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A site for deterring instrument theft with community-driven gear listings.
Special thanks to the Dirtcan Chief for use of this space!!
Four questions are included to properly register your Kay bass. After answering the questions, send the info, and I will be able to add your Kay Bass to the database. Hopefully with enough input we can learn about Kay Bass Serial Numbers and Model Types. After Registration I will provide a date of manufacture for your bass. All pictures are appreciated and saved for reference.
Shortcuts to bass identification: Models, Sizes, Tuners, Scrolls, Endpins, Fingerboards, Neck, Tailpiece, Tops and Backs, Ribs, Purfling, Lining, SoundPost, Serial Numbers and inner tags, Gig Bag, Bass Pictures, Kay Bows, Bass Finish and colors, Bass Links
THE FOLLOWING IS COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL!!!
Special thanks is extended to Michael Wright, Michael Lee Allen, George Manno and Michael Newton for the work they did in putting together a six-part series on Kay Guitars in "Vintage Guitar Magazine." Also referenced was the work of J. Scott, "50's Cool Kay Guitars" and a book written by Raymond Elgar entitled, "Introduction to the Double Bass." George Gruhn and Walter Carter were very helpful, as was their book "Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars." "American Guitars" written by Tom Wheeler was helpful. Other people involved in this project included Carl Kuhrmeyer, nephew of Henry Kuhrmeyer, along with Cal Reeves (Retired from Engelhardt in 2010) and John Wozab (deceased 5/2003), employees who worked for Kay Musical Instrument Company. Al Link (now deceased), and his son Tom, of Engelhardt-Link, cooperated in all aspects, opening the doors to his factory whenever a question arose.
"Bluegrass Unlimited" magazine has published "Henry Kuhrmeyer & the Kay Upright Bass." The article on serial numbers was published by Bluegrass Unlimited in March of 2000.
From the time the first Kay bass was produced (1937), the majority of the wooden parts were made at the factory. Necks were contoured from hard maple, peg holes drilled, tops and backs formed-sanded, ribs bent and bass bars installed on tooling either made for or developed under Kuhrmeyer's direction. Presses for installing the bass bar, and the heating forms used to laminate the tops and backs of the instruments were made in-house. The heating irons used to form the shape of the ribs were purchased, as were the sanding machines used to sand the tops, backs and necks of the new line of instruments. Also purchased, was a hot stamping or embossing machine. This machine was capable of embossing the tailpiece with the word Kay in cursive script. Bandsaws, drills and other hand tools needed were already in house.
Kay Models: Go back to Shortcuts
The first bass manufactured (1937) was apparently the Concert or the (C-1). The concert bass had rounded shoulders or bouts, which made the bass easier to play while sitting. The Maestro model (M-1), having the violin shape, where the middle ribs form a point at their junction with both the upper and lower ribs was manufactured after Kay was well into production.
At the beginning there was a (C-1), and a special ordered fancy bass, still called an (M-1), known and advertised as the Alvin Hawes Model. It was a fancy bass and could be ordered with engraved tuners, inlet purfling and ebony fingerboard and tailpiece. Alvin Hawes was the man who designed the bass.
The earliest bass in the database is a (C-1), Ser# 124, with tag saying (K-Meyer). It appears this bass was one of the very earliest produced. It did not have a round disc placed under the sound post and the pressure had split the laminated back. The earliest basses may also have been named Kay, Kay Kraft, Old Kraftsman, Kraftsmen, KustomKraft, Custom Kraft, K-Kraft, Kay-Meyer, or K-Meyer.
Kraftsman and Old Kraftsman basses were manufactured for Spiegels. The B-180 is the same as the C-1 or student model, brown finish; the B-220 was the same as the M-1 model, brown finish; and the B-300 was the same as the top of the line S-9 model, blonde finish.
Kay bass model 89, I have a few of these basses listed and they appear to have been manufactured between 1939 and 1945. Probably less than 50 were manufactured. I don't have any info on the bass, other than it is the Concert (C-1) model. It is suspected that the model 89's were sold by Sears, Spiegels, Montgomery Ward and other mail order companies. A couple of times the owners of these basses have confused the 89 with S9.
