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Songbob Info/Opinions: Guitars Past-Stella,Kay,etc. (27) RE: Info/Opinions: Guitars Past-Stella,Kay,etc. 24 Mar 99

I've got an old Orpheum archtop that was obviously made by Kay. It's the same size as a Kay jumbo flattop, same peghead shape, and the serial number starts "K43-" which makes me deduce that it was made by Kay in 1943. This is further reinforced by the fact that the neck ISN'T reinforced, a wartime measure when metal was used for other things. Very nice guitar, "advanced" size (18" lower bout, like putting a cello on your lap!) and in wonderful shape for its age. Not a beginner's Kay at all.

My very first guitar was a Wards "Airline" guitar, with tailpiece and movable bridge, high action, etc. Pretty basic, but it served to get me somewhat interested. Gave it to a cousin years later, when I'd moved up through a Harmony Sovereign (dandy guitar, by the way -- I had the 000- size model, not the D- sized one) to a Guild to a Guild to a Martin D-28 (which I now have back again -- for the story on that, go to my web page of song lyrics [at] and look for "Reunion").

There is a sort of mini-boom in values for some of these oldsters, partly because they're old, and partly because they're possible to find and some of 'em are pretty good instruments, particularly for certain applications (slide, jazz, etc.). So the Ebay auction now has those $15 Stellas being offered (they bring $40-60 now, except for the 12-strings and the higher-grade models, which get up to $200) and bid on. Even at yard sales, the sellers hold out for more than the intrinsic "playability" value of the bottom-end guitars in the Kay and Harmony lines. Based on inflation, they haven't held their value, though; $15 represents a lot more hours of work in 1960 than it does today.

Anyway, here's to cheap guitars, long may they wave!

Bob Clayton

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