Original strings for a 1944 Kay

Discussion in 'Strings [DB]' started by Captain_joe6, Aug 17, 2005.

  1. I've got a 1944 Kay with the deadest set or no-name steel strings on it I've ever heard. For the tension they have, they sound like crappy gut strings. So, I figure its time to replace them seeing as upright raggae isn't in my plans for anytime soon. And me being me, I'd like to try to go back to as close to original as possible. So, my question for all the people in-the-know, the real old timers and whatnot, is this:

    What currently manufactured strings are the most similar all-around to what would have been common on a brand new Kay M1 in 1944?
  2. Or to ask a similar question, what would have been more likely to be found on it: plain guts or wrapped guts?
  3. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    The pre-steel setup were wrapped gut on the E and A, sometimes D, (or sometimes plain D) and plain G. Mixing wrapped guts and plain guts has been going on well before 1944...

    What kind of music are you playing? It is important to match the string with the bassist, as well as the instrument and style of music.
  4. Thanks for the info! I'm kind of a history/period junkie. As for my playing style, it basically boils down to a lot of strong jazzy pizz with some arco for dramatic effect. I would have to say it is most similar to a heavy bluegrass/rock sort of deal. I dunno, its hard to describe. I like to really wail on the strings (but absolutely no slapping, I can't stand that slap/pop rockabilly stuff) I'd like to have that gut-like level of definition in the higher registers, but I want a solid intonated thud down below. I guess when I really think about it, what I should really call my style is 'dramatic swing.' :) I'd say that about sums it up. Volume and presence, but not so much on the sing-song and susatin. Does that make any sense?
  5. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    You may want to get a look at orchestral strings like Flexocors and Jargars.
    They give a very warm tone, little or no sustain, with a good fundamental.
    The Jargars in particular are the most gut-like steel strings I know, and are available in three gauges.
    Very thuddy, percussive pizz tone.
    I heard they bow very well too.
  6. Cool. Getting back to the wrapped gut response, what do you think would be the most similar to strings produced then? Preferably with a bare gut A through G, but a wrapped A would be fine too. Being 1944, would steel winding (Pirastro Olivs, etc.) or silver windings (Chordas, Eudoxas, Lenzners, etc.) be more common? Part of me is saying that because of the war effort steel would have been less available, making the silver wounds the ones to look for, but then again, steel would be cheaper no matter what, and Kays weren't exactly Bentlys in the string world.
  7. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Kays were fairly cheap basses when they were first made. I am sure they supplied the cheapest strings they could get away with.

    Francous gave you your best choices in my mind for a deep dark sound.

    I own several Basses up to and over 200 years old. God help me if I have to use the 'Original' strings they came with.

    Strings have evolved over time just like many other things we use. Do you travel by horse and buggie or Car? Well, if you are Amish, I am sorry to have insulted you. If not, get something Better that 1944 supplied Kay Strings. Bad equiptment often leads to people giving up playing. Bass is hard enough to play with good gear. Don't punist yourself unnecessarly.

    For Pizz playing you have many choices to go with. It all depends on the sound and feel you are looking for.
  8. Ok. I'm not exactly sure when Kay switched to steel strings, but I'd guess it was after 1944...could be wrong though. If they were factory strings, they'd likely be LaBellas, or Supersensitive RedLabel. Baseline generic gut strings from the WWII era and before are plain gut G and D, and silver-plated-copper wound A and E. That's it. Very few string makers offer(ed) pure silver wrap on the A and E for bass strings in modern time. Round steel wrap is something that I have heard of, but I'm not sure if it ever really existed. If it did, it may have been used Arttone strings. If the bass in question was used in North American schools, it no doubt has Supersentive Red Label strings, or Thomaskik rope core (light blue wrap).
  9. Oh my god, Jon, where have you been all my life! This is exactly the answer I've been looking for! I can safely say now that that part of my quest is over. Now for my next stunt, another thread!

    Oh, and thanks most of all to Ken S. For being exactly what an elder bassist should be: crotchitty and stern, but with every phrase containing so much wisdom. :)
  10. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    It's a dirty Job but someones got to do it... lol

    When I staretd playing, I was the Younger Bassist on every gig. Gee, is 53-54 really Old?
  11. Glad to say I'm the eldest in my group as well, at the ripe old age of 18, but under all other circumstances its "Wait a minute, you can't come in here (doorman points to prominent 'No Minors' sign)!"
  12. I emailed Roger Stowers (Kay expert) and he provided some more info (Thanks again Roger if you're out there):

    From Roger: He believes Kay switched from gut to steel strings as original equipment in 1952 or thereabouts, and that Kay likely used Super-Sensitive strings since both companies were in Chigago.

    My notes: I was not aware of Super-Sensitive making gut strings, although they may have. They are known as one of the first makers of steel strings, so Kay certainly used them at some point after switching to steel as optional or standard. As far as gut goes, the next most likely candidates in my mind would have been Labella or Kaplan (makers of Golden Spiral and Red-O-Ray) or some other company that doesn't exist anymore like the makers of Artone (or Arttone?) which were a common string back then. Neither I (nor Roger) have info on the exact specs of the gut strings that were used on Kay basses, other than to say I am 99% sure they used plain gut on G and D, and silver-plated copper wound A and E. I do not know how closely the current LaBellas are to what would have been used in the 1944's, But since the MENC specs for gut strings on school basses as of 1959 called for larger strings than the current Light (and only available) gauge from LaBella, it is probably that similar strings are no longer available from them.

    FYI, the MENC specs for gut bass strings are for 2.2mm plain G, 2.85mm Plain D, 2.70mm wound A and 3.45mm wound E. if memory serves, which to my mind would be a good medium set, The specified strings heights were 7/16 to 11/16 (roughly 11mm to 17mm) or a slightly lower 5/8" (16mm) on the E depending on where you look in the book.
  13. Interestingly enough, I e-mailed Lemur Music about the gauges of the Labella Strings, got the reply (inches) and ran the conversions. All of them were spot-on to the MENC specs except for the plain gut D, which was about .05 inches to thin.
  14. That is very interesting indeed. I don't have any measurements on the LaBella A and E strings, but the LaBella G I have is 2.1 compared to MENC 2.2, and the D is 2.65 compared to the MENC 2.85 - a .004" difference, and a .008" difference respectively (I think you meant .005", not .05") measured with a prescision micrometer. I double checked the accuracy of my measurment techniques on some Efrano strings I have which actually state the string diameters on the package.

    These differences, although small on first inspection, are actually very noticeable in terms of tension, feel and sound. A difference of .05mm (or roughly .0002") is definitely noticeable to the player. For instance, the differece in tension on the D strings in question is roughly the same as taking the smaller string and tuning up one whole step.

    As a point of reference, Lemur's Efrano strings are 2.05mm and 2.75mm, and Pirastro's Chorda is 2.25mm and 3.00mm for the G and D respectively.

    IMO the LaBella G is a good size to start with and produces a good tone, the D however is too small and tends to be flabby feeling and too quiet. I wrote LaBella and suggested they provide more options in terms of gut string sizes. Their packaging said Light Gauge, so I assumed that they offered Med. and Heavy as well (they don't, at least not anymore), but they just told me be to talk to Lemur. I don't think they're very interested. -Jon
  15. Francois Blais

    Francois Blais Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 1999
    Québec, Canada
    They prolly want you to order the other gauge set through Lemur Music.
    In other words, they don't want to deal directly with you.
    At least, that's what I suppose.
  16. It's possible, although they could have at least told me that "yes they were available, but by special order only" or something. Other than this issue they were fairly patient with my questions, so it seemed strange.