Blonde finish was optional and (M-1) Kay basses with a blonde finish came to be known as the (M-4) models. M-4 models carried inletted purfling and an ebony fingerboard. These lasted through 1938 then (M-4) was renamed the (M-1B), of course the B being for blonde finish. The M-1B did not have inletted purfling.
In 1949, a model M-1R has been reported. This bass appears to be the Regular model as opposed to the M-1B which was blonde.
Prir to 1940 Kay produced a model C-4 bass which was a blonde concert model.
In 1940 the cataloging of the S models began and continued until 1969. There were models were advertised as Supreme, Swingmaster, or Slapmaster basses (S-1, S-3, S-4, S-5, S-6, S-7, S-8, S-9, S-10). With the S model designations beginning in 1940, new models were added until 1952. Recent registrations indicate S model basses were made prior to 1940 for popular people. One of the basses registered was made in 1938, an S-6, and was apparently made for Bob Wills. We have also recently located an S-5 bass which would have been manufactured in 1937. The S-5 was a thin model. There is also an S-100 which is a thin Orchestra model. The S-100, very few manufactured, does not seem to carry inletted purfling or ebony trimmings.
There are now many Orchestra Models in the database. Some of these say Orchestra on the tag which is glued to the inside back; some are designated (0-1); some are designated (0-100 or 0-100B). The B is for Blonde finish. The (0) in (0-100 or 100B) may mean (Orchestra-100 or 100B). The Orchestra models were the (C-1) shape with a nicer finish and polished tuners, probably made to be a little more appealing to the public eye. The basic concert models (C-1`) were for students. Orchestra model could be ordered with some purfling. They have been documented with inletted purfling extending vertically up and down the middle of the back. Many of the Orchestra models were sold with a wooden end pin and a rubber crutch tip. This not only eliminated rattles in the endpin, but the basses were made to play in the sitting position and an adjustable post was not necessary.
As years went on, Kay made numerous models depending on the customer's requirements. The (M-1) and (C-1) models were mainstays. There were many variations featured, from thin bodies, inlaid purfling, and 1/3 smaller bodies to bound f-holes, 5 strings (M-5), and nickel plated metal parts. (M-2), (M-2 Army), and (M-2 Navy) basses have been documented. It is estimated that less than 250 M-2 models were manufactured. These basses were advertised as One-Half size, however the basses were available in Three-Quarter size at no extra charge. The One-Half size basses are about 2"shorter in the body from top to bottom. However, I have not documented any half size basses.
Model (M-1W) This "W" is an albatross. At first it was thought the "W" stood for white because a couple of basses were white. It was reported the "W" stood for Wabash music. Supposed they had ordered 1000 basses to be distributed to school systems. I have quite a few M-1W basses now listed that are not white and they have not been refinished. There may be a possibility the "W" stands for "in the white" or unfinished. Kay did sell some basses unfinished; however, after studying the finish on many of the M-1W basses, I believe it was factory applied. Kay also sold a few bass bodies which resulted in people adding their own features. Kay sold a few basses to Sears and Montgomery Ward which were unmarked. It is also possible they sold basses or parts of basses to other manufacturers. The "W" may also be related to the H.N. White Co. located in Cleveland, Ohio. They manufactured King and Cleveland (American Standard) basses. I think as time goes on we may see a relationship develop between these two companies, particularly having to do with interchangeable parts. The Cleveland Musical Instrument Company began in 1925 as an offshoot to King and the H.N White Co. They made band instruments including upright basses. Their products were known as "American Standard." H.N. White Co. started making musical instruments in 1893 and the brand was known as "King." King was White's associate and he invented the trombone with the trumpet valves for marching bands. King started making upright basses in 1934. American Standard production of upright basses started in 1936.
Model S-8. A 1947 catalog says the S-8 is the same as the S-1 and S-9 except it offers a different color. S-1 is brown toned; S-9 is blonde and the S-8 was advertised as "honey colored".
