Guitar Interactive welcomes back the noted guitar collector and historian Paul Brett with his unique take on vintage guitars. Just what’s lee that is affordable and – most importantly fun to play?
1958 Kay Upbeat (twin pickup version selling January 2013 for c. $1,850-2,250), 1933 Gibson L -OO (selling February 2013 for c. $4,200 to $5,300) and Crapper II ($ – who knows?).
In 1931 the Kay Musical Instrument Company was officially born and emerged out of the former Groeshl Instrument Company, which started in Chicago in 1890. morphrd into Stromberg – Voisinet in the mid 20’s prior to being named Kay As the years went by, Kay grew into one of the largest manufacturers of musical instruments and was especially lauded for its is guitars. It made acoustics too and other stringed instruments but it was the guitars – and especially the pickups – that left their mark on history. Quite possibly, Kay reached its zenith in the 1950s when it produced some classic clectrics including the Thin Twin (named after the twin lipstick shaped pickups) played by Bluesman Jimmy Reed and the ‘Gold K’ lint with their Kelvinator ‘refrigerator’ type headstocks and the brilliant Kleenex Box pick ups.
The great Jazz guitarist Barney Kessel was a major endorser and player of Kays and several Kays are now referred to as his models although it was the top of the range Jazz • special that was Kessers main model. Kay guitars from the ’50s are much sought after by collectors these days, from solid bodied to semis. The Upbeat models were a cheaper alternative to the Jazz specials. but like the Jazz specials. are in the higher price bracket and arc very rare to source in vgc. The one featured in this article was made in 1958. Its jet black with a single cutaway. 17″ wide veneered maple body and is 2.5″ deep. The fingerboard is rosewood and inlaid with pearloid markers. Machine heads arc Kiusons. It features a huge white and gold plastic Kelvinator headstock and ‘of the period’ white and silver sparkle pickguard. “Rvo hoc Gold K single coil Kleenex box type pickups drive the sound with a g three way switch and volume and tone controls.
I find this beginner guitar really great for Blues as it has a good clear tone when fingerpicked without too much volume needed. It’s also nice for Jazz and even Rockabilly with the right kind of vintage amp tone and reverb. The Upbeat models carried either one or nvo pick ups from ’57 to ’59 and carried full Keivinator headstocks, whereas it reverted to half, later in ’61. In 1967 Kay was sold/merged with Valco but that only lasted a year. Despite’never regaining its former glory, Kay guitars are very much on the rise in terms of collectability and are still affordable compared to some of their modern counterparts. In fact, Kay bass guitars from that era are becoming very sought after. At the time of writing there are a pair of `50s Jazz special basses on Ebay with single lipstick pick ups with a buy now price of $12,995 and six offers listed!
I have always been a great fan of 1920s and ’30s Gibson acoustics. When British 12-string pioneer John Joyce and I used to spend our days touring the UK back in the ’60s and ’70s, we would spend our days searching the junk shojis in the various towns and cities we visited prior to setting up at the gigs. It was John who taught me 12-string fingerpicking and who also passed on the bug for collecting vintage guitars. Back then, there was no such thing as a vintage collectable guitar market as such – this was firmly in the realm of 17th and 18th century dassical and flamenco guitars, plus earlier iconic lutes, harp lutes and museum pieces. In the ’60s for example, lots of the electric models that fetch hundreds of thousands now were in fact new to the market and the players.
There are also no such thing as corner junk shops now in the UK. These have long passed and morphed into Charity shops and private auctions and of course Ebay. So the possibility of picking up a Gibson L 00 for f.5 is a collector’s fantasy. Not all bargains were found in junk shops back then as many dealers did not consider old acoustic guitars that important. They were more interested us selling the latest electric models. At the far end of Kings Street, Hammersmith in London, was a music shop selling a variety of instrumenEs. It was run by a guy most of us fondly knew as ‘One Lung Harry’ who was a sax player and known as such because…yes…he only had one lung. John used to do freelance guitar repairs for a number of shops around the London area including Harry’s. When he was clearing out some old guitar cases in the attic of Harry’s shop one day he came across a 1930’s Gibson L-00. He asked Harry if he wanted to sell it and Harry promptly put a price of 1.5 ($8.00!) on it, including the original case John sold it onto to me for £10 making 100% profit on his original outlay and I got an amazing guitar that I have used on many of my recordings. gigs and session work to this day!
The Gibson L-OOs of the 1930s are universally regarded as one of the best recording guitars ever made. They don’t have the refined sound of Martin guitars from that era, or the full bodied sound of later Gibson J•200’s, but mispippeopprr overall, they are one of the greatest all round acoustics made, in my opinion. The 1933 L-00’s had spruce tops, mahogany back and sides with 14 3/4″ body, 24 3/4″ scale length and scalloped X bracing. They had the Gibson logo on the headstock with a firestripe tortoise shell pick guard and sunburst finish. The original retail price was $27.50. Quite expensive compared to the Stella Blues machines!
I love the thin tops on these guitars and the concise sound projection. I use La Bella’ silk and steel strings on my model but the guitar rakes most good quality brands. Prices these days are still rising but still nowhere near the value of some vintage Martins and they are still worth investing in to own one. . My, model has replacement Grover machine heads and a Shadow pick up. plus you can dearly sec John Joyce’s label inside, next to the Gibson one. You can source these froin $2.500 to $4,500 generally, depending on condition.
Finally, I have to have my tongue in cheek bit of fun and present you with The Crapper couldn’t resist buying this off Ebay USA as it made me laugh and I thought, what the hell, it was just over the $100 dollar mark and unusual enough to add to my collection. I featured Dewey Decibel’s ‘Flip Out’ guitar in the last edition and this in its way is equally as good to end on. You could say, it’s a very satisfying capper. Of course it’s hand made from a used toilet seat with both solid top and ring piece being utilised. When the top lid is open, you could say its a little ‘bottom heavy’ but strangely enough, the guyar has a really good sound with two pick ups, switch and volume controls. It’s pointless going into construction values but full marks to the maker for imagination. There was an old country Blues tune that John used to. sing, with lyrics about a similar scat chat said “1 used the top as a bread board and framed my picture in the bottom.”
I’m inspired to make a new CD entitled ‘Songs from the Crapper’ featuring some of My electric runes with rants against the system (not the flushing kind!). I understand there is also a Crapper I out there which if you come across it, let me know as I’d love, to sec a picture of it.