Vintage Kay Archtop Repair

This guitar belonged to my wife’s late grandfather.  Over the years it had fallen into disrepair. When we received it was missing the strings and bridge, and had a severely damaged nut.  The neck was also extremely loose; so much so that I was able to detach it from the body with minimal effort.

The guitar had no labels indicating the brand inside the body or on the headstock.  After the dust was cleaned off, I noticed some faint glue residue on the headstock in the shape of a stylized “K” as in Kay Guitars.  From my research the guitar is either from the late 1940s or possibly the early 1950s.

The first step was to clean up the guitar.  The outside and inside were dusted and vacuumed.  Some oil and an old toothbrush cleaned up the fretboard.

The beautiful rosewood shined after the residue from years of use was removed. The broken plastic nut was replaced with a bone nut.

The dovetail joint between the neck and the body came apart with minimal effort.  The joint was cleaned and then reglued.

The homemade endpin was replaced with a new snakewood endpin.  We’ll hang onto the old endpin because of the family connection.

A new Tune-o-matic bridge was placed on the soundboard.  Although it isn’t period correct, I wanted the extra adjustments it offered.  Because it isn’t glued on, it would be an easy thing to swap out in future, if desired.

It was equipped with its original Kluson brand tuners.  They were removed, cleaned up, and reinstalled.

This guitar is now playable!  It is very loud and has a great sound.

The bumps and bruises on the finish remain as a testament to the years it has seen. This guitar was well used and well loved.  It can now be enjoyed by current and future generations.


20 thoughts on “Vintage Kay Archtop Repair

  1. King Uke

    Beautiful Daniel! It’s funny that you should be talking about handing down instruments through the generations. I just learnt today about something called the “Bunya Guitar Project”… “The Bunya Guitar Project was initiated at the Bunya Dreaming Festival in 2010. A Bunya soundboard M225 Maton guitar was gifted to the festival through Dave Kirby Millers and Maton Guitar’s Australia. A competition was held at the Bunya Dreaming festival to win custodianship of the guitar for the next twelve months until the next Bunya Dreaming.”
    What a great idea!

  2. Vernena Jorgensen

    Daniel you did a great job. It will now be a real treasure now and for generations to come. Thanks for all the care you took to restore it and make it playable again. It brings back a lot of memories. We were told it couldn’t be done but you proved them wrong and I really appreciate it.

  3. ChrisRM

    I have the same guitar handed down to me from my father, for the life of me I can’t seem to find any info on it though! All I know is late 40’s to 50’s, any more info would be greatly appreciated.
    Also, holds tuning fantastically and sounds great!

    1. danielhulbert Post author

      I looked all over the internet to find more information about it. It seems like these Kay guitars were sold in a bunch of different department store under different names. They also didn’t have standard parts and inlays (like Gibson and Fender did). This one did have a steel tube truss rod, so that’s why I date it to the late 40s. World War 2 era budget guitars a lot of the did not have truss rods installed because of metal shortages.

  4. Evans Jenkins

    It looks very similar to my father’s Eko that he purchased in Italy while in the Navy (late 60s, early 70s).

  5. Al

    I have a very similar looking KAY cept mine has a pickup.
    QUESTION – HOW does one adjust the truss-rod tension. As can be seen in the above pictures, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to adjust it.
    Anyone got ideas?

    1. danielhulbert Post author

      Hey Al,
      This one doesn’t actually have a truss rod. From the info I found, the Kay guitars made around the time of WW2 didn’t have truss rods. Does your guitar have a truss rod cover up on the headstock?

      1. Al

        Yep, I’ve just spent the last bit of time looking at similar looking Harmony guitars and it seems that some guitars in that era were called “Steel Reinforced Neck” types and do not have an adjustable truss rod. Mine just doesn’t say that’s what it is. Therefore, I think there are FOUR ways I can try to fix the buzz.
        A. Use heavier strings so as to put more tension on the neck
        B. Raise or replace the headpiece nut
        C. Raise the adjustable bridge
        D. Do a light filing across the frets.

        Mine looks almost identical to the one pictured at the top of this blog with only some cosmetic differences, and the pickup.

      2. danielhulbert Post author

        Yep. Those look like good solutions. I’d start with raising the bridge. I won’t start filing the frets unless you know for sure that they aren’t level. You can see if the frets are level with a long straightedge.

  6. Al

    Good advice on the fret filing. That will be a last resort. Now I’m motivated to take some pics and show the before and after. Gotta go get busy.

  7. Jason

    Very nice work! I just picked up the same model Kay at a flea market- the neck was completely separated from the body. I glued it back together and was concerned that it would never play right again. Your article has given me hope!
    Just need the bridge and some strings and we’ll see.
    I am thinking that folk strings (Silkies) might be the best bet since they has the lightest tension. What strings did you use?

  8. Dean Driver

    I just bought a Kay archtop cutaway of similar vintage for $125 at an antique store. Its neck is still bonded on, but I am missing a bridge and a nut. I found the bridge on Ebay for $13 bucks — it’s rosewood and with thumb screws for adjusting the height. Nut also on the way. I don’t think I’ll like playing this thing because of the narrow nut, but we’ll see.

  9. Jack Shaw

    I also have the very same Kay Guitar. It belonged to my Step Father and I have many good memories of him singing and playing this old guitar….. I just finished re-setting the neck, changing the nut fret, Tailpiece, Tuners and Bridge…. It has a few cracks and dings, but plays pretty well for an old Kay!…. I was guessing these guitars were from the late 1940’s…. Don’t know if I’m correct or not…….. Thanks for posting the pics and info of your work….


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