Top of the line basses were advertised over the years as, Swingmaster, Supreme, Slapmaster or Slap Pro basses. The models were (S-1), (S-8) and (S-9). Top of the line five string basses were (S-51), (S-58), and (S-59). Identical except for color, these basses used Ebony on the fingerboards, an Ebony horseshoe shaped into the rear of the neck base . The horseshoes were manufactured by Kay. Kay employees started with 1/4" piece of ebony and used a Forstner bit for the inside diameter. Then a band saw was used to cut the outside a little bigger than the neck. A chisel was used to cut out the back to the size of the hole they drilled and the horsehoe was then glued on. After drying everthing was sanded flush. Some of the S model basses had the scrolls hand carved integral with the pegbox. There was also a company in Chicago, so far unidentified and out of business, who was responsible for the carving of the roses integral with the pegbox. They may have also made the roses used by Kay and glued onto the pegbox. These carved scrolls were used on the most expensive basses. The S-9 basses were blonde with S-1 basses being brown toned. S-8 basses were "honey colored".
Chubby Jackson, a jazz bassist, endorsed the Kay bass for Kay Musical Instrument Company from about 1946 until 1969. The S-51 model Kay was advertised as the "Chubby Jackson Models. "
Some of the S-9 basses and a few other basses (special orders) have been documented containing an original sound amplification system. As described by one owner, "it is a high impedance mic on the end of the endpin. The endpin is constructed like a phone plug and is inserted into a socket that sits on the floor. The socket is then connected to an amp. It was manufactured by Ampeg and/or Astatic." The mic is inside the bass, the end pin about 24" long which extends up into the bass and screws into the mic. The outside of the endpin is insulated from the inside and then the jack plugs into the bottom or exterior portion of the endpin. Henry Kuhrmeyer was a leader in putting sound systems in musical instruments.
Kay produced a 1/4 bass, (M-3), along with at least three different sized cellos. The H-10, S-10, M-3, and S-3 are all the same size and have the same string length. The S-10 bass is the fully decorated H-10. The S-10 is the top of the line quarter bass. The S-10 is fully purfled, with ebony fingerboard and tailpiece and ebony horseshoe on the heel of the neck. Schools bought the majority of the upright instruments intending to provide the beginning student with an affordable, playable instrument. In early years the quarter bass was called the H-10. About 1954 the H-10 was renamed the M-3. The S-10 and the S-3 are the fully decorated 1/4 basses.
The TV model basses were produced in 1953 for the television industry. The reason for the special bass had to do with the reflection. The bright lights of the TV industry demanded a special paint. For the TV models the primer was a gray primer and then a flat paint usually gold colored. The were two TV models, a TV-1 which had rosewood trimmings and a TV-21 which had ebony trimmings. The TV basses were basically M-1 basses with a special paint job. Curly maple tops have been reported (while refinishing) as well as backs with a larger reflecting surfaces. The paint on the TV-1 and TV-21 may be different and so far the pictures received do not show any purfling on either model.
Only a few B-5 basses were manufactured, possibly 50 - 60. A full sized cello with bass tuners and strung up as a bass. This bass instrument was advertised for beginning bass playing students. People in the field have called this a "Baby Bass." One reason the baby bass was discontinued was because the table was not strong enough to support the tension of the strings.
The first Jazz Cello was manufactured for Ray Brown. It was used on his CD and named a model K-200. The tuners were slightly different than the standard Klusons having plastic knobs for the tuners.
According to one of the employees who has worked for Kay, Kay tried producing some plastic or fiberglass model basses. The one bass found like this had a standard maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, and Kay inscribed on the back of the peghead and a rosewood tailpiece with the nickel finish Kay metal logo attached. We have still not determined the exact model designation.
Former employees of the Kay Musical Instrument Company believe the (C-1) bass to be the most common. They thought Kay made about twice as many (C-1) basses as they did (M-1). Probably 10-15% of the basses produced were either (S) or (M-3) models. Last estimate based on the basses registered is that the S models were 13.8% of bass production.
