c.1965 Kay-made Truetone Archtop Octave Mandolin

I originally worked on this guitar-to-mandocello conversion back in 2009. A couple months ago it was traded back into me and at that point the original neck joint's glue had finally given out. I've since reset the neck and fretboard extension, added a new bone nut, given the frets a level and dress, and set it up with octave mandolin gauges (tuned GDAE rather than CGDA).

It plays great (1/16" treble and a hair above bass at the 12th fret), has a long 25 3/4" scale (which means comparatively lighter gauges can be used), and has a pretty big sound. I liked it tuned low as a mandocello (the string slots are still wide enough for that) but I like it better as an octave mandolin gauged out to 40w, 30w, 17, 11 strings. The neck is straight, the brass frets have plenty of life, the faux-rosewood dyed board is radiused, and the nut width is 1 5/8" which means the string spacing is somewhat natural for the conversion, too.

Overall, for an instrument that started out as a lackluster Kay plywood archtop guitar, it's turned into a great bargain octave mandolin/Irish bouzouki or mandocello instrument. It's quite loud and gutsy and the paired strings give it more of a full, upscale sound than it would ordinarily have.

With the exception of the tuners (which are same-period), the rest of the instrument is original and has no cracks (obviously, since it's laminate). The finish is quite clean in its satin way and the painted-on binding is just as snazzy as it ever was.

I removed the silly Truetone aluminum medallion as soon as I got the instrument back.

Big old inlaid plastic dots...

I added some slots to the tailpiece to accept paired spacing. You can use ball or loop-end strings, but the ball-end types are easier to load. The bridge is currently compensated for an unwound A as the long scale length makes gauges 16-18 plain sound nice in that configuration. Wound A strings would probably snap a lot at this scale length and put too much tension on the neck.

I cam across some old brass strap buttons recently and these fit the instrument for "looks" just about right. In addition to being useful for standing up this strap button also has a long screw reinforcement going into the neck block. It's totally not necessary post-neck reset, but it's there.

Amazingly, the factory installed the endpin hole at a bizarre angle, so rather than fuss with filling and redrilling it, I simply covered over the old endpin hole with a big washer under the tailpiece-area strap button.


happyjimmy said…
Hey Jake, Thanks for all this useful info. I have that exact guitar, although mine has a nasty red sunburst finish. I am considering the same conversion and more than likely need to reset the neck as well. Any surprises when you removed that "steel reinforced neck"?