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Kay Musical Instrument Company was a
US
US
musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. A person who play ...
manufacturer of the United States, in operation from 1890. Kay was established in 1931 in
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
, Illinois, by Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer, from the assets of the former Stromberg-Voisinet (founded by Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer, Frank C. Voisinet, and Charles G. Stromberg). The company produced instruments in its plant until 1968, when it ceased operations after a brief merging with
Valco Valco was a US manufacturer of guitar amplifier A guitar amplifier (or amp) is an that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a on an , , or so that it can produce sound through one or more s, which are typically housed in a wooden . ...
. In 1969, rights to name "Kay" was acquired by Weiss Musical Instruments (WMI) . The brand has been used by several manufacturers since then, mainly attached to Japanese import guitars.The Story of Kay Guitars, Told in 10 Reverb Listings
by Frank Meyers, Jul 18, 2017 por Frank Meyers
Kay offered their first
electric guitar An electric guitar is a guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the fu ...

electric guitar
in 1936 — five years after the
Rickenbacker Rickenbacker International Corporation is a string instrument String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some m ...

Rickenbacker
''
Frying pan A frying pan, frypan, or skillet is a flat-bottomed pan Pan may refer to: Prefix *''Pan-'', a prefix A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word. Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For ...
'', and the same year as the
Gibson ES-150 The Gibson Guitar Corporation Gibson Brands, Inc. (formerly Gibson Guitar Corporation) is an American manufacturer of guitars The guitar is a fretted musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, mu ...

Gibson ES-150
. However, the Kuhrmeyer-owned Stromberg-Voisinet brand had produced the "Stromberg Electro" even earlier, in 1928, making the short-lived model arguably the first commercial electric guitar.


Overview


Early history (1890–1931)

The Kay Musical Instrument Company grew from the Andrew Groehsl Company (or Groehsl Mandolin Company) in Chicago, established in 1890. In 1921, Groehsl's company was purchased by Henry "Kay" Kuhrmeyer, Frank Voisinet, and Charles Stromberg and renamed to Stromberg-Voisinet. In 1928, with the help of an investor, Kuhrmeyer bought out his partners, renamed the company, and started producing electric guitars and amplifiers. The new company, "Kay Musical Instruments" was formally established in 1931. As its predecessor had primarily commercialized its products under its own brand as well as a large number of other brands, Kay Musical Instruments would continue that practice.


Activity on Kuhrmeyer-era (1931–1955)

The company initially manufactured only traditional folk instruments such as
mandolin A mandolin ( it, mandolino ; literally "small mandola The mandola (US and Canada) or tenor mandola (Ireland and UK) is a fretted, stringed musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sound ...

mandolin
s,
tenor guitar The tenor guitar or four-string guitar is guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, ...
s and
banjo The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashio ...

banjo
s, but eventually grew to make a wide variety of stringed instruments, including
violins The violin, sometimes known as a ''fiddle'', is a wooden chordophone (string instrument) in the violin family. Most violins have a hollow wooden body. It is the smallest and thus highest-pitched instrument (soprano) in the family in regular u ...
,
cellos The cello ( ; plural celli or cellos) or violoncello ( ; ) is a bowed (sometimes plucked and occasionally hit Hit means to strike (attack), strike someone or something. Hit or HIT may also refer to: Arts, entertainment and media Fictional ...
,
double bass The double bass, also known simply as the bass (or by other names), is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed (or plucked) string instrument String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce so ...

double bass
es and a variety of different types of
guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while sim ...

guitar
s, including
electric Electricity is the set of physical Physical may refer to: *Physical examination, a regular overall check-up with a doctor *Physical (album), ''Physical'' (album), a 1981 album by Olivia Newton-John **Physical (Olivia Newton-John song), "Physi ...

electric
,
classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architecture, architecture derived from Greek and ...
,
lap steel The lap steel guitar, also known as a Hawaiian guitar, is a type of steel guitar A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākila) is any guitar played while moving a steel bar or similar hard object against plucked strings. The bar itself is called a "steel" ...
and
semi-acoustic A semi-acoustic guitar, hollow-body electric, or thinline is a type of electric guitar that was first created in the 1930s. It has a sound box and at least one electric Pick up (music technology), pickup. The semi-acoustic guitar is different to ...
models. In addition to manufacturing instruments for sale under its own brands (like Kay Kraft and Kamico), Kay was also a prolific manufacturer of guitars for retailers across the nation who would order instruments with custom branding to be resold as "house brand" instruments. Kay also made
guitar amplifiers A guitar amplifier (or amp) is an electronic device or system that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a pickup on an electric guitar An electric guitar is a guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically h ...
, beginning with designs carried over from the old Stromberg company. Kay eventually subcontracted its amplifier production to
Chicago (''City in a Garden''); I Will , image_map = , map_caption = Interactive map of Chicago , coordinates = , coordinates_footnotes = , subdivision_type = Country , subdivision_name ...

Chicago
music industry rival
Valco Valco was a US manufacturer of guitar amplifier A guitar amplifier (or amp) is an that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a on an , , or so that it can produce sound through one or more s, which are typically housed in a wooden . ...
in the 1950s.