Kay Bass Size: Go back to Shortcuts
During the production of the Kay bass every effort was made to produce instruments to exacting tolerances set forth by MENC, the Musical Educators National Conference. MENC, a non-profit organization was formed in 1907, with the intent of helping every American student obtain a musical education by encouraging schools, communities and educators to offer music programs.
Body size, string length, distance from the nut to the top of the base, and depths of the base were dimensions monitored continuously to ensure standards were met. Since the target market for Kay basses was the beginning student musician, it was important each instrument noted the same.
Catalogs advertising the bass suggest it was designed for students 15 years and over. The standard 3/4 size Kay bass stood 72" tall, having a scale or string length of 42". The body of the bass measured 44" from the bottom back to the base of the neck. Depth, width of the ribs or thickness of the bass body varied from 6 3/4" near the neck to 7 3/4" near the bottom. Another important measurement was the length of the neck. A distance of 16 5/8" was set for the dimension, from a line drawn from below the top nut to a line drawn to the base of the neck, or where the neck joined the top rib. This measurement was taken from the back of the base, ensured the correct position of the player's hand for note stopping, and proved the trueness of the neck.
Kay Tuners: Go back to Shortcuts
Kluson Manufacturing Company of Chicago agreed to do the metal work for tuners and side plates. Kluson was in business from 1925 until 1975. They were located at 3330 N. Kilbourn Ave., Chicago 41, Illinois. Tuner sideplates are all steel and can be found plated as blued, black, nickel, chrome, gold and/or brass with and without engraving.
The gears are all brass, but the earliest gears are flat. The flat gears had a tendency to bind, so a bevel gear was used after approximately 1939. All Kluson gears used on the upright basses have 20 teeth.
Based on the info from a 1965 catalog; beside the side plates the bearing and post were also steel plate. Only some of the side plates of the tuners carried the Kluson name.. The worm gear was brass, but could be polished brass, gold, nickel, or chrome plated. The entire tuner could have been plated all over in gold, nickel, brass or chrome.
The Metal buttons (turning keys), clover leaf, could be black dipped, as could the sideplates. If the sideplates are black dipped then the tuning buttons would also be black dipped.
Many times the Kluson name and seal is located on the back of the tuner plates. You would have to remove the machines to see the plate and this is really not necessary.
Many of the early basses have tuners made in Czechoslovakia. The Czech tuners were used sporadically from 1937 until 1946. I have only seen them used on Orchestra model basses. The vast majority of the tuners from Czechoslovakia were used prior to 1939. The Czech tuners were of at least two different styles. The ones with the wooden knobs and the all brass style. Most of the basses with the wooden knob say “Made in Czechoslovakia” and the all brass style simply say “Czechoslovakia”. K-Meyer bass with Ser# 156 has individual wooden knob tuners. On the back side of the tuner is the word "Germany".
Including the Czech/German tuners 18 tuner styles have been identified.
Peghead Scrolls: It appears there were four styles of scrolls used. The carved peghead supports a very smooth scroll. The pre-1952 scrolls have the rotation coming from the bottom of the center and they have a general oval shape; the post-1952 scrolls have the rotation coming from the top of the center and the basic structure is round. There is also a scroll found on the older basses that is partially carved. The bass of the scroll is carved into the headstock and then there is a glued on portion which is about 1/3 of the rose. There will be more info in this spot when research is finished. Copies are being produced. Close-up pics of scrolls appreciated.
Kay Endpins: Go back to Shortcuts
Endpins were always purchased and prices were always negotiated. The metal leg covered the gambit of 1/4", 1/2" or 3/4", although it appears many of the earlier basses had the 1/4" pin. Wooden, non-adjustable end pins, are commonly seen on Concert and Orchestra model basses prior to and during WWII. Possibly the war time rationing had something to do with wooden endpins. It is also possible the wooden endpins were special ordered for people using the basses in an Orchestra setting, where the player is sitting all the time. I am not sure if the adjustable end pins were available as extra equipment or if the buyer had a choice at the time of purchase.
