Restore or Burn? (1966 Kay used by doubler)

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by the elephant, Feb 5, 2005.

  1. I am a full time professional tubist in a smaller symphony orchestra. I have a 1966 Kay C-1 that I got for free. I have a small amount of money tied up in the instrument itself so far (under $500 including the new strings). It needs some major work, like maybe a replacement back and new fingerboard. I work a fair amount on this old beater in a trio and have gotten to the point where I need to make some decisions.

    How much money should I sink into this old bird? I mean, what is its reasonable potential as a jazz instrument?

    Is back replacement and refinishing really an option? I am also a fully qualified brass repair and customization tech and know all about "polishing turds", but I do have a love for older instruments. (My tubas are all over 50 years of age, for example.) Can an old plywood bass be "stripped" and refinished, or, shall I say, SHOULD it be done?

    Maybe I ought to buy something new (or used) instead?

    The back is coming apart and has several chunks of the outer ply broken away. They have been gone for years and plenty of humidity has worked its way between plies. The fingerboard is the original rosewood one and it buzzes badly on many notes on the E as well as in other places. The bridge is a bit warped and not adjustable, the tuners are not too good, the finish is bad, the bouts are coming away from the back and top in several places, etc. But the neck seems to be straight and the bass makes what I consider to be a very nice sound.

    So what do you think?

    Sell it?
    Fix it?
    Cope with it?
    Burn it?

    Please forgive my posting here, but searches did me no good, and (as a repairman) I wanted to find out about restoration from real luthiers. I hope that I am in the right place.

    Regards, and TIA!

    the elephant
  2. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    hmm. i bet you'll get more response for this one if it were down in the db section. i'll send it there for you :)
  3. Jazzman


    Nov 26, 2002
    Raleigh, NC
    IMO you should repair it. Or sell it to someone who would repair it. A new fingerboard isn't a big deal. Luck for you, there is a company out there making plywod basses (and parts) that would greatly simplify the process of replacing the back - it may even be a direct replacement.

    As for the chunks of wood broken off, that can be fixed too. I am not sure how it is done, but my bass (mid 50's American Standard plywood) has several places on the back edges that clearly have had chunks of wood replaced.

    I am sure you could sell that for enough to replace it with a new EC-1 with no money out of pocket.
  4. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    It isn't too hard to make and fit a new Plywood Back.. Trim it just slightly oversized before gluing on and then touch up after glued. Pin the back with two small holes with 1/4" dowel at the Neck and bottom Block. Then Match the finish color to the top. You can even use Minwax.. Don't strip the top, sides or neck!! Just touch it up as needed with the same color.. These Basses can go for 2-3k on average condition. Ask around violin shops and learn a bit b4 starting this project. You do not want to 'create' extra work for yourself... Good luck..

    PS: you will need to make some pine/spruce cross bars for a flat back... The wood must be dry and aged a little.. Again.. learn a bit b4 starting this.
  5. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    If you want to do the work yourself, (and that's probably the cheapest way to pay for the repair), building a flatback plywood is an option. I know Englelhardt makes replacement tops for this outline; however, I don't know about roundback-plywood parts.

    Is there anyway you can post some pictures of this instrument? There are several different answers to your questions, and pics would help you (and us) out greatly!
  6. Brent Norton

    Brent Norton

    Sep 26, 2003
    Detroit, MI
    Engelhardt replacement parts also include backs (arched).
  7. you could also use it to complete your interior! [​IMG]
  8. BassGreaser


    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I say restore it. There is nothin like an old bass :D
  9. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I restored a Kay in worse condition. It turns out that there is a standard thickness of maple veneer, available from a woodworking supply shop, which is just right for replacing parts of the Kay back. Cut out an exact piece, steam it until it's flexible, then glue it on. I clamped it under a piece of styrofoam, so it conformed to the shape of the bass.

    Look inside and make sure the bass bar is still attached -- a typical problem with old Kay instruments. If it is OK, then you can avoid taking the whole thing apart. Just get it glued together. Having the fingerboard planed might be sufficient. I had a luthier do that for me, and it worked wonders.

    Use hide glue and nothing but hide glue. To get my hide glue to the correct temperature, I put a jar of it inside a pot of boiling water on my kitchen stove. All of my bass repair work gets done on the dining room table. (As a brass repairer, you know the pitfalls of using nonstandard materials. Don't use the "liquid hide glue," but only the kind that you have to mix up from the crystals).

    If you still don't like it, give it away. You will be doing a great favor to a student, school, or church.
  10. First off, the replies here have been GREAT! Keep 'em coming!

    Second: fdeck, I am very attached to the thing. I am just worried that it would be a foolish tuba player spending a lot of money on an instrument that is not worth it. It seems to be worth it – to me – but my knowledge is very limited. I love the sound, but it really does need a lot of work. I will probably try to fix it up in a minimal way (needed changes only, nothing fun) and sell it off. If I can get it in good shape I will post it here. If I sell it I will use the cash to put towards a New Standard Cleveland. (I really want one of those things!)

