1930s Kay Round-Hole Jumbo Archtop Guitar

The last time I worked on one of these guitars was back in 2010. I don't think they're all that common as I've only seen a handful of others online since then. I have a feeling it's because of their manufacture date -- these are either very late '30s or early '40s judging by the fittings they usually have and they're among the earliest-made archtop Kay instruments that I've seen to use the 17" jumbo body shape with its "square-shoulders" look.

Like much of the Kay Kraft line, these instruments were entirely ply in their build (maple-veneered in this case) and this was originally finished in a dark sunburst. There's the leavings of the original finish under the fretboard extension.

The guitar itself is very lightweight and due to the unreinforced poplar necks and long scale length, I think they're really only suited to be strung with 50w-11 "custom lights" at maxiumum for standard-pitch tuning. In this case I've got it strung with 48w-10 gauges and it gets a good "gypsy-jazz" stinger-like vibe with a lot of cutting mids in standard tuning. I think blues-hounds or folksters will get a lot more mileage stringing with 12s or 13s, though, and tuning down to C or C# or open tunings that're fairly slack -- that's my favorite use of most old big-body Kays, anyway.

Previously, this guitar had some so-so work done on it and it was refinished to natural a long time back. The original bridge was gone and the tuners on it were cruddy modern Pings, but the rest of the hardware (tailpiece, endpin, and pickguard) was original, at least. It also had a giant screw fit into the back of the heel by way of a low-brow "neck reset" and I removed that, filled its crater, and then re-reset the neck at a better angle and using a hidden bolt which tightens-up at the neckblock inside the guitar. The rest of the work needed was glorified setup-side repairs.

Post-work it plays fast and easy, intonates well, and has an adjustable archtop-style bridge with plenty of adjustment room for action-height tweaking. The necks on these older Kays are a bit odd -- it has a narrower nut width at 1 5/8" and a steep-ish board radius, but the neck itself is a deeper/bigger U/C shape.

Repairs included: bolted-style neck reset, fret level/dress, side dots install, new compensated saddle/bridge top, new posts for the bridge itself, re-alignment of the pickguard and tailpiece, replacement ('50s-era) vintage tuners and tuner ferrules, and setup.

Top wood: ply maple

Back & sides wood: ply maple

Bracing type: ladder

Bridge: rosewood, adjustable

Fretboard: maple

Neck wood: poplar

Action height at 12th fret: 3/32” bass 1/16” treble (fast, spot-on)
String gauges: 46w-10 extra lights

Neck shape: medium-deep U/C

Board radius: ~10"

Truss rod: n/a

Neck relief: essentially straight (~1/64" relief at pitch)

Fret style: medium-low

Scale length: 25 3/4"

Nut width: 1 5/8"

Body width: 17 1/8"

Body depth: 3 1/2" + arching

Weight: 4 lbs 7 oz

Condition notes: it's been totally refinished in a brushed-on poly or similar -- probably in the '70s? The bridge and tuners are replacements. It shows mild playwear throughout but it's still pretty clean-looking overall. The heel has two patched holes in its rear and a split just above the heel cap. This area doesn't even have a dovetail in its section so it's mostly a cosmetic part of the neck. The previous repairman added two little screws to keep it attached firmly to the rest of the heel and you can see them at the back of the guitar's heel cap. There's a small portion of binding on the rear at the waist that is slightly pulled-away from the back and that's pictured. The frets are low-ish but wider as many old Kay frets are. Someone who likes tall frets will definitely want it refretted but those who don't mind low will be just fine (see: video).

IT's hard to see in the photo but I did add "lightning-bolt" compensation to the top of the new bridge saddle.


Nick R said…
Kay sold this style of guitar in the late 1940s under a new brand- Kamico which was probably a budget brand and did not last very long. Here is one in its original garb whereas yours appears to be au naturel!