Kay Fingerboards: Go back to Shortcuts
Ebony, hard Maple and Rosewood were three very necessary woods needed for the Kay bass. Ebony and Rosewood demands were sometimes difficult to fulfill either because of a shortage of wood or world trade politics. During the time Kay basses were produced 5/4" stock was the preferred stock for making fingerboards. However, because of the wood supply some fingerboards were made out of 1" stock. Use of 1" stock for making fingerboards resulted in the neck of the base seeming smaller in circumference since the fingerboard was 1/8" thinner. An original fingerboard should be about 1 5/8" wide at the nut and from the bottom of the nut to the end of the fingerboard the measurement should be 33 1/4" Thickness of a board made from 5/4 stock should be about 5/8" at the bottom and 3/8" at the top. A board made from 1" stock will be about 1/8" thinner.
Most of the Concert and Maestro model basses had Rosewood, hard Maple or ebonized fingerboards. Ebonizing was the process of staining hard Maple or Rosewood, black, thus simulating Ebony. A true Ebony fingerboard and tailpiece were found only on the top of the line bass, the Supreme, Slapmaster or Swingmaster. In the early years of Kay the Maestro bass was top of the line and sported an Ebony fingerboard. Kay fingerboards all had a flat on the E side and were not rounded.
Kay Necks: Go back to Shortcuts
Hard Maple was used for the necks of the bass. A Kay neck with a full dimensioned fingerboard was thick and requests came in for a thinner more playable neck. Kay never slimmed the neck of their basses even though wood supplies for a thinner neck may have been easier to locate. Sometimes it may seem the neck is slimmer than normal, but it is possible the fingerboard was made from thinner stock. The peghead and the neck were made as one assembly with the exception of a few experimentals. Two and Three piece necks have been found on basses prior to 1940. The Three piece necks have a piece of ebony , in the middle, running the entire length. A few experimental necks have been found. Fairly common is the three piece neck which has a piece of ebony, 3/16", inserted between two pieces of maple, glued and then cut out. Necks have also been found which have a truss rod extending the entire length of the neck.
The roses, scrolls or volutes were glued on except for the higher quality basses when they were sometimes carved into the peghead. One luthier reported to me that he had three different styles of scrolls he had saved from Kay basses. The different styles have not been proven. Voight Bros. In Chicago made basses for a couple of years and used a neck with carved scrolls. The scrolls are identical to the carved scrolls I have seen on the Kay basses. I think it is possible the carved scroll necks may have been manufactured by Voight Bros.
If you look at the back of the peghead the line coming down the center usually stops about an inch from the bottom. There is an empty space a little larger than a quarter and frequently the word KAY is embossed into the wood. If the line dividing the peghead goes all the way to the bottom of the peghead, then the neck is probably a replacement.
Some basses have "Kay" embossed at the rear of the peghead in script with fairly small letters. It appears as if installed with a wood burning tool. One source suggested the basses with this mark were marked at the factory whenever the bass was made for the US Government. Many basses were purchased for use in military bands. This appears to be bogus information. Basses have been found and documented to have the Kay Peghead but have never been any part of the government or military. Former Kay employees believe the Kay embossing tool was used on every bass manufactured while they worked at the Walnut St. factory. They also said the embossing was done only by Kay and not outside contractors. Possibly the Kay was embossed on every peghead and then through the sanding and finishing process became invisible.
Kay Tailpiece: Go back to Shortcuts
Tailpieces were made of Ebony, Rosewood, or hard Maple. Usually the hard Maple and occasionally the Rosewood tailpieces were ebonized, with the Kay emblem appearing on tailpieces in the form of a decal, metal or wood embossed. Decals with gold lettering had three vertical strips running above and below the "A" in the word Kay, extending a little more than the length of the letter "K" in both directions. Decals have also been observed written in cursive script with the word "Kay" appearing on an oval with a gold outline. The letters of the word "Kay" are black surrounded by gold. The decals are about one and one-half inches high and two inches long. A third style decal has just been found, it is simply the word "Kay" written in cursive script with nothing else around the borders. Another Decal has been located in the shape of a shield. Shield photo contributed by Jon Weisberger. "Kay" written in metal script appeared as nickel (photo contributed by Eric Tinsley). The latest tailpieces had the Nickeled Kay in block letters glued onto a piece of plastic. No data is available describing the appearance of the wood embossed design, which reportedly burned the word "Kay" into the tailpiece. Decals on the tailpieces lasted until 1951or 52. Some of the Nickeled Kay Script metal insignias have “Japan” stamped on the back side.
