1940s Kay-made 000-Size Kamico Archtop guitar

The brand at the headstock appears to be a Kamico mark, but this was clearly made by Kay in either the late 1930s or early 1940s. This is a customer's guitar that I've been dragging my heels on, as I knew it would be a lot of work to get it done -- and all that it needed was a refret and setup. Kays, however, are always just a little bit more "exciting" than others to work on.

Apparently, the owner's father played this guitar all the time until it was shuttered in a case for decades. When it was pulled-out again, the finish was all checked and funky and the owner -- being an automotive detailer -- refinished the guitar in an authentic sunburst and with an incredibly cool "gold sparkle" effect that one just can't see in the photos. It's pure classic car mojo!

My work, as stated, was to plane its fretboard and refret it with jumbo stock. I use a tall, pyramid-shaped wire from StewMac that I love, though it's a bit stiff to bend and press into the board and this board has a fairly-steep 9 1/2" radius to it. The neck -- as is usual on a Kay because of their long-as-heck 25 7/8" scale length -- was warped, so the planing job to get the board level was a bit frustrating, too. During the refret, I added a hair of backbow which let me string this up with 52w-12 strings and still have the neck nice and straight when it's tuned up to pitch.

The guitar is all-original save the refinish/overspray job, the new frets, and my new side dot additions.

It's pure joy to play a Kay like this with the board redone. These old Kays often have slightly (or crazily!) warped necks which make them tend to feel stiff. This one, however, feels buttery-fast and has a crazy amount of saucy, lower-mids punch.

The pickguard is pretty nice, too.

I slightly modified the original bridge -- adding proper compensation for the B string and thinning it up a little here and there to get more travel-room for the adjusters.

This tailpiece type has a flaw in that it usually pulls the metal retainer bar for the strings down onto the top. Here I've loaded the strings in a loop so that the string itself wraps below that bar and then to the bridge, which automatically keeps the tailpiece off the top. I then added a little muting-foam under the tailpiece's cover to kill overtones from the string afterlength.

The stuff that looks like "dust" in the finish is actually gold-sparkle flecks and looks great in person.

Unfortunately, like a lot of Kays, the tailpiece was not installed on-center with the neck. I've moved it over to compensate for that problem.

An original, hard, arched-lid case with excellent blue lining survives with the guitar. Nice, huh? The "ugliness" on the outside is actually sanding-dust from living in my workshop for too-long a time.


Unknown said…
Hi Jake,
You did a beautiful job fixing up my deceased "Uncle's" guitar that was given to me by his wife over 20 years ago. My uncle told me several years before his death it was built in the early 30"s but I have no proof of that other than his word. I cannot find a photo that shows the original finish "tiger stripes" but I am still looking for one. The original finish was actually in good shape but I didn't like the "stripes." I let it set in the corner of my garage office for several years trying to come up with a better look. I finally decided on what you see. I don't believe there is any value to this other than it has been in my family.
Thank you again for making it playable - it was worth the wait!
Unknown said…
Hi again Jake,
I think I might have unknowingly, accidentally misled you thinking that the guitar was owned by my father,
Also, I might have mentioned the original paint was not good. I meant I didn’t like it as it was.
You are a great, intelligent person who knows quite a lot about instruments and I will take your word that the guitar was built probably in the 40’s.
I also had a chance to hear you play it on your website.
I can’t wait to hear you play live!!
Thanks again for all you do! Hopefully, i’ll See you on my next trip to Rochester!
Nick R said…
According to Michael Wright in Guitar Stories Volume Two, Kamico was Kay's budget line from 1947 to 1951. He suggests it is derived from Kay Musical Instrument Company.