heel. If you loosen it, you can then rotate the neck angle slightly, retighten, and that theoretically adjusts the string height over the board. The truth of the matter is that while it's a good idea, it often doesn't adjust that easily -- hence the reason I have a couple thin walnut shims up at the top of the neck to angle the neck back to a proper back-angle.

Here you can see that pretty flame...

...and an original endpin. The original "curtain pull" strap is included with the guitar.

I didn't end up matching the tone of the finish correctly after cleaning up the board-to-neck join, but I figure most people won't mind since this feels so, so good.

Here's the original, dyed-maple bridge with bone saddle. I much prefer the adjustable bridge, but this one is just fine, too.

...it also has its rather beat-up old original chip case, too.


Chuck Cheesman said…
This is beautiful. Your blog has become one of my regular stops when surfing the net. You're doing a great service putting these wonderful old instruments back into fine playing condition, and also by creating a body of work educating people like me about these instruments.

I will eventually buy an instrument from you. No doubt. In fact, a while back I was ready to purchase a little oak/spruce parlor you had on eBay, but someone beat me to it.

Be well & keep making music,