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1959 Kay bass - Thoughts?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by garbanzo, Dec 20, 2012.


  1. garbanzo

    garbanzo

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
  2. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2002
    Location:
    Oak Park, IL
    I've had several of these old Kay basses at the middle school I teach at. They can be hit or miss. We've had several play and sound great and other just turn into a chipped mess with the laminations coming unglued. If you're going to play primarily pizzicato or jazz the Kay can have a nice thump. The arco sound is ok. I think the price is a bit high. I would haggle, telling them you can get a new Shen, fully setup, for around $1700. If you get the Kay for $1500 or less, rock on!!
    Or $2000 ish for the bass and extras they're offering.
     
  3. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2004
    Location:
    Chicago
    Read THIS

    I think you would be better off with a Shen SB80. Some will disagree. In any case, you need to have the bass thoroughly checked out by a bass luthier to assess structural condition, fingerboard, bridge, setup, and the rest. Extra work, if it needs it, adds up quickly.
     
  4. KUNGfuSHERIFF

    KUNGfuSHERIFF

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2002
    Location:
    Upstate NY
    Overpriced. Not none of the generally more desirable earlier models. The photos do not show anything I would want to see as a buyer, particularly the neck heel (which is prone to breakage, and many have been poorly repaired). Very clean condition, which tells me it may not sound or play especially well.

    Kays are what they are and I enjoy a good one (except the cramp-inducing, skinny neck) but I have to agree with Eric. A Shen ply will probably be a better all-around bass for a beginner and will cost you less to boot.
     
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  6. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2002
    Location:
    Oak Park, IL
    +1
     
  7. garbanzo

    garbanzo

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
    Note: The seller is the guy I'd be taking lessons from, so I'm already trusting his opinion on other basses, as well. I'd still take it to a shop to have it checked out, of course, but if I can get it a little cheaper, I think it might be a good way to go. Seems a lot of people like the Kays, and I have to admit it fits with my vintage tendencies. I'm sure I'll be using a bow for practice and such, but I only plan to play pizzicato, as my intention is to eventually play jazz and maybe some folk/americana/country, not classical.
     
  8. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2002
    Location:
    Oak Park, IL
    That bass for a little less than they're asking can be great find. I like Pirastro Obligatos. They are one of my favorite strings. I always felt that they make a plywood bass sound great. There's nothing wrong with Spirocore, I just think the obligatos are warmer.
     
  9. garbanzo

    garbanzo

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
    I'm gonna check it out Saturday afternoon. He said he has some wiggle room on the price, which might prove fruitful. If nothing else, it'll be good to go over a bass in person and what to look at and such with him. We also talked about some other places to check out if only for education sake.
     
  10. MostlyBass

    MostlyBass Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2002
    Location:
    Oak Park, IL
    Cool. Keep us posted and feel free to post any questions!!!
     
  11. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2007
    Location:
    asheville, nc
    If everything is clean, including a neck with no breaks or repairs, and the setup is excellent with a good voice, the base price is very fair for a 1959 Kay in my area; I could get probably 30% more for just the bass, but it also comes with a warranty from an established luthier and the setup will be impeccable when it leaves the door. If you are into Kays, my guess is that you may have to wait a long time to find another one so clean in the middle of Utah. One honest thing to consider is that if you decide to sell it, you'll likely not lose a penny and possibly make a few $; buy a Chinese made anything and you'll drop a SIGNIFICANT $ amount the day you walk out the door. Hold on to this Kay for 10 years and you'll likley be able to sell it for $3k or more while a 10 year old Chinese anything will fetch 1/3 -1/2 of the paid price (or less) in my area. Rather than an import, you could get an Upton for close to that price. When in doubt, save up and buy a little more bass than you think you'll need rather than a little less!

    'Lots of kaybashers and Kayphobes out here, so be ready for the retaliation. The PB-100 and preamp are wasted money; there are a lot of better choices for the same amount. The Moradian case is pretty overkill for a bass of this type. A good case is handy and will keep the bass looking nice, but for decades these old ply basses just lived outside on top of the tour bus and worked fine for the gig! I agree that Obligatos are a great first string choice for old Kays and new players- decent sound and easy on the hands. Spirocore weich will give you a noticable loss of power and volume compared to the medium or mittel Spirocores on a '59 Kay.

    What kind of music will you be playing on this?

    j.
     
  12. garbanzo

    garbanzo

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
    These were two things that came to mind, as well. Kays probably don't pop up here much, and the resale on it would presumably stay higher than a used CCB.

    I'm hoping to eventually play jazz and probably some folk/americana/country.
     
