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Thread: Vintage Kay mandolins

  1. #1
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    Default Vintage Kay mandolins

    Hi folks

    See alot of these for very cheap on ebay etc

    just wondering peoples opinions on them? i cant afford a gibson or anything and to be honest after years of playing guitar iv always enjoyed playing cheaper vintage pieces.

    Been thinking about buying one of these for around 150 just to play about with and maybe record with.

    I take it they are better than the mass produced stuff from this day and age from the likes of stagg/vintage/boston etc?

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Always learning something Mo Soar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    I bought 2 older A style f hole Kay mandolins off ebay, both at around the $50 mark:

    One is solid wood (looks like spruce) with a red sunburst, probably a maple neck, a rosewood fretboard and the original tuners which were in junk shape. The neck is nice and tight. The fretboard is flat, which I think hurts playability (compared to my Eastman 504, anyway, which was $550 not $50) and very worn at the top 4 or 5 frets. It actually has a tone bar inside it, although it either doesn't have a truss rod or there is no access. The headstock has the Kay logo painted on in gold paint, which is faded and chipped. The person who sold it to me said it was from the 40s, but since I haven't seen one with the same logo, I can't verify that. The oddity is that the double dots on the neck are on the 10th fret, not the 12th. Pretty sure that this is an original neck, though, because the the instrument does not look to be refinished and the finishes match. It also has a serious curve in the neck just past the 13th fret, which doesn't really affect playability. It needs probably $200+ worth of work plus a new bridge and nut, which I will probably do myself (under supervision) to learn how it's done.

    The second one is unfixable junk - made out of laminated wood (or maybe even plywood) with a rock maple neck that has a black-painted fretboard (to resemble rosewood?). Tone is awful, fretboard has a serious curve all the way along the neck, the tuners are broken, the back is splitting. It has a stamped metal logo held on to the headstock with brads. I was told it as from the 60s, and I believe this to be true, as I've seen others like it so identified.

    The point is that there was a wide variety of quality and sight-unseen I don't know how you'd verify which one you were getting. Maybe you could find a Trinity or Eastman at a used store in the UK? I've shipped a few things to the UK (bass guitar pickups, mostly)and the shipping costs from the US seem staggering - maybe not as bad as Australia shipping, but pretty ugly.

  3. #3
    Registered User MandoSquirrel's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    AS the previous poster said, there's a great variety of Kay models available, and some are closet treasures, while others were never much to begin with. if there's a particular instrument you're interested in, you'd need to provide pictures to get an assessment.

    I have a great Kay; one of my beginning mandos in the 1970's was a not so great Kay.
    Elrod
    Gibson A2 1920(?)
    Breedlove Cascade
    Washburn 215(?) 1906-07(?)
    Victoria, B&J, New York(stolen 10/18/2011)
    Eastwood Airline Mandola

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  4. #4
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    Well, 150 is about $240, and that would be at the top end of what I'd pay for a Kay, unless it was really exceptional in some way. Kay was the "mass-produced stuff" of its era, by and large, and when you buy from an auction site, you can't try the mandolin ahead of time, and may not have an approval period to test it. And even if you do have an approval period, as "Mo" points out, you've got shipping to and from the US.

    Don't consider low-end older US mandolins as being ipso facto superior to the Asian instruments that currently dominate the entry- and mid-level markets. British stores like Hobgoblin Music have a range of Asian-made, solid-top instruments, such as Ashbury, in your price range, that could well be decent learner instruments.

    I understand the attraction of a vintage instrument (own quite a few myself), but remember that Kay was, basically, a mass-producer of entry-level products, and don't expect to find them markedly superior to what's available in the same market niche today.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    Ditto everything that MandoSquirrel and Allen said.

    I also have a Kay that I just love to death. Not really sure why, but I do. It is an A style with the classic disconnected ff holes and medium colored sunburst. The top appears to be spruce with no seam in the middle and for the longest time, I thought I had one of the fabled solid wood top Kays, but I finally scraped (very lightly) the edges of the ff holes and now I "think" I can see the very faintest sign of a glue line. I honestly can't tell and I am no longer "certain" that mine is a solid top. The back looks like lightly flamed maple, also with no seam in the middle, and if the flames are painted on, it is the best paint job I have ever seen because they move, or dance, in the light when you change the angle you are viewing it at. The more I look at the inside of the back, the less certain I am that all of the grain lines, line up exactly where they should according to the outside of the back. The back may be laminated, still trying to come up with my best conclusion.

    The top and back are both bound with white-sih "ivoroid" and the top binding appears to be three layers, but the black line in the middle may be painted on for all I know. Even with my magnifying glasses, I can't tell and there is no place on the binding where the black has chipped off or been scratched, in order to determine it's true nature. The top has 2 Tone Bars, one just inside each ff hole.

    The ribs are 2 1/2' high from the top edge of the top plate to the bottom edge of the bottom plate at the top of the body and at the boughts, but at the very bottom of the mandolin body where the tail piece is, the ribs measure 2 7/16" high, so there is a slight taper to the ribs from the boughts to the bottom.

