Kay S-51 s/n 6641

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by RichS, Apr 16, 2003.

  1. RichS


    Apr 16, 2003
    Hey Folks,

    I'm a guitarist of 27 years (playing, that is), and a producer/studio owner in the Boston area.

    Although I do play bass, I have very little experience with upright basses. I do, however, have an opportunity to buy a five string upright from a friend of mine.

    I fell in love with this bass from the moment I laid my eyes and hands on it, but I know he's looking for more than he payed for it, so I decided to write in for some opinions on this particular bass.

    As I wrote in the subject, it is a Kay model S-51 five string, serial #6641, and it is in very good condition.

    First of all, is Kay of the top level of bass manufacturers, or is it in a lesser category?

    Secondly, does anyone have any idea of the value of this particular bass, offhand?

    Thanks in advance for your responses.

  2. RichS


    Apr 16, 2003
    Thanks for the info Ed.

    Knowing now that this is a plywood bass gives me an idication about basses that I didn't know before, and I did do a search on line a little last night when I found out the bass was up for grabs, but again, I'm beginning my education in these basses right now.

    On line, I did see prices within the range that you had mentioned, so your response solidified that for me, and my buddy is looking for an amount within that range, so I'm sure now that if I buy it, I will not be paying too much.

    My general interest was in understanding the different levels of basses. For example, if as you say, it isn't about the manufacturer, then my question would be, what kind of basses do the top guys play, such as plywood vs. any other type?

    I will continue to look around, as I do when buying any instrument, whether it be an Ibinez, an 1176 compressor, an ELUX251 microphone, or an old Martin Acoustic.

    Thanks again.
  3. As far as different levels of basses...

    High end basses are made of solid carved wood. Plywood basses are not used in professional orchestras and not by most pro jazzers.

    I'm guessing that you intend to have this on hand for bass players in your studio and perhaps to noodle on some your self. Rather than to convert to a DB player yourself. If this is the case a Kay would be a nice choice.

    This guy's a friend of yours, he should let you take it to a luthier (there are links to them on Bob Gollihurs site that Ed mentions) to check it out. That will give you peace of mind that you are paying a fair price.
  4. I doubt that you would find anyone playing a Kay in a professional symphony orchestra. Those guys are usually playing the more expensive carved basses.

    In jazz, though, it runs the gamut. Some of the best players out there swear by their Kays (in fact, luther David Gage suggests that plywood basses can be superior for jazz), while others invest thousands in expensive carved instruments. To paraphrase what Ed might say, "get the bass that matches the sound you're hearing in your head."

    By the way, if the Kay is a 5-string, it's probably a "Chubby Jackson" model, named for and played by Woody Herman's longtime bassist.
  5. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    Hey Rich:

    In answer to your question,...What do the top guys play?".....The instrument that sounds and plays best for their situation.

    Basses (not to be confused with bass guitars) are very, very subjective. Classical players might look for something different than jazz players. Most orchestral players are playing on very expensive European basses, fully carved. Names like Rogeri, Testore, Storioni etc. Not to say that jazz players can't enjoy and play the hell out of the aforementioned, but most opt for a more sturdy bass. LaFaro played a Prescott. Current players like Micheal Moore have opted for a Christopher and if I am not mistaken Eddie Gomez used a Kay.

    And then there is the difference between pizz and arco strings and set-up, but that can go on for a long, long time.

    Before you shell out cash for this bass or any other, take the bass to a qualified luthier. Have them check out the set-up and the fingerboard. You may need to lay down some extra cash after the initial purchase to bring the bass up to its potential. It would be good to know that prior to purchase.

    Good luck! You'll soon be hooked.
  6. RichS


    Apr 16, 2003
    Hey Jeffery, Mike and Tim,

    Now that was what I was looking for.

    Thanks a lot for your input,

  7. erikwhitton

    erikwhitton Guest

    Sep 20, 2002
    Portland, ME USA

    do a search for posts made by BAREFOOT LARRY on this topic...he's written some quality replies that will help understand the main & subtle differences in the types of basses available.

    you said you don't actually play - are you thinking of buying this as an investment? or are you going to start playing?

  8. RichS


    Apr 16, 2003
    Thanks again for the advise, Ed.
  9. RichS


    Apr 16, 2003
    Hey Eric,

    Thanks for the info.

    Actually, like said before, I've been playing guitar for twenty-seven years, and bass for about twelve years. I come from a more jazz heavy family, but interestingly enough, the longest running piece of my professional musical career thusfar was with a heavy metal trio (five records, multiple tours in Europe/US). In my older age, however, I must say I've found myself a bit less pissed off at the world, and I've come full circle, playing more jazzy influenced sounds, while keeping an ear on current pop music for my producing chops.

    I did play an upright once before, a long time ago, but I was unable to appreciate it. It wasn't until about a year ago, when I encountered this particular bass, that I all of a sudden fell in love with DB's.

    To me, with all do respect to all of the DB players out there, it's another instrument - another range of sound with which I can express a piece of myself. I can say that I would give this instrument the same type of effort that I do in mastering ANY instrument that I play, looking to explore the wood as well as the strings, the semitones as well as whole tones, etc.

    But you do bring up another good question. Do these particular basses go up in value?

  10. Steve Azola

    Steve Azola Azola Basses

    Jan 23, 2002
    San Diego, CA
    As a great fan of these sometimes unloved laminated basses, especially the 5 strings, I thought I'd jump in and mention a few things.

    The bass you are interested in is not just any Kay, it is the top of the line of all the Kays. According to the serial # it is a very early 5 string, from about 1940. It most likely has an Ebony board and fittings and figured back and sides. If it's blonde, that's even better. The S-51 didn't really become the "Chubby Jackson" model until about '46, when Kay and Chubby worked out a deal. Also, the early 5s were set up with a low B string. Chubby was really the one that got high C string use started.

    In my travels I've seen these basses command some pretty high prices, certainly the highest of all the Kays. I'd be curious to know what the owner is asking for it. Also, you might register it with Roger Stowers at www.kaybass.com, he'll give you all the historical info you need.
    This bass might not be considered "orchestral" quality, but it is a significant instrument.

    * Contact me if you decide it's not right for you, I'm always on the lookout for 5 string Kays.

  11. erikwhitton

    erikwhitton Guest

    Sep 20, 2002
    Portland, ME USA
    i think a few of us are curious to know how much he's asking for this bass...stop holding out on us!

    plus the experts on talkbass will be better suited to let you know if it's a good deal.

    it does sound like a unique bass. do you happen to know the history of it? who played where with whom....