1940s Kay-made Orpheum Resonator Guitar (w/National Cone)

Update 2019: I first posted this in 2014 and shortly after that my friend Tom bought this for band use -- where it "fought alongside" my upright bass and our friend JC's clarinet and banjo uke for a couple years. I've done a lot more work to it since posting, and now that he's retired it from service and has it up for sale on consignment, I've completely updated this blog post with new photos, a video, and a new description.

While this instrument bears "Orpheum" at the headstock, its body and neck were made by Kay in Chicago. The resonator, however, is an original 1930s/40s National biscuit cone. I'm pretty sure this instrument was made in the very late '40s or very early '50s. It has a long scale, quick neck, and plenty of airspace in the wooden body. These factors combine to make an instrument that is at once both one of the loudest National-coned wood-bodies I've encountered, one of the most playable ones, and one with the woodiest/warmest tone. It's a great mix of features.

Work (over time) included: a neck reset, board plane and refret with medium fretstock, new vintage-style StewMac tuners (a nice upgrade), a K&K pickup install, new biscuit and saddle (more details down the page), soundposts added to support the soundwell, replacement coverplate screws, mod to the coverplate so the bridge-cover can be removed easily for setup changes, and a good setup. Action has remained stable at a perfect 3/32" EA and 1/16" DGBE without adjustment for 4 years, now. Current string gauges are a newer 54w-12 set and the neck is straight but I suggest 52w-11 as-normal for this guitar since it has such a long scale length.

A note about the biscuit: when fitting the K&K pickup, the original maple biscuit was not giving a good signal for whatever reason. I fussed with materials until I landed on using a disc of cedar soundboard material with a rosewood saddle glued to the top of it. This gave the right mix to get the pickup sounding awesome, balanced, and with good output.

Scale length: 25 3/4"
Nut width: 1 5/8"
String spacing at nut: 1 3/8"
String spacing at bridge: 1 15/16"
Body length: 19 3/4"
Lower bout width: 15 1/2"
Waist width: 8 3/4"
Upper bout width: 11 1/4"
Side depth at endpin: 3 7/8"
Top wood: ply spruce
Back/sides wood: ply mahogany
Neck wood: poplar or maple?
Bracing type: ladder/none
Fretboard: Brazilian rosewood, original bone nut
Bridge: cedar biscuit (weird, I know!) with rosewood saddle, compensated
Neck feel: slim-to-medium C-shape, flat board

Condition notes: replaced tuners (originals in case pocket), refretted (with minor wear -- can level/dress if desired, but not necessary), replacement coverplate screws, new biscuit and saddle, original cone, average usewear throughout with some cool "washboarding" near the treble-side f-hole, strap button added at the heel. There's some nicks and dings around the heel (it came-in with a big bolt installed in it) and there are filled holes near the tailpiece from where it'd been mounted/remounted several times.

It comes with: a 1980s/1990s-era hard case.

The bridge-cover easily comes-off with four machine screws. This allows on-the-fly setup changes if needed.