    The neck is straight, tight and measures 1 1/8" wide immediately below the nut, 1 11/16" wide at the 12th frett and the back of the neck is more rounded than V shaped. The frett board is flatt and appears to be ebony. If it is rosewood, it is the blackest rosewood I have ever seen and I have never stained it. It is even really black where some minor finger wear is starting to show above the second fret on the A string, but, it might just be painted black and the paint soaked way into a pear wood frett board --- I've seen that before. The frett board is also bound with white "ivoroid", the round markers are not MOP and appear to be painted on -- again, not sure. The non-compensated, adjustable bridge appears to be maple or some other "white" hard wood. The original tuners have whitish ivoroid knobs that match the binding in color and age appearance and are in excellent condition.

    The headstock bears the Kay logo, in script, is white in color and has 3 vertical lines passing behind the "a" in the word Kay. It is probably silk screaned on under the clear finish but might be a decal. Inside the bass ff hole is the original Kay sticker. It is round with "wavey edges", a thin silver ring on the outside edge, and inside the silver ring it is a blue field. There is a red "shield" in the center with a blue "trapazoid" (for lack of a better term) in the middle of the shield (it is actually 6 sided and looks like a squashed hexagon or stop sign) and a red "K" in the center of that. In the blue field, inside the outer silver ring, is written around the top: "WORLDS LARGEST MANUFACTURER OF STRINGED INSTRUMENTS", below that is: "KAY MUSICAL INSTRUMENT CO.". Around the bottom, just below the shield is written: "CHICAGO" and below that is written: "ESTABLISHED 1890".

    The finish is in VERY GOOD condition with very few scratches and lots of light crazing in the gloss coating.

    I paid $160.00 US for it with a vintage "Kay case", and that was probably a little high. It certainly doesn't play like my Gibson F9, but I still like it a lot, and it just has a really, really high "cool factor".

    If you decide to get one, try to get one with a case because with the taller than average rib height, it is difficult to find a new case into which it will fit.

    Barry

    edited for spelling
    Never try to teach pigs to dance. It wastes your time and it annoys the pigs.

    ca. 1930 Kay A w/ ff holes
    2003 Gibson F9
    A couple of dozen Fiddles

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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    Thanks for the info everyone.

    If i can pick one up cheap i will do, but i think here in the uk some of them are priced about 50 to expensive which is alot of it turns out to be awful.

    but if anyone in the UK is selling one please give me a shout :D

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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    If you are interested in a not-too-expensive "vintage" instrument it may be worth your while to look into a Strad-O-Lin. They can be had in the $300 range and can be very good quality. They can be solid wood or laminated, but people say even the laminated ones have nice tone!

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    just checked out Stradolin there, i think thats exactly what i want!

    Found a company in Knoxville who sell them, wish i could get one in the UK the postage and tax prices put me off a bit buying from the U.S

  9. #9
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    You're referring to The Parlor, currently listing seven (!) Strad-O-Lins for sale, prices around $400 each. These mandolins have in the last few years acquired a bit of a reputation for "cheap, funky quality"; it's a deserved reputation, but the unfortunate side effect is that prices have gone up substantially. I have a Strad-O-Lin "beater" that I bought -- with a big, unclosed top crack -- for $25. I told the seller that it was worth maybe $250 in good condition, which was true at the time. I got the crack fixed, replaced the tuner buttons, and bought a decent case, probably putting another $200 into the instrument, and I've been playing it regularly for 15 years or more.

    Prices you see now are getting into the $4-600 range. And you're not too likely to find Strad-O-Lins in Europe, other than very occasionally. It was a low-end line of instruments, that happened to be quite well-made, and I doubt many got shipped overseas. Again, good luck finding a "vintage" instrument that meets your price range.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    Thanks for the information folks, it looks like one of these babies could be the way forward for me

    I am travelling to New York in 4 1/2 weeks, i may buy one and get it posted to my friend in new york and just pick it up when i am there, would love to have one of these to play here in scotland

  11. #11
    the little guy DerTiefster's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    How did this work out for you? I see a Strad-O-Lin look-alike for sale in Europe in the cafe classifieds, ad 52260 dated 23 November. The Strad also offered in the classifieds (ad 51741 from 30 Oct) is identical in form to my Strad, same pick-guard and tailpiece cover, finish/color, and "U-Strad-S" headstock labeling. but my two-point Strad has a body style identical to the 52260 Orpheum offered in Berlin. I am confident that either of these instruments would be outstanding examples of the Strad-O-Lin genre. As far as I can tell, mine is constructed of all-solid woods, and I can see no indication that either of these cafe classified offerings would be different. My apologies to anyone reading this as an archival post after the classified pictures disappear.
    You live and you learn (if you're awake)
    ... but some folks get by just making stuff up.

    Michael T.

  12. #12
    Registered User MandoSquirrel's Avatar
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    Default Re: Vintage Kay mandolins

    While I was married, I bought a Strad for my (now ex) wife to learn on. It was really nice, &, since she never really did anything with it, I sometimes wonder if she kept it, & would like to give it back!
    Elrod
    Gibson A2 1920(?)
    Breedlove Cascade
    Washburn 215(?) 1906-07(?)
    Victoria, B&J, New York(stolen 10/18/2011)
    Eastwood Airline Mandola

    guitars:
    Guild D-25NT
    Vega 200 archtop, 1957?

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