  13. JMFSAM

    JMFSAM

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2012
    Hi All,

    I'm the one who has this bass for sale. I had forgotten how divided people are on these old Kay basses. Some people love them - some people hate them. Here's my theory on that:

    Old Kays have a sound similar to what you hear on old jazz recordings or rockabilly or even early rock and roll - deep and thumpy. If the sound you love is that great old jazz thump then you probably really like the Kay. If, on the other hand, what you are going for is a much newer sound, something with a long, sustained growl, like a jazz fusion sound for instance, then this is not the bass for you. Think about the difference between a 1950's Fender P bass and Stanley Clarke's Alembic bass sound, for example. Also, the arco is, as Peter says, just ok. This is a bass for somebody who will be largely plucking the instrument. Also, for somebody looking for a bass that looks like something out of Some Like It Hot, this is the way to go, minus the bullet holes. ;-)

    I do take issue with the idea that I have over priced this instrument. I actually felt like I had rather discounted it, hoping for a holiday sale, and I believe if you go through the talkbass classifieds you'll come to the same conclusion. As James says, depending on condition they do often go for a fair amount more than I'm asking.

    Eric, I agree that the Shen line of basses are a great value for their price, and I have pointed a number of my beginner students towards them, but I believe that for the right player an old Kay would be a great starting instrument, just depends on what they are looking for. Garbanzo and I have spoken a couple times and I know, for instance, that he is an adult beginner who is proficient on bass guitar and likes a vintage look and feel to his instruments. I would not put my Kay in the hands of a middle school orchestra student, but for an adult beginner like Garbanzo - absolutely.

    KungfuSheriff, I agree that the pictures are basic. I have more, these were just for the classified ad. I am out of town for the holidays but I will be back this weekend and will post more photos then.

    The bass has never has any major trauma - no broken neck, splits in the body, punctures, etc. The bass itself has just been set up by Tim Stephenson. That's not a name that might mean much outside of Salt Lake City but in town he is absolutely one of the the best luthiers and the go-to guy for much of the professional bass community here. In addition to new strings he planed the fingerboard and adjusted the nut and bridge (the action was way too high). The varnish has also been touched up a bit. The one bit of damage that would lower this bass's value is a large spot of "buckle rash" on the back of the instrument. It looks like somebody had it sitting on a cheap stand that chewed up the back of the bass a bit. It is cosmetic, not structural, but it's a good 4"x6" where the varnish is a bit chewed up. Drives me nuts when people use cheap stands with their basses.

    Garbanzo is of course welcome to contact Tim or to take the bass to one of the other luthiers or players in town.

    As far as I know I am the third owner. The gentleman I bought this Kay from said he purchased it from the original owner in the early 70's and he said he used it mainly for playing in community orchestras over the years.

    Peter, I've had Obligatos on several basses and have never really fallen in love with them. I generally like the G and D all right, more for arco than for pizz, but have never really enjoyed the A and E. I don't dislike them, I just don't love them. As for the Spiro Weichs - I wouldn't put them on all of my basses certainly, but I do love them on this Kay, and while the Weich may give up a little of the power you'd get from the Mittel I believe it gains so much in tone. John Goldsby had a great post on Spirocore strings here on Talkbass a while back where he and others discussed the difference between the Mittels and the Weichs and the advantages and disadvantages thereof. Very informative. That being said, I do have a brand new set of Obligatos I would be happy to put on the bass instead of the Spirocores.

    James makes several good points - that a Kay in good condition does not come up for sale in Utah too often, that it will retain it's value far better than a Chinese bass, and that the Moorodian case is total overkill on this bass. I think a Realist pickup or KK Sounds pickup for this bass would be wonderful, actually, but I don't own either of those right now, so if you want to walk away with a pickup already on the bass then the bp-100 is what I can put on.

    So there you have it. Feel free to ask questions and when I can I will post more pictures for everyone.

    Thanks everybody
     
  14. KUNGfuSHERIFF

    KUNGfuSHERIFF

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2002
    Location:
    Upstate NY
    Good morning, and welcome to talkbass. Thanks for your articulate and detailed reply.

    As far as my characterization of your bass as overpriced is concerned, what I should have said is that it is not the kind of obvious screaming deal on a vintage instrument that would cause me to encourage a new player to jump on it no matter what problems may be going on under the hood (which are apparently minimal, as you clarified this morning).

    My first bass was a nice German ply that needed some work. I got it cheaply enough that when the time came to upgrade, I actually made money selling it to a shop that refurbished and resold the bass. I generally encourage beginners to jump on those kind of deals, not only as a matter of economics but to avoid them taking a loss if they decide the instrument is not for them.
     
  15. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    Connecticut
    JMFSAM--

    Yes, thanks for your informative, articulate, and civil post. Indeed, there seems to be a binary distribution for desirability of Kays. People do seem to love them or hate them.