Kay Tops and Backs: Go back to Shortcuts
The Kay Musical Instrument Company was leading their field in lamination. From the beginning, the Kay bass (1937) had a laminated top and back formed on presses in the factory. Presses were made of a material that looked like plaster and wood and finally steel. Hide glue was probably the glue used to laminate the plys. Upon taking a 1949 bass apart, hide glue between the plys was apparent. It appears hide glue was used at least from 1937 until 1952. Early in the 1960's, an aluminum mold was manufactured to replace the steel mold used for laminating the tops and backs.
Kay bass tops and backs held to 1/4" thickness (5-ply), however, as steel strings became popular, in the late 1950's, the possibility of table tension increased. (The table is the portion of the top where the bridge sits.) Facing the possibility of increased table tension it appears a decision was made to increase the strength of the laminate to better support the bridge. New technology emerged which allowed layers of laminate to be used in whatever thickness would produce maximum strength. The fifth or surface ply ended up to be .050" of Spruce for the front and .050" Maple or figured Maple for the back. There does not seem to have been any specifications for the core wood used in the lamination procedure, only the surface sheet. The Forest Products Lab of Madison, WI has analyzed the plys of a 1949 bass. The back surface was hard maple, the front surface was Spruce. Both of the understructures were the same. The second ply was basswood, third was birch, fourth was basswood and the fifth most innermost ply was birch. All were held together with hide glue. The surface, third and inner ply were laminated vertically while the second and fourth plys were horizontal, creating a mesh effect certainly designed to create strength.
The reports on the number of pieces making up the veneers on the front and back seems to be quite inconclusive. It does not seem to be important in the manufacture. Early basses had one-piece veneers as well as late basses. Concert basses as well as Swingmaster basses have 2 and 3 piece veneers on the surface plys. I don't think any conclusions can be drawn from the quality of the bass because of the number of pieces of veneer used on the bass.
William P. Hall Veneers, operated a company Hall Veneers, located at 47th and Cicero in Chicago, IL. Hall was the exclusive veneer provider to the Kay Musical Instrument Company from sometime in the 1940's until the end of Kay's production in 1969. The spruce came from Birdseye Veneer in Escanaba, MI. which provided the finest material available in the United States, very similar to the spruce from Bavaria. Hall also provided veneers of rosewood, ebony, maple and curly maple to Gibson and Wurlitzer. Hall also did business with the E. E. Cummings mill in Evansville, IN.
Kay Ribs: Go back to Shortcuts
Ribs or sides of the bass consisted of three layers of laminate, with both top and bottom sheets of Maple or figured Maple. After being sized the laminate was water soaked, then bent on heating irons to preserve the shape necessary to form the outline of the bass.
Kay Purfling: Go back to Shortcuts
Purfling means decoration.
Purfling seemed to be a mark of excellence set by crafters in the old world who produced instruments with solid tops and backs. The purfling was placed just in back of the edge in hopes of stopping a full-length crack which would ruin a fine instrument. The inlet for the purfling was also to stop the vibrations of the top and back. Excessive vibration from the center to the outside edge may weaken the glued edge of the top and back.
