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Epiphone vs. Kay upright bass

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by sq105, Jan 3, 2014.

  1. sq105

    sq105 Country Squire Supporting Member

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    Has anyone tried both Kay & Epiphone basses and willing to share thoughts. Which one do you prefer? Sound? Were there fewer Epiphones made than Kay?
    thanks!!
  2. KUNGfuSHERIFF

    KUNGfuSHERIFF

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    I've played one Epi (a '50s B4?) and a bunch of Kays from different eras. One of the Kays was a trashed '51 that I owned for about a year.

    First, all Kays are not created equal. The ones that I've played that were made before the early '50s were my favorites. I've been told that construction methods changed circa '52 but I don't know that to be a fact. The good ones I've played had variations on "that sound" that roots players seem to enjoy, but the skinny neck was never comfortable for me. They also look and feel kinda cheap and cheesy to me.

    The one Epi I've played was a higher-class instrument in my opinion. Nice beefy neck, solid construction, good tone and projection played pizz. I liked it, but I'm over the delaminating-older-plywood thing.

    From what I've heard there were something like 30,000 examples of the various Kay bass models made between the mid-'30s and 1969 when the factory closed down. That number apparently includes basses made as unlabeled "house brand" instruments for Sears and Roebuck and other retailers. Just over 4,000 Epis were thought to have been made.

    For more reading, check out kaybass.com and bassmonkey.net.
  3. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

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    I have a strong preference for the Epiphone-made Epiphone basses. The Gibson-made instruments that I have played weren't as loose and free sounding. That said, I would take almost any Epiphone that I have ever played over nearly every Kay that I have ever played. They are a different class of plywood bass.
  4. MollyKay

    MollyKay Gold Supporting Member

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    I am absolutely the wrong person to give an opinion of a Kay verse and Epiphone. I own several of both and have my favorites.

    My sweet spot for basses is definitely the pre-war era…but I have owned and played some great basses from post WW2. As KingFu said not all basses are created equal. You can not paint the entire manufactured line of basses from 1937-1960’s with one generic brush. How a bass has aged, been cared for and set up makes a huge difference. People often pass on the bass that has been played hard and put up wet because of its looks. Some of my best sounding basses are the one that have had the snot played out of them. My theory…the really good ones stay in circulation and get played…a lot!

    As far as my preference…Epiphone hands down (in my opinion) had better craftsmanship, better wood, better neck, better over stand and tone then most other basses from that era. When I purchased my first Epiphone (and did not know it was an Epiphone) it sent me on a journey of research and deep appreciation of the American-made plywood bass. The amount of examples, research and appreciation I have gained in the past eight years has been amazing.

    I agree with Steve…Epiphone’s are in a class all there own…and I have played plenty of examples to base my preferences and opinions upon. :D
  5. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

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    We've all got our own personal preferences; trying to decide your favorite bass from 1937-1969 is like trying to pinpoint your favorite album or actress from that huge span of time.

    It really depends upon the individual preferences and playing styles. I've never played an old Epiphone bass that left me thinking, "Wow! I need to get one of those!". Almost every old American Standard left me with that feeling. I REALLY don't like the 1930s Kays that everyone else seems to covet; '45-52 are my favorite years. All that said, very much to my surprise, last month I sold a rebuilt 1962 Frankenstein Kay that was made up from a bunch of mixed year parts Kays that I had lying around the shop graveyard. It had a few tweeks and was pimped out a bit, but the box was factory spec and it was hands down the best playing and sounding Kay I've had pass through the shop in years. I gigged with it for three months straight and left my carved bass collecting dust in the corner. Typically, the 1960s Kays are the bottom feeder, least desireable of the litter.

    One thing that you need to consider with all old basses these days is that there are really two schools of thought that the discussion involves now- original spec basses and then the thousands that over the last 75 years have been changed in some way- some times because of a faulty original design and other times due to wear or breaking other times in a quest for improvement. It is like comparing a factory spec 1960 Volkswagon with one that has been completely rebuilt with Porsche components.

    j.
    www.kaybassrepair.com
    www.condino.com
  6. pfox14

    pfox14

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    Just a side note: Epiphone pioneered the use of molded plywood and used it on guitars as early as the late 20s. That evolved into its use for basses in the 1930s. Epiphone always made high-quality instruments from the very beginnings of the company. I always associate Kay with cheaply made stuff.
  7. Mark Carlsen

    Mark Carlsen

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    This is a great discussion for me as I just repaired a mid fify's Epi for Berklee prof Bruce Getrz and a 51 Kay for a student down in N. Carolina.