    Please, all: keep the opinions flowing in!

    elephant :D
  11. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    If you really have less than $500, you could probably put $2K in it and and not be upside down.

    That's getting close to enough $$$ for a nice restoration by someone who knows what they are doing.

    Someone's always looking for a Kay.
  12. So the $500 already spent + another $2000 would most likely NOT be wasted money? The value would still be above $2500 if it played well after the restoration?

    I just might do that. Would that much coin usually include refinishing?

    I have been contacted about a new back for sale and am considering it. If I do this, the bass would NEED to be refinished. Is changing the color of the finish an option?

    AHHHGH! I HAVE NO WOODWORKING SKILLS! I am unused to being such a newby regarding repair issues . . . :eek:
  13. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    As Ken said, just try and make the "new" finish on the back mach up with your original finish on the front, [this is what scrap wood is for] "usually” a re-fin on a vintage instrument is frowned upon.
  14. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    Hey Elephant-

    I was curious what tubas you have, vintage or others. These days, I have only a trusty Piggy, which does everything I need. I've gone through years of having only a Conn 2j, then went crazy going through all the various Mirafones, Getzen, and the 3/4 Rudy. Then I decided to invest more in the bass side of things wher the bread and butter is. Never have gotten into the vintage horns. I know some are very nice if in good condition.

    (also a Tubenetter)
  15. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA

    I have seen plenty of Kays and AS basses that have been refinished. The key is to get the bass in sound, usable condition. If the finish is in very poor condition on the top, it would preferable, IMO, to have the bass refinished completely rather than have the raw wood exposed in the name of preservation.

    It is true that a Kay or other old collectible ply is more valuable if it still has the original finish, but not if it is trashed. It isn't a P bass. It needs the finish to help rreserve the wood.

    There are luthiers out there that have made plenty of coin restoring Kays. Find one who has some experience with the process and take the bass over for a looksy. You'd be amazed at what a good craftsman can do with the existing shell.

    There is a thread somewhere around TB that contains a link to a Web site documenting the restoration of a TBer's old AS. I think you'd be very interested in it considering what you are facing.
    Before starting anything, get the opinion of a luthier who knows basses. Your back may need only repair, not replacement. Chipping/ delamination can be repaired if not too severe. Open seams are no prob. It may be cheaper than you think.
  17. All good comments and being considered. Wonderful response, folks!

    Ike, haven't seen you around the TubeNet much lately. (I've been MIA for long stretches of late as well.)

    I play a 1958 Alexander 163 CC in raw brass (with only 4 rotors). It is my main orchestra axe, and the thing sounds like an freaking organ without having the over-bearing sound of a BAT. The intonation is crap – bottom line G is 45 cents flat, and the C above it is 25 cents sharp, to give you just a small example. However, it is able to be played very well in tune if you work at it hard enough to really learn the tendencies of the instrument and account for them through slide pulls (tons, with many over 4") and alternate fingerings (also many). It has an .820 bore, so the alternates are not really stuffy or anything.

    I have a 1963 Miraphone 186-5U CC (also unlacquered) that is just the best little tuba, but I have never been all that keen on the Miraphone sound, so it is just for when I need something really easy to play or I am being lazy.

    I have a 1991 Yamaha YFB 621 F tuba (also unlacquered – are you seeing a pattern here?) that is my main quintet, recital, and teaching instrument. It is a great little instrument and I have slowly learned to get more personality from that infamously "vanilla" Yamaha tone. (It took some work, however.)

    I have a little 1969 Miraphone 180-5U F tuba (yep – no lacquer here either) that I only use for certain Berlioz works and for the huge Bydlo solo in Pictures at an Exhibition. It sings like crazy, but the pitch is so bad that it is unusable in certain keys. It uses so many alternate fingerings that it is nearly impossible to sight read on it! But Bydlo sounds really impressive on this otherwise nearly useless tuba.

    I also own a 1985 King K-90 two-valved contrabass bugle in GG (in bright silver plate). I march in a senior corps (DCA, not DCI) and use it in that. It is a beast! I have often toyed with removing the two-piston machine and making a 5 rotor or 4 piston/1 rotor concert tuba in GG just to play the Ride of the Valkyries and Fountains of Rome. It sounds that nice.

    Gotta go so I can do some more bass research!

    Wade "the elephant" Rackley
  18. Uh, I'm sorry folks. I guess that I should have sent my prior post as a PM. I will do that next time. :rolleyes:
  19. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    Hence the quotes around "usually" :rolleyes: :)
  20. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA

    As clueless as I am about anything that was written there, I still read every word. It's interesting that you struggle with pitch like that. If it's that big of a deal, you may as well play a fretless string instrument.

    Oh wait, you do!!!