There are two types used on the Kay basses. The first is painted on and looks like to black pinstripes along the front and back edge. The black pinstripes should be 1/8” outside to outside. The other type is inletted purfling and used on the top of the line basses. Some early Maestro models sold as the Alvin Hawes Models had inletted purfling. Some early Orchestra models had purfling on the back, usually down the center. The S models sported the inletted purfling on the front, back and around the f-holes. "f" holes would be bound. (S models). A very early S model manufactured for the Selmer Musical Instrument Co. had the f-holes purfled, however the purfling was at the very edge of the hole, not set back from the edge of the hole. This was on one of the earliest basses having inletted purfling and Kay may have changed the purfling design, to the set back style, before the end of 1937. It appears the inletted purfling around the f-holes was at the very edge of the f-hole until just before bass with Ser# 1240. Bass Ser# 1240 has the purfling set back from the f-hole edge about 1/4", but the S model basses prior to Ser# 1240 had the purfling right at the edge. The concert model appears never to have been advertised as having purfling, instead, there were two black painted pin-stripes on both the front and the back.
Since Kay had the laminated top and back the purfling actually weakened the edge. With the groove cut into the laminate for the purfling, it makes it much easier for the laminate to chip when laying the bass on its side.
Kay Inner and Outer Linings: Go back to Shortcuts
The linings of an instrument were glued to the rib sections, providing a surface area for gluing the top and back of the instrument to the ribs. Kay always installed both inner and outer linings, except on the quarter basses, which would include the H-10, M-3, S-10 and S-3. The quarter basses did not sport the outer linings.
The inner linings, only visible by close inspection of the instrument's interior, appeared where the top and back join the ribs. The outer linings were clearly visible showing thin 1/2" strips of wood glued to the ribs and running the entire distance around the exterior of the instrument body. The top and back of the instrument extended over the ribs a short distance and the outer linings were installed to provide an additional gluing surface. The inner lining appears to be always kerfed or slotted.
Kay Serial Numbers and inner tags: Go back to Shortcuts
With numerous company changes occurring after 1955, the records seem lost and irretrievable. During production the serial numbers were assigned as orders came into the factory. If by the end of the production line one of the instruments was rejected or for some reason the serial number was not used, the number was returned to the front of the line and reissued with odd lots.
Kay bass serial numbers can usually be found on a label by looking into the "f" hole on the "E" side of the instrument. Usually the serial number appeared twice. It was written in crayon, pencil or machine stamped at the beginning of the production line and then after the bass passed final inspection a tag with both the serial and model number was glued to the inside back. An example tag drawn by Dale Randall was submitted as an example for an Orchestra Model bass.
The HN White Company manufactured King and American Standard basses. They also had the serial numbers written on the inside back. On American Standard basses the number will probably be below 3100, King basses the number will probably be below 5000. So, if you have a number written on the inside back on a suspected Kay bass over 3100 on a Concert shape, or over 5000 on a Maestro shape, then the bass is probably a Kay.
Kay went away from the hand written number beginning with Serial number 10,000 (approx). The one inch high letters in blue or black ink stamped with an automatic stamper started appearing during WWII.
So far, eight different inner tags have been identified.
Tag No.1 Earliest tag says simply (Kay Musical Instrument Co. Chicago, U.S.A). No place for a model or serial number.
Tag No.2 Second tag (1937) was a simple (K in a circle) very similar to the emblems used on the guitars headstocks. Serial number written on the bottom.
In 1937 four shield tags were introduced and periodically used until about 1945. Each tag has a letter K contained within a shield.
Tag No.3 Shield tag says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol Orchestra Model No._____).
Tag No.4 Shield tag says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol ____Model Ser No.___).
Tag No 5 Shield tag says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol Concert Model No. ______).
Tag No.6 Shield tag says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol Maestro Model ___).
Tag No.7 Most common tag introduced in 1938 and used until 1969. Tag says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol ____Model Ser No.____) The word Kay is in script and the K has a loop.
Tag No.8 Tag used from 1958 until 1969. It says (Genuine Kay Bass Viol ____Model Ser No. _____). The word Kay is in script, there is no loop on the Kay, and all letters of the word Kay use the same font and are bold.
On all inner tags, the words Genuine, Orchestra, Concert, Maestro and Model are in Old English Print. The words Bass and Viol are bold block letters.
If you would like to know when your bass was manufactured GO TO QUESTIONS .
After production was established references suggest Kay produced 1000-1500 basses per year. It must be remembered serial numbers ran consecutive with cellos. Twice as many cellos were sold as basses. With production under the Kay name lasting until October of 1969, Kay likely produced less than 20,000 basses. I think the last bass made in 1969 will have a serial number not in excess of 58,000.
Reference: Kay bass with Ser# 57787 was manufactured in April, 1969; The highest number registered is Ser# 57886; the lowest number bass registered has Ser# 124. I do have a cello registered with Ser# 10.
Kay Bows: From the earliest catalog Kay sold bows for their basses. Apparently only one bow size was available. From the 1940 catalog, "No. 10 KAY BASS BOW -- Butler Model Beautifully bent and tapered stick of Brazil wood. Plastic bow frog. Screw button inlaid with pearl dot. Blue steel screw, brass eyelet. Plated combination ferrule and slide engraved with the name Kay. Lined tip, hand polished in the natural reddish brown brazil wood finish. Price, each----$10.00"
Kay Finish: All materials used in finishing the bass were lacquer based. The first two coats were lacquer tinted orange, then, purfling striping was added, the third coat was lacquer with a darker tint for the sunburst effect, and the last three coats were a nitrocellulose based lacquer, clear. Dual colors were used from the very beginning. Many of the early basses show a second color (reddish or blackish) on the outer edges of the bass. About bass with Ser# 9000 the reddish color starts to color the inner parts of the bass in very poor symmetry (New untrained painter at the start of the WWII, my guess). Near the end of the war, about bass with Ser# 12,000 the second color becomes more of a starburst with the black finish on the outer edges of the bass. A brown finish with the black starburst finish is a very famous color for the 1950's Kay basses. Recently a Kay bass owner totally refinished a blonde S-9 bass and it turned out be not only the perfect color, but the sound was maintained. His quote follows: "I ordered from Stewart Macdonald company www.stewmac.com the following items. (1.) #5364 ColorTone liquid Pigment for Waterbase Lacquer (yellow) (2.) #3883 ColorTone Aerosol Clear Sanding Sealer.( 3.) #5572 ColorTone Waterbase Lacquer. (4.) #3881 ColorTone Guitar Lacquer Clear Gloss. I mixed the pigment with the Waterbase Lacquer and applied it first (sanding and adjusting for imperfections). "
SoundPosts: Some of the soundposts were split to about ˝ their length. The purpose of the split may have been to aid in installation, increase the transmission of vibration, and provide a little spring to the post which would relieve some pressures from the table and the back.
Provide spring to the post: The split in the post may allow the post to flex slightly, which could be important when the musician is playing slap bass. The flex of the post could relieve some of the pressure from the back.
Help build a database for Kay Basses. Since the records were lost I am trying to establish a useful list which may be helpful to interested persons. So far, by using the Serial Numbers, dates of manufacture, can be determined. More data is still needed to establish all MODEL TYPES. Please send E-mail describing your BASS. Pictures of all sorts are appreciated. Particularly interested in pics of the scrolls and inner tags. Send to the E-mail address below or snail mail to Roger Stowers, 214 Capital St., Wisconsin Dells, WI., 53965.
2. The Serial number should appear in two places. On the tag glued to the inside back and secondly the serial number should appear written or stamped directly onto the inside back of the bass Is the serial number stamped or handwritten on the wood of the inside back?
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Every society or group has the “makers” and the “takers”. The “takers” will always be discriminated against.
Charity-There are two kinds of charity, spiritual and humanitarian. Of course the spiritual charities include your church or giving for other religious purposes. Humanitarian charity is giving food, clothing and shelter to the needy. Make sure your money or goods are being used as you intended.
I don't think Kids, Money, Sex or Religion are the reasons people lose their commitment in marriage and end up divorcing. The think the problem is the stress associated with Kids, Money, Sex and Religion. First we should all have stress management courses before making life long commitments. Secondly, do not make commitments until you have seen your partner handle numerous stressful situations. If the partner reacts with violence, drinking or some other action not acceptable, drop them like a hot potato. Don't be so naive to think you can only love one person. Marriage is about commitment, not love.
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ~Mahatma Gandhi