Decline on Katz-era (1955–1968)

After the retirement of Kuhrmeyer in 1955, the company was taken over by Sidney M. Katz. The product line of Kay was shifted toward electric musical instruments on demands, and in 1964, the company moved to a new factory in
Elk Grove Village, Illinois Elk Grove Village is a village in Cook County, Illinois, Cook and DuPage County, Illinois, DuPage counties in the U.S. state of Illinois. Located northwest of Chicago along the Golden Corridor, the Village of Elk Grove Village was incorporate ...
. In 1965 Katz sold Kay to
Seeburg Corporation The Seeburg was an American design and manufacturing company of automated musical equipment, such as orchestrion Orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra An orchestra (; ) ...
, and he became the head of Seeburg's musical instrument division. In 1967, Kay was resold and merged with
Valco Valco was a US manufacturer of guitar amplifier A guitar amplifier (or amp) is an that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a on an , , or so that it can produce sound through one or more s, which are typically housed in a wooden . ...
, but dissolved in 1968 due to financial problems.


Revive (1969–present)

The assets of Kay/Valco were auctioned off in 1969. The upright bass and cello lines were sold to Engelhardt-Link, a new company formed by a previous Valco member, which has continued production (see #Kay basses for details). The Kay name (and some of its trademarks, such as Knox were acquired by Teisco importer, Weiss Musical Instruments (WMI, by Sol Weindling and Barry Hornstein), who put the Kay name on the Teisco products beginning in 1973, and continued on through the 1970s. In 1980, A.R. Enterprises (Tony Blair) purchased the Kay trademark. In 2008-2009, The "Kay Guitar Company" of California reissued 12 models of vintage Kay guitars and basses manufactured by Fritz Brothers Guitars. As of 2013, production and sales of these guitars have continued.


Kay guitars

Kay is best known for their large production of student-grade, budget instruments but also built higher quality instruments that were used by professional artists of the time including a line of electric guitars endorsed by Barney Kessel. Kay sold guitars under their own name as well as a plethora of brand names such as ''Silvertone (brand), Silvertone'' for Sears , ''Sherwood'' and ''Airline (guitar), Airline'' for Montgomery Ward, ''Old Kraftsman'' for Spiegel (catalog), Spiegel, ''Rex'' for Gretsch, ''Custom Kraft'' for St. Louis Music Supply Company, ''Truetone'' for Western Auto, – "Truetone" was a registered trademark for musical instruments owned by Western Auto since 1964/1966 until 1989 (or since 1945/1947 until 1992 for radio receiver o
trademark 71485315
.
'Penncrest' for JC Penney, ''etc.'' The current line of Kay instruments sold by A.R. Enterprises include low-priced acoustic, electric and bass guitars, and moderately priced banjos, ukuleles, mandolins and resonators. All imported from China.


K-161 Thin Twin guitar and K-162 Electronic Bass

One of the best known Kay electric guitars during the 1950s was the Kay K-161 ThinTwin, K-161 "''Thin Twin''", most visibly used by blues artist Jimmy Reed. This instrument debuted in 1952, and featured a single cutaway body, a distinctive "fire stripe" tortoiseshell material, tortoiseshell pickguard, and a pair of thin blade-style guitar pickup, pickups. Also in 1952, Kay introduced the matching K-162 "''Electronic''" ''Bass'', which was the first commercially available thinline-hollowbody electric bass guitar, and the second production electric bass guitar after the Fender Precision Bass debuted in 1951. Due to the use of K-162 by a bassist of Howlin' Wolf, Andrew "Blueblood" McMahon, it is commonly known as the "Howlin Wolf" bass. These instruments are believed to be the first semi-acoustic guitar, semi-hollow electrics (i.e., thinline-hollowbody electric with solid center-block), predating the Gibson ES-335 by six years. Their unique design featured a flat top guitar, flat top with no f-holes, a free-floating arched back, and two braces running along the top. The result was a
semi-acoustic A semi-acoustic guitar, hollow-body electric, or thinline is a type of electric guitar that was first created in the 1930s. It has a sound box and at least one electric Pick up (music technology), pickup. The semi-acoustic guitar is different to ...
instrument that was feedback-resistant while retaining natural acoustic resonances. In 1954, Kay added the K-160 bass to its catalog with baritone guitar, baritone tuning, according to the catalog, "''tuned like the first four guitar strings but one octave lower.''" Structurally this bass was basically same as K-162 bass, except for the higher pitched tuning and the addition of a white pickguard. In the late 1950s, various guitars in the Kay line were assigned new model numbers; according to the 1959 catalog, the ''Thin Twin'' became K5910 and the ''Electronic Bass'' became K5965. Both instruments remained in Kay's catalog offerings with only minor cosmetic variations until 1966, when Kay revamped its entire guitar line to only feature budget instruments. Kay also manufactured versions of the ''Thin Twin'' guitar under the Silvertone (brand), Silvertone (Sears) and Old Kraftsman (Spiegel (catalog), Spiegel) brands.


