Making (some) Sense of Kay Cello Models

by Steven Ayres

In looking at the company's products, it can be hard to see the rhyme or reason of Kay's model systems for both basses and cellos. But by studying the numbers in the Kaybass database, we see four quite distinct production periods for cellos.

(Please note that research is ongoing and these results should not be taken as definitive. Information is generally owner-reported to the database, so errors in the numbers are unavoidable.)

1. Prewar

For the three prewar years, as with the basses, there were many models and not much apparent system to how they were designated. The '38 catalog specifies only full-sized cellos (4/4s), but we have found many fractionals ( or ) from that period. It also lists only the 60, 75 and 100 models, calling them Orchestra, Concert and Artist. The Student grade is mentioned but not specified, so I'm inferring that was the 50 or 55 in that year, as it was in all succeeding years. I speculate that the music-store catalog described products specifically for the retail market, leaving out fleet offerings for schools. These are the model designations of survivors as reported to the Kaybass database as of the end of 2015 (some are single reports by owners, here considered unconfirmed).

1937     50, 55, 61, 69

1938     60, 80, 100, 201

1939     49, 50, 55, 60, 75, 75F, 75T, 100, 165, 201

 

2. Wartime

During the war ('40-'46), only four models appear, the 55, 60, 70 and 75, reflecting the austerity measures of the time. It's entirely possible that a few 100s or other high-end models were made and survivors simply have not been reported to us yet.

1940     55

1941     55, 60, 70

1942     55

1943     55, 60, 75

1944     55, 60

1945     55, 60

1946     55, 60

 

3. The Postwar Boom

The ten years after the war were Kay's best, meeting the exploding demand among consumers long frustrated by depression and war shortages. In '47 it appears that Kay instituted a new cello model system, likely along with the beginning of production of fractional cellos for retail sale in stores. This is when we begin to see the 110+ models, with individual, graduated numbering to denote fractional size, on top of the old reliable 55 and 60, which I speculate were usually for school supply contracts. There continued to be fractional 55s in this period, so the system did not extend to them.

1947     55, 60, 110, 122

1948     55, 112, 130

1949     55, 111, 112, 121

1950     55, 111, 120, 130, 200B

1951     54, 55, 110, 111, 122, K-200

1952     55, 121, 130

1953     55, 110, 111, 112, 131, 300

1954     55, 111, 120, 121, 131, 132, B-6

1955     60, 111, 150

1956     55, 121, 122, 300

1957     55, 111, 112

In this I read the same four trim divisions as in the prewar period Student (55 and 60), Orchestra (110-112), Concert (120-122), and Artist (or Maestro, 130-132), plus the first bass/cello hybrid experiment (K-200). The 150 and 300 are outliers, we don't know what's going on there yet. It's intriguing to note that the new retail numbers seem to be doubles of older ones 110 for 55, 120 for 60, for example.

In this system the third digit indicates the fractional size of the instrument, 0 for 4/4, 1 for and 2 for .

After 1957 cello production seems to halt completely for seven years,corresponding with new management and the rise of guitar production. We have no reports of instruments in that range of serial numbers.

 

4. The Mid-Sixties Blip

Production picked up again briefly in '65, during the Ray Brown-led promotion of the Jazz Cello and just before the company failed. Output was apparently meager and brief, and so far we're only seeing two models.

1965     B-5

1966     111, B-5

1967 B-5

The persistent lack of clarity in Kay's model scheme points up the importance of gathering reliable reports of serial numbers, model designations and detail descriptions of surviving instruments.

 

Model Features

This list will update details on each model as we discover and confirm them. Dates indicate reported survivors from that serial-number range. Catalog-only references are used where no survivors appear (we presume that Kay actually made at least a few of whatever it marketed). Details may vary on individual instruments, and we want to hear more about that. Bass-style machine heads begin appearing as an option in '54, and were explicitly offered in the '66 catalog. Logos are frequently missing from survivors, and may not have always been applied decal from start, metal script from '50, metal block from '56-57.

49 ('39) aka M-49, sizes

50 ('37)

54 ('51, unconfirmed)

55 ('37-57) Student, maple, striping, sizes, ('50) metal script logo, ('57) metal block logo, (66 catalog) walnut

60 ('38-55) Orchestra, rosewood, 4 fine tuners, striping, shield logo decal, sizes

61 ('37, unconfirmed)

69 ('37, unconfirmed)

70 ('40, unconfirmed)

75 ('39-43) Concert, rosewood, striping, 2pc back, ('57 catalog) sizes

75F ('39) as above, 2pc back with black liner

75T ('39, unconfirmed)

80 ('38, unconfirmed)

100 ('38) Artist, 2pc fully carved neck, ebony, purfling, aka S-100?, ('52 catalog) 4/4 only, ('57 catalog) sizes

110, 111, 112 ('47-57) rosewood, 2 fine tuners, striping, model by size, ('53) blued hardware, ('57) metal block logo, ('66 catalog) School

120, 121, 122 ('47-'56), ebony, model by size, ('66 catalog) Concert

130, 131, 132 ('48-'54), ebony, purfling, 4 fine tuners, pretty wood, model by size, ('52) metal script logo, ('66 catalog) Maestro

150 ('55), ebony, striping, fine tuners

165 ('39), ('54 catalog) ebony, purfling, 4/4 only, ('57 catalog) sizes

K-200 ('51) ebony, purfling, bass-style tuners with white plastic keys and nickel plates, 4 fine tuners

K-200B ('50) as above, blonde

201 ('38-39)

300 ('54-'56) ebony, sizes, ('56) metal block logo

B-5 ('65-67) Jazz Cello, ebony, bronze or blued bass tuners, widened fingerboard, solo bass tuning, 4/4 only

B-6 ('54, unconfirmed)

If you have information that could help make this list more accurate and comprehensive, please email me at s.ayres.57@gmail.com. Good, clear detail photos are a huge help!