    Both jobs were fun and I would say the Epi is a notch above the Kay because of the design. Narrow ribs make it quicker and punchy and loud and I was impressed that it didn't need as much work to yield excellent results...

    The Kay by the way was killin', just a different kind of thing....
  8. sq105

    sq105 Country Squire Supporting Member

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    Thanks for all your thoughtful replies!! Bass'd on that I bought a '51 Epiphone B4 and if everything goes right I should see it tonight. :D

    The big difference in production totals helps explain why the Kays are so popular. I read somewhere that Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer focused a lot on making instruments that were durable since Kay supplied so many instruments to the beginner/intermediate market as well as a lot of schools. Epi on the other hand was a violin making family through the generations so production philosophy would have been different.
  9. MollyKay

    MollyKay Gold Supporting Member

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    Exactly…Epiphone basses are all but unknown in some circles of music because of their limited production. I often get comments like “I didn’t know Epiphone made upright basses” or the classic in bluegrass circles “that ain’t no Kay”…exactly! :D

    Enjoy the new purchase and be sure to send me the serial number and a picture so I can catalog the bass in the Epiphone database.

    Congrats!
  10. KUNGfuSHERIFF

    KUNGfuSHERIFF

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    Kays are wonderfully durable, except for the damn necks.

    Congrats on the new bass. We have a rule around here -- no pics, no bass!
  11. sq105

    sq105 Country Squire Supporting Member

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    Agreed - my 38 Kay has a beautiful neck but it came from another instrument likely much older. Nice figure - kinda an upgrade neck I guess .
    To keep me out of the doghouse here's a pic of of the Kay neck, but pics of my new Epi will have to wait til this blizzard is over. I'm snowed in.
    Suppose I could drag it home behind the snowmobile :)

    Will be happy to send Epi serial # to MollyKay

    Attached Files:

  12. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

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    That's the neck I want on my old Kay! If they had built them like that from the factory, we'd be having a whole different conversation!

    j.
    www.kaybassrepair.com
  13. Mark Carlsen

    Mark Carlsen

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  14. MollyKay

    MollyKay Gold Supporting Member

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    Agreed…that points out another difference with Epi’s verse Kay.

    Here are the necks on two of my Epiphone personal favorite’s basses, Big Daddy and Reuben. Epi use some highly flamed woods on their B5 basses. Not all examples are this nice. I play both of these Epiphone’s in gigs regularly…I get lots of compliments on their look and sound. Both basses are absolute Hosses! Big Daddy is pristine, Rueben was rode hard and put up wet...I love them both. :D:D:D

    1941 Epiphone B5 #548 Named Big Daddy

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    1941 Epiphone B5 #623 named Reuben

    [​IMG]
  15. misterbadger

    misterbadger

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    I haven't even gotten my new-to-me Epi back from the luthier and now you've got me coveting a flamed-neck instrument - is there no cure for the dreaded BAS? Mine's got a dead-plain one-piece neck - serious piece of lumber...
  16. MollyKay

    MollyKay Gold Supporting Member

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    If there is a cure for BAS...I don't want to find it. ;)
  17. misterbadger

    misterbadger

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    I think my luthier's bill will act as a short-term cure at least. Being married to your luthier is an excellent strategy, Wendy!
  18. sq105

    sq105 Country Squire Supporting Member

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    Here's some pics KUNGfuSherriff. Its my new favorite bass, thanks to all for helping me with the decision to buy. Pleasantly surprised with the tone, even with the soundpost sitting under the bridge foot LOL. It rings, growls, sustains and has a deep low end. Nitro sunburst finish has lovely crazing all over, with just a bit of figure in the veneer. Neck feels super.

    Attached Files:

  19. misterbadger

    misterbadger

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    Beautiful bass, sq105 - congratulations! What's the serial number?
  20. sq105

    sq105 Country Squire Supporting Member

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    Group shot includes period Epiphone archtops and my most recent electric bass build. It has wide lower bouts reminiscent of the big bottom Epiphone guitars. We brought the new B-4 home last night and played music till the wee hours :)

    Attached Files:

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