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Strange old Kay...solid top???

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by mchildree, Oct 26, 2005.

  1. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Has anybody here EVER heard of a Kay with a factory solid/carved top? I haven't, and neither has Roger Stowers at kaybass.com. I got a '39 Orchestra model in a trade earlier this week, and it appears for all the world to have a solid top. Everything else about the bass is standard Kay stuff. The fella that owned it for many years was a musician at ABC studios for a long time (worked on the "Soupy Sales" show, and others), and he now plays Dixieland jazz. He says the bass was special order but can't say about the top either...he's not the original owner. Very strange. It's been refinished, obviously by a pro or somebody that knew their stuff, and I wonder if the top replacement was the reason for that.

    Anyhow, I doubt I'll ever document anything specifically, so I guess I can treat it as an oddity. Can't figure out why anyone would go to the expense to put a carved top on a Kay, but here it is in my music room. Sounds great, but really different from other ply basses I've heard and owned. The back has a single piece of veneer on the outside, which looks really nice, and the scroll looks to be carved and not a glued-on rosette.

    Can anyone shed any light here? Pics Here.....
  2. Brent Norton

    Brent Norton

    Sep 26, 2003
    Detroit, MI
    Why? I dunno... why not? ;)

    Never heard of a *factory* carved top... It's not the most unusual thing to find carved replacement tops on ply basses; and example would be the solid top Branstetter carved for an old H.N. White King bass, now owned by a TB member, Chef.

    The rosettes look glued to me, though it looks as though someone may have applied a little filler to smooth out the witness line. A give-away is the dead-flat sides of the pegbox/scroll.

    Cool find!
  3. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    Did you look at the cross-section of the wood in the F hole? That's usually the giveaway. The wear on the edges seem not to fray like plys. Looks factory so far, or a good add-on. The finish could be a redo, but the Orchestra models have a different look about them. If it's original you could have pretty much a one of a kind. Thanks for sharing the find.

  4. I looked at a fully carved "Selmer" bass once, which Roger confirmed was made by Kay, so I imagine that it's not unreasonable to think that Kay produced carved-top instruments under their own name as well.

    The Selmer bass, BTW, had a three-piece neck, which Roger said was also indicative of earlier Kays.
  5. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Here is a photo of the f-hole...I think I posted it earlier in another thread, on a couple of different boards. There are some places on where the edges of the top have worn on the sides of the bouts, and they show no signs of plys either.

    Brent, I think you had commented earlier on the apparent thickness of the top, based on this F-hole photo...in reality, the top is thinner than the ply back. I dunno why this photo makes it look so thick.

  6. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Can't shed any light on the "originality" issue, but it does seem to be a not uncommon repair. Many years ago, doing a gig in Brevard, I was put up at retired architect's. His wife played piano and he played bass and had a Kay that had been "re-topped". By Tom Kelishek no less...
  7. These days, with vintage Kays costing so much for dubious reasons and hybrid basses that sound better being relatively affordable this type of substitution would not make too much sense. But pedal back just a few years when old Kays could be picked up for a couple hundred $ and then it makes more sense. All you have to do to have a hybrid is pick up an old Kay and get a good luthier to carve you a top and put it on. That had to be one of the most economically feasible ways of getting a carved top sound a few years ago. And if you already owned the Kay, it was likely the least expensive upgrade to carved without the hassle of getting used to the feel of a different instrument.

    In any case, that's a great type of "Kay" to pick up in a trade, IMO. Vintage '39 with a carved top. Carved tops make a huge difference in the sound. I've always thought Kay used pretty thick exterior veneers compared to many of the imported plywood instruments, and I've always been a little partial to the gamba shape of the C models. Very nice find.
  8. Amazing!
  9. BassGreaser


    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    mcchildree, can i buy that pickup!! :D
  10. jstiel

    jstiel Jim Stiel

    Jun 5, 2004
    Lake Orion, MI
    How could anyone destroy that beautiful Kay bass sunburst!?!? :bawl:
  11. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
  12. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000

    I can see the plys in your photo...but there's no place on mine where it's that clear. The insides of the f-holes (see photo above) are what makes me think it's solid...you can see the grain running across the edge of the plate in some places.

    I looked underneath the top with a mirror last night. There's a crack near one of the f-holes that's been repaired with cleats, and the crack is visible on top and underside, and the edges of the crack don't match up exactly....by the same margin on both sides. I can't see how a ply top would do that.

    Thanks for your replies, guys. Guess it's an oddball with a questionable history. Fits me well enough, I reckon!
  13. What great pics Eric!! Is that just a Bb digital camera or something special? I've never seen detailed shots with that kind of clarity. Thanks.
  14. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    Yep. I really like my old King...neat find Mike!

  15. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    Hey Paul, It's just an ok digital camera...kinda old school. BUT...it has a macro setting and manual focus...I think its the focus that is the key. Auto focus just tries to damn hard to think for you and you end up with blurry shots.
  16. So your music room is the great outdoors?
  17. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    HA! Sometimes it is! Actually those photos are from the previous owner.
  18. Yeah, right. Just a hint of facetiousness there.

    Perhaps the original sunburst top got gored by a bull or some other such ill fate and this top replacement was an upgrade/repair. There are many ways to explain it, but if it sounds good, plays good, looks good, its a bonus to have a hybrid.
    Professional photographers call those oughta-focus lenses, as in they oughta focus, but they don't.
  19. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Well, I got a big mirror out and checked the underside of the top. There are definite identifiable grain patterns on the top side that are duplicated on the underside, including the seam in the middle. I guess that would pretty much confirm that it's a solid top. Love to find out (and have it documented somehow) that it came from the factory that way...my kid's college would be taken care of! Guess that won't ever happen, so I'll just enjoy it for the strange beast it is.
  20. Brent Norton

    Brent Norton

    Sep 26, 2003
    Detroit, MI
    You might contact Cal at Engelhardt... He has been there since the latter Kay days, and may be able to shed some light on whether any factory solid-tops went out the door.