Gold "K" Line

In 1957, president Sydney Katz introduced the Gold “K” line of archtop and solid body electric guitars, solid body electric guitars to compete with major manufacturers like Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, Fender, Gibson Guitar Corporation, Gibson, and Gretsch. The gold “K” Line featured the Jazz Special, Artist, Pro, Upbeat, Jazz II, and Jazz Special Bass. Gold “K” guitars used the same hardware as top manufacturers. However, there were truss rod and neck issues. Kay's "Thin Lite" truss rods introduced on mid-tier instruments in the 1960s often become dislodged and inoperable. They may be repaired by a luthier. Gold models had single coil Pickup (music technology), pickups with clear silver plastic covers and phillips head bolt adjustable pole pieces. The Upbeat model came with an optional transparent black plastic cover. The Jazz Special Bass has a single blade pickup as used on the K-161 and K-162 (tilted slightly towards the neck at the treble side), as well as a distinctive, oversized headstock. Valued among collectors, the headstocks from 1957-1960 featured a reverse painted plastic overlay similar to the Kelvinator logo. The guitars featured art deco patterns. It was difficult to get players to take Kay's high end entry seriously, and Kay discontinued the Gold line in 1962.


Kay basses

In 1937, Kay began to produce a 3/4 size upright bass, which is widely believed to be their ''Concert'' or ''C-1'' bass. Like their guitar manufacturing, the basses were hand crafted by skilled craftsmen using special ordered machinery. They even had a hot stamping machine that could emboss the trademark KAY cursive script. After the dissolve of Kay/Valco in 1968, the Engelhardt-Link Company bought the upright bass and cello lines at the asset auction in 1969, and continue to produce the same instrument lines till today. Manufactured in
Elk Grove Village, Illinois Elk Grove Village is a village in Cook County, Illinois, Cook and DuPage County, Illinois, DuPage counties in the U.S. state of Illinois. Located northwest of Chicago along the Golden Corridor, the Village of Elk Grove Village was incorporate ...
, Engelhardt basses and cellos are sturdy instruments, widely used by students and touring professionals. The ''ES9 Swingmaster'' bass (formerly the Kay ''S9 Swingmaster''), is highly thought-of by jazz, swing, and bluegrass musicians.


Notable players

*Alvin Youngblood Hart * Anne Erin Clark *Arthur Crudup *Barney Kessel *Beck *Big Joe Williams *Bill Black *Bob Casale (Devo) *Bob Dylan *Brad Paisley *Brad Whitford *Bruce Springsteen *Buddy Guy *Chet Atkins *Chuck Berry *Darryl Jones (The Rolling Stones) *Dave Grohl *Elmore James *Elvis Costello *Elvis Presley *Eric Clapton * Francis Hillman Blackwell *Gaby Moreno *Gary Moore * George Montgomery *George Harrison *Howlin' Wolf *Jack White (musician), Jack White *James Hetfield *Jeff Tweedy *Jerry Garcia *Jimi Hendrix *Jimmy Reed *Jimmy Vivino *Joan Jett *Joe Hill Louis *Joe Walsh *John Fogerty *John Lee Hooker *Keith Richards *Louis Allen *Mark Knopfler *Mike Rutherford *Patterson Hood *Paul McCartney *Paul Stanley *Pete Townshend *Phil Alvin *Randy Jackson *Robert DeLeo and Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) *Robert Pete Williams *Roscoe Holcomb *Rudy Sarzo *Ry Cooder * Sam Hopkins * Sam Pallidio (Nashville T.V. Show) *Sarah McLachlan *Sean Hurley *Shark (musician), Shark *Sheryl Crow *T Bone Burnett *Tom Morello *Tom Petersson *Tom Petty * harles Candler Rosser


See also

* Silvertone (brand), Silvertone * Airline (guitar), Airline * Teisco *
Seeburg Corporation The Seeburg was an American design and manufacturing company of automated musical equipment, such as orchestrion Orchestrion is a generic name for a machine that plays music and is designed to sound like an orchestra An orchestra (; ) ...
*
Valco Valco was a US manufacturer of guitar amplifier A guitar amplifier (or amp) is an that strengthens the weak electrical signal from a on an , , or so that it can produce sound through one or more s, which are typically housed in a wooden . ...
* Harmony Company


Bibliography

* *
"''Source: 1950s/1960s company history courtesy Jay Scott, 50's Cool: Kay Guitars, contemporary history courtesy Michael Wright, Vintage Guitar Magazine, individual model listings: Michael Wright, Guitar Stories, Volume Two.''"
See also
MayflowerKay Kraft


Notes


References

;History * — compact timeline, based on the below. * — detailed history. * — history focused on the development of early electric guitars, based on the other references. * — another short history, which covers slightly different topics. ;Models * *


External links


Kay Vintage Reissue
a division of Kay Guitar Company

manufacturer of "Kay Vintage Reissue"
Kay Bass website
{{Authority control Guitar manufacturing companies of the United States Guitar amplifier manufacturers Manufacturing companies established in 1890 Companies disestablished in 1968 1890 establishments in Illinois 1968 disestablishments in Illinois Musical instrument manufacturing companies based in Chicago Audio equipment manufacturers of the United States Defunct manufacturing companies based in Illinois