1930s Kay-made Kay Kraft Archtop Mandolin

Kay Kraft mandolins with the fancy gold-look decals and associated early-30s looks are a bit on the rare side, but later variations of the design can be seen quite often. It's interesting to note that the body shape actually originates in the early-to-mid 1920s in their flatback offerings, though the one seen on this remained as a standard Kay shape all the way through the original company's demise in the 1970s.

This Kay Kraft has some interesting features that give it a modern twist. Its body is all ply with spruce veneer on the front and flamed maple veneer on the back and sides. Its body is also press-arched with heat in a mold as opposed to carved -- a process that became very common but was sort-of new when this was originally marketed. The neck also joins at the 12th fret with a bridge that's higher up on the body and it has a long scale at 14" -- these features being the ones that give it much more of an up-to-date vibe in the hands and also provide the bulk of the tremendous oomph and punch that it has.

I worked on this one for a customer and this came to me in a horrid state. It was missing the main below-the-soundhole brace, the neck block was cracked in a couple of areas, and the upper bout on the bass side was missing kerfing and very rough. The fretboard had no binding, the heel and its dovetail were botched and funky, it needed a bridge, there was a missing tuner button, and it needed a nut as well. It all went back together just fine (with much fussing at the neck area) but the work was a lot more involved than I expected.

It does look good, though, doesn't it?

Because the body is all ply it managed to hang-on through all the structural shifts and damage over time.

The pearloid headstock veneer is the same used on all the earlier-generation Kay Kraft instruments.

Pearl inlay is set in a stained-maple fretboard.

The new compensated bridge I made uses adjuster wheels between the GD and AE strings. When I have to make bridges, this is how I've been doing it. I find that they hold-up better and sound more transparent as the tension from each course is distributed evenly on each post.

There are two braces on the lower bout on these instruments. One is almost directly below the bridge and there's usually another just in front of it. Since the one in front was missing I made a new one and stuck it more forward and directly below the soundhole. This shores-up the usual "sinking spot" on this model and also lets the top be driven a bit more freely. I've done this twice before with good results as that mid-brace always seems to be missing.

The back and sides have flamed-maple veneer.

Remarkably, Kay made the decision to use fancy, engraved-plate, Waverly tuners. One button on here is a replacement I added from another set of antique mandolin tuners.

The neck is mahogany.

If you can see the discoloration at the back of the heel -- that's where bolt reinforcement went in. With a twice-split neckblock and a really, really terrible joint, I didn't have much choice otherwise.

You can really see how much height the neck set gave the bridge in these last pics.