1960s KAPA Continental 12-String Electric Guitar (Rubber Bridge, Baritone Tuning)

This project is the brainchild of my buddy Steve. He said, "I want a baritone 12-string guitar with a rubber bridge." Yeah, ok, find it. He found it! I mean... he found the lovely KAPA 12-string (click here and also click here for more info on the Maryland-based KAPA brand) with its nitro finish over metallic deep red that's crackled oh so beautifully and has a shrunken pickguard that's just right and those crazy German "staple" humbucker pickups. Of course, it was beat, too, and non-functional as-is.

My work was spent making it ship-shape (and beautiful, and practical) and then abominating it by making and installing a rubber-saddle bridge for it. For those not in the know, rubber bridges are a "thing" these days. Blame "Old Style Guitar Shop" as well as Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) for popularizing them. They give a damped, muted, short-sustain tone that reminds me of both stuffing some foam in front of your bridge (like the old Fender mutes) and palm-muting at the same time, but without quite so much loss of chunk. It's weird and wonderful -- and if you listen to the video clip you can hear the cool factor kick-in pretty fast.

Repairs included: a board plane and refret w/medium stock, headstock "wing" reglue, install of relic'd Gotoh Kluson-style tuners (these are great) to replace bad originals, repair of the Jazzmaster-ish-style whammy, a brand new wiring harness with 3-way switch in lieu of a 2nd tone control and slider switches, much cleaning and fuss getting the pickguard fit correctly, a proper ground to the tailpiece, new rubber-saddle/rosewood-base adjustable bridge (fully compensated... what a chore w/rubber), and setup.

Setup notes: the neck is straight and it plays kick-butt with 1/16" action overall -- just a hair over that on the bass side. The truss works as it should. Tuning is currently BEADF#B but it tunes-up to C-to-C nicely as well. String gauges are interesting -- I wanted to keep tension fairy low as the necks on this are very shallow front/back and rely a lot on the truss rod for stability. I used a pack of medium D'Addario Chromes and mixed those with various plain singles to make the set which is (low to high) -- 26w/56w B, 18/46w E, 14/36w A, 10/20 D, 17/17 F#, 13/13 B.

Scale length: 25 1/2"
Nut width: 1 3/4"
String spacing at nut: 1 1/2"
String spacing at bridge: 2 1/16"
Body length: 17 3/4"
Lower bout width: 12 1/2"
Waist width: 8 1/2"
Upper bout width: 10 1/4"
Side depth at endpin: 1 1/2"
Body wood: poplar
Neck wood: maple
Fretboard: rosewood, zero fret nut
Bridge: adjustable archtop-style w/rubber saddle (comp'd)
Neck feel: slim C/D-shape, 9.5-12" compound board radius

Condition notes: obviously it's been modified at the bridge and wiring harness and there's a bit of wear and tear to the instrument -- but mostly at the shrunken pickguard. Changing this back to a normal 12-string electric would be as simple as a restring and replacing the current bridge with something like a Tune-O-Matic that's had its saddles slotted and ground a bit for better compensation string-to-string.

Why doesn't every manufacturer use simple bar-style downpressure bars? It's just logical.

There's a lady (the Queen of Cups, actually) hiding where the old slider switches used to go. Who hates slider switches? Raise your hands! Me, me, me, me, you, we, you, we all do!

Note the old bridge-post holes just in front of my own. I wonder how bad intonation was on the original bridge!?

So, to get the sound I want, I cut thin slots down into the rubber and let the rubber edges of the slot "hug" the string from the side. In this case I've cut down to where the thicker tread rubber meets a slightly fibery layer that supports the strings better.

I can compensate the rubber to a certain extent by using my Foredom (read: Dremel) with a round grinder head on it to burn-away/rub-away the portion of the rubber I need to cut back for better intonation. This is a huge chore on a 12-string like this as they need to get knocked-back at different rates in a tight area. Plus... it's really easy to goof it.

The individual tuners almost fit perfectly without fuss, though I did have to cut-down tabs on one for each side to get them to fit like they should.

Oh, right, did I mention the awesome original case? I love the foam someone added. Smart!


Rob Gardner said…
As you know,Jake, I used to work at the Kapa factory as a teenager, a grim sweatshop in a run-down industrial building in Hyattsville, a sad, fading suburb of Washington DC. I think we can imagine that all low-rent guitar factories (Harmony, Kay, Regal) had the same kind of high-quality industrial workers as we did at Kapa. My job on the Line was to screw the scratch plates with all the electronics into the body at the end of the line. Every tenth or so guitar, I would slip into a repetitive-action coma and my electric screw driver would slip off the screw head and drill into the already finished guitar top. I think I lasted about two weeks or so. But I never knew they made a 12 string. Amazing condition, given the kind of people who made them...
Jake Wildwood said…
Hee hee, I love the image of teenage you putting big dings in the tops of new guitars with a driver bit, and a trash bin of them accumulating next to you with a big red "2nd" stamped on their headstock rears.