Kraft, Recording King, Deluxe
and other bolt on neck designs
Stromberg-Voisinet Modern Bolt
on Neck Designs
In the early 1930s when the depression was well
underway and many
instrument makers were struggling to survive Kay
Stromberg-Voisinet a violin maker to build a deluxe arch top
acoustic instrument with an adjustable neck other innovative design features. Sorry folks but Bob Taylor
Guitars didn't invent
the bolt on neck. This Kay bolt on neck system is simple, effective and works! In fact this
Kay system works so well you don't even need a service technician to perform
a neck reset. You can do it in about 3 minutes. Just loosen the strings,
reach inside and loosen the giant wing nut, adjust the neck how you want it
and retighten, done!
As far as tone and playability these guitars play
better and have more volume than many modern guitars. I'd love to take a few
minutes and described these guitars for you. They are truly a huge
part of blues history. We are really talking about more than one model
with this bolt on system but the most famous is the double Venetian cutaway
model known as the "Kay Kraft" which was also sold in limited numbers as the
more rare "Kay Recording King". They came with and without the fancy decal
work and some came with a large arch top style pickguard shown in the photo
gallery. Much to my surprise they come with a 14 and 12 fret configuration
the bracing and bridge plate location are different for those two
variations. The top on the 12 fret model has the bridge plate farther back
toward the but end and an X bracing pattern that reminds you more of a
Martin than a Kay. What we now call a modern Martin style X bracing
system was invented by in the 1800s and later made an industry standard by
the C.F. Martin company beginning in the early 1930s. For the
most part X bracing is stronger allowing the construction of larger guitar
bodies and produces a more complex tone. In the case of this 12 fret model
Kay Kraft the complex tone is debatable. They sound to be
more like an old Stella than a Martin. To my great surprise I bought a few
of these and discovered they come in a 14 fret model too and labeled as Kay
Kraft and Recording King. Most of these have a black bakelite pickguard and
gold leaf scroll work and often a black bakelite bridge that flips two ways
for compensated and non-compensated. The notable difference is the bracing
pattern of the 14 fret not being an X brace system. It has a cross brace
much like ladder braced guitars and the bridge plate is much farther forward
toward the sound hole. It also has a longer trapeze tailpiece to compensate.
Just tapping the two bodies tells me the 12 fretter is going to sound better
and it does. The 12 fret model is more open, has more volume and not as
bright and ragtimey as the 14 fret model. I've had to come back and
completely rewrite this article and add new photos to properly document
these. These also have no back bracing and the top and back are solid
wood that has been steam pressed to have an arched shape. This lack of
bracing on the back explains the great projection and the arch top and
overall design create a very focused high end.
It's also important to note that modern artists such
as Ry Cooder and others have used
these guitars for recordings and luthier Rick Turner even has a new guitar
heavily influenced by this design with the dual cutaways and styling. A friend of ours David "Dberch" on the
acoustic forum posted this wonderful recording on his Recording King 14 fret
in the photo gallery below. His 14 fret model has an exaggerated rag
time blues sound which is quite wonderful when you play the right styles.
Check out this mp3 and see if you agree.
Somehow with extreme luck I was also
able to locate a non cutaway version of this design (right) which is basically a Kay archtop with a more traditional shaped headstock and body shown to the
right and in the photo gallery. To my surprise these have a loud bright
blues ragtime sound that's not what you would expect from an archtop. An
almost toyish sound which just screams 1920s. I used to watch a legendary local blues star
play one like this years ago and this was a very sentimental find for me. I
am hoping to display these guitars and allow other people to enjoy them in
the Curley Weaver blues museum one day. Cora Mae Bryant has a small museum
in her home in Covington Ga but I believe eventually it will become a
historic landmark or all of her items will be moved to a more permanent
location. If you come to the annual LB acoustic jam you'll see all these
guitars in person.
I've attached a high resolution photo
of the artwork on these Stromberg Voisenette
made guitars which appears on a half
dozen different models during the
1930s including Stromberg, Kay and even Ouhu. I removed the tailpiece and
pickguard so you can use this photo as a high resolution reference to
repair or restore your own guitars. This decal work appears painted on if
you ask me because the head of the Indians is accented with shadows and
great facial details. The workmanship on this artwork goes far beyond
simple decals in my opinion. I lean toward the opinion these were all hand
painted on by very skilled furniture artisans of the day working for the
guitar makers. It looks more like artwork you would find on very high end
Below is a record label displaying
it's legendary blues artists and top center is the King Wizard of them all
Curley Weaver who is said to have loaned several of the other artists his
guitar for the photos. It's a Kay Kraft with no pickguard. Curley Weaver
is not as famous as Blind Willie McTell in many ways but he was the
premier blues guitarist and singer in the hey day of Atlanta Blues in the
1920s. His voice was equally amazing as his guitar work and he was famous
for being a wonderful session musician and anytime you hear Blind Willie
say "kick it six" that's him talking to Curley Weaver. Even in McTell's
last recordings he still said "kick it six" and left a blank solo area
where Curley Weaver belonged. They were truly best of friends. Buddy Moss
shown on the left was the other pillar of ATL blues and also a member of
their famous trio called The Georgia Browns. Buddy Moss was the only one
that lived long enough to enjoy a rediscovery in the 1960s. Unfortunately
most pop culture is oblivious to these fantastic players.
Blues - In the 1920s before the crash blues recording was
paying well in the hey day of Atlanta recording and every great artists
from the Carolinas to the Delta traveled to the ATL making connections.
That included the mingling and jamming of the father of country music
Jimmie Rodgers who played with many Atlanta artists. The depression dried
up this gold mine and all the recording companies moved North to Chicago
and most of these artists followed to do all their recording then traveled
back home. WWII gave this old style of blues the final death blow and many
of these fantastic artists almost got lost in history. It's a crying shame
because it's some of the best music in the history of mankind and the
instruments, tone, playability matched these fast, choppy fun styles. You
think blues is slow and boring? Well it was the rock and roll in those
days and far from boring. Listen to the recording by Curley Weaver of
"Tricks Aint Walkin No More" or McTell "Honey It Must Be Love" or even
Tampa Red "Boogie Woogie Dance" and tell me what you think.
Below seems to be a 12 fret version with no pickguard. The light makes it
look like a perloid fