Kay electric guitars and basses

Instruments manufactured by Kay, Chicago

Chicago was a key city in the story of American instrument manufacture; notable guitar brands hailing from the windy city included Harmony, National, Supro (both made by Valco), Silvertone and of course Kay.

Like most early American guitar companies, they actually started out producing other acoustic instruments; the marque actually evolved from the Groeschel Mandolin Company, with 'Kay' not finding use until 1931. Kay upright basses were highly regarded in the 50s and 60s.

Bluesman Jimmy Reed with his Kay Thin Twin

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Kay was famous for a number of entry, mid level and rather respectable electric acoustic guitars, most notably Barney Kessel Jazz Special, and the Thin Twin, famously played by bluesman Jimmy Reed. They also produced amplifiers, although this was subcontracted to Valco in the '50s. But Kay (along with Harmony and other manufacturers) also manufactured numerous guitars with alternate branding for the American department stores of the time: Silvertone (Sears), Sherwood and Airline (Montgomery Ward), Old Kraftsman (Spiegel), Custom Kraft (St. Louis Music), Truetone (Western Auto), and Penncrest (JC Penney).

Sales were good and production moved to a new plant, Elk Grove Village, still in Illinois. Kay were distributed by Hohner in the UK, gaining niche respect from the ranks of Chicgo blues fans making up many British bands at the time. But like so many American manufacturers of the time, Kay were hit by increasingly strong competition from overseas (especially Japanese) guitar makers. The mid 1960s, although a time for massive guitar sales in the US were a time of massive uncertainty for Kay, with the company sold twice in two years, briefly merging with Valco in 1967, before both companies went under in 1968. This was the end of US Kay production, though the Kay name was again resold to distributor Weiss Musical Instruments who went on to release numerous Kay-branded Japanese Teisco solid bodies from 1973 onwards.

List of Kay guitar models

Electric Acoustic
Kessel Jazz Special 8700 8701
Kessel Artist 6700 6701
Kessel "Pro" 1700 1701
K Up Beat K8980 K8990
Jazz II K775
Pacer K6540 K6550
Red Devil K592
Speed Demon K571 K573
Swing Master K6970 K672 K673
Thin Twin "II" K5910
Value Leader K6533
Solid Body
Double Cutaway Solid K300
Sizzler K4140 K4144

Electric Basses
Electric Bass K5965
Jazz Bass Special K5970
Auditorium K5160
Concert K8160
Concerto K7020
Classic K7000
Maestro K7010
Master Cutaway K8950
Solo Special K8127
Standard K1160
Stylist K6437


US ebay listings

Vintage 1960's Kay K100 Vanguard Electric Guitar Vintage Burst

Current price: $349.00
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Time left: 13d 3h 32m
Original 1962 Kay Swingmaster Guitar

Current price: $1195.00
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Time left: 29d 7h 53m

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