Kay Musical Instrument Company
The Kay Musical Instrument Company was an American musical instrument manufacturer that was formally established in 1931.
Brief history and description
The origins of the company can be traced as far back as the 1890s with the Groeschel Mandolin Company of Chicago, Illinois. In 1921, the company changed its name to Stromberg-Voisinet and in 1928 produced the Stromberg electro, which is widely acknowledged as the first commercial electric guitar.
Henry Kay Kuhrmeher joined the company in 1923 and bought it outright in 1928. The Kay Musical Instrument Company flourished during the 1930s and 1960s and became one of the leading manufacturers of acoustic and electric guitars in the United States and opened a new factory in Elk Grove, Illinois. Their guitars and bass guitars were and still are played by a number of famous musicians, such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Howlin’ Wolf, Ry Cooder and Jack White.
However, by the sixties the company began to lose momentum and was bought by Seeburg, a jukebox manufacturer, in 1965. Kay was sold again in 1967 to Valco but the company dissolved only a year later due to financial problems
In 1969, the company’s assets were auctioned off and the Kay name, and some of its trademarks, were acquired by Weiss Musical Instruments. The company has changed hands a number of times in the last three decades and currently offers low priced acoustic, electric and bass guitars and also sell resonators, mandolins, harmonicas, ukuleles and banjos that are manufactured in Asia.
Vintage Kay guitars are especially desirable to guitar enthusiasts who collect them due to their aesthetic qualities, their sound and the fact that they can be purchased at relatively competitive prices.
There are a plethora of vintage guitar dealers and internet sites that sell Kay musical instruments, such as Vintageguitarpro.com, Rocknrollvintage.com and Soundpure.com. However, if possible, it is widely recommended to buy a vintage guitar “in-person”, as although the instrument may look good on the online photograph, there could still be numerous problems with its internal mechanics.
Kay Musical Instrument Company primarily manufactured inexpensive guitars from the 1930s to the 1960s. However, they also made a few top quality arch top guitars. The most collectable Kay guitars are any model with the “Kelvinator” plastic headstock overlay that is stylized with art-deco decorations.
Collectors should be aware that throughout the 1950s and 1960s Kay also made guitars with various brand names on the headstock. These were usually made for department store type companies and includes Sears and Roebuck (Silvertone), Orpheum and Montgomery Ward (Sherwood Deluxe). However, by far the most common name is Spiegel, which is also known as the Old Kraftsmen.
Collectors should be aware that Kay guitars are infamous for having broken truss rod systems and bad neck sets. This can typically be repaired by a good guitar specialist for around $150.
Vintage Kay electric guitars are regularly sold on eBay. In January 2012 alone, several Kay electric guitars were sold between $200 and $800. A vintage 1950’s Kay “Sizzler” black Silvertone electric guitar, in good condition, sold for $1,400.
A vintage Kay Kraft “Sizzler” electric guitar, made in 1961, was sold on eBay in January 2012 for $1500.
Another Kay Custom Kraft 'Sizzler' sold in April, 2013 on Reverb.com for $1600.
An all original Kay Custom Kraft Sizzler sold on March, 2014, to a 'famous' Guitar Store in Nashville, for $1575, and is currently on display there.
A vintage Kay K162 electric bass guitar was sold on Rocknrollvintage.com for $750.