    I was struck by this part of your post.
    Actually, my own preferences as well as those of many others run toward basses that are or sound like those that are MUCH older than any Kay-- as in 150 year-old Italian basses. :) My point is that not being partial to the sound of a Kay does not mean that one likes a "newer," sound. I think that much of the time it means that one would prefer a more complex tonality, such as that produced by a bass with a nice carved top. Also, the "newer" "growly" sound is largely a matter of setup.

    I suspect that we agree that the sound of a Kay that's desirable is essentially a niche. It's characteristic and if it's what one is after, then fine.

    What this leaves unaddressed are the design issues. The skinny neck profile, the low overstand, flat fingerboard projection. Those can be redressed (pun intended) to some extent by a qualified luthier. I mention this not to engage in Kay-bashing (I had a 1967 Kay for decades-- starting in 1967) but to point out why many here, including me, recommend basses like Shens to beginners. They don't suffer from those design issues and their sound is, IMO, more versatile and, well, better. (Yes, squarely a matter of opinion.) This explains why I would virtually never recommend a Kay to an adult beginner. That is, unless that beginner somehow identified that he/she adored the idiosyncratic sound of Kays, planned to play genres of music particularly suited to it, and understood the design issues fully. For around the $2k that you are asking, any beginner could, IMO, snag so much more bass! That's not a judgment regarding the appropriateness of your asking price at all.

    Again, I do agree with you that if that characteristic Kay sound is what one desires and is after, then little else will do. To each his own. No one can argue with preferences.
     
  16. JMFSAM

    JMFSAM

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2012
    Drurb,


    I should probably have clarified that when I said "newer" I didn't mean the bass, I meant a sound more popular in some newer music, newer being from probably the 70's forward, or perhaps the advent of pickups, compressors, and electronic effects forward. We can all agree that the preferred sound for various genres has evolved decade to decade and the predominant sound or often the desired bass sound for a particular type if music was different in 1950, 1970, and 1990.

    I do agree with the most of your post, especially when you describe a higher end instrument's sound as complex. I love that description and often use it when trying to guide students on instrument purchases. I've often used the analogy of a stereo - a less expensive stereo might only have bass and treble controls, whereas an expensive stereo might have a whole array of adjustment potential for every type of listening experience.

    The design of the Kay is unique. I don't mind the thin neck, in fact I rather like it, but I do dislike the size of the neck block. The bass is practically a C# at the base of the neck.

    KungfuSheriff,

    I have spent a lot of time on talkbass, and bought items through the classifieds, I just don't post often. What with so many other great bassists around to weight in on issues I often find somebody else already posting exactly what I would have said anyway. It's part of why I love talkbass.

    Thanks all, and happy practicing. :)
     
  17. garbanzo

    garbanzo

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2011
    I love that I'm getting both sides of the Kay story in this thread. There's plenty of info in the other threads, especially what people don't like about them, but it's nice to have some of those and new thoughts in this thread.
     
  18. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Yes, I figured that's what you meant. Still, if we go back to the "older" jazz sound of the '50s, 60s, and, well, even the '40's, the sound of a Kay is simply not what I'd say typifies that. Rather, it's the sound of a nice old carved bass strung with guts. Put another way, if it's that old-school sound one wishes to capture, I wouldn't suggest going for a Kay. I'd suggest a robust-sounding carved bass. That shouldn't be surprising when one realizes that, for the most part, those were the basses that produced that sound and that were captured on the relevant recordings. On the other hand, as I mentioned, it's a matter of setup. One can set up a Kay and string it so that it produces something much more toward the "newer" sound you described.
     
  19. MR PC

    MR PC

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2007
    That's a very nice looking Kay. I like old Kay basses. Priced right. If it was at David Gage's shop it probably would be priced higher. I was looking at a couple at a shop in Chicago a few years ago that were priced much higher. And they were selling.
     
  20. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2007
    Location:
    asheville, nc
    This is not really a fair comparison. If you buy an old bass from an individual, you're basically stuck with it. If you buy an old Kay from David, Gary Upton, Jerry Fretwell, or other established shops and luthiers who have been at it for a long time and this is their business, if you have any issue, they'll all generally go the extra mile to either fix any problem you have with the current instrument or in most cases let you come back and swap it for another old Kay bass on site. They have done this for decades and built up great reputations industry wide. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop a business that has the ability and inventory to act like this. That and the cost of the overhead for the building and infrastructure is why you pay more from an established specialist.

    Those guys are also a whole lot less creepy than blindly going on some wild scavenger hunt in the middle of pitbull backcountry Utah because some guy on craigslist told you, " We's gottem' old base....cash money...meet alone after dark....lock gate behind you...."....
     
  21. MR PC

    MR PC

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2007
    That's right James, without filling in the blanks, it isn't a fair comparison, though what you are saying is what I meant. For a first time bass purchase, buying from a reputable dealer is a good idea for all the reasons you've mentioned. And I do hear what you're sayin' about going out looking for basses in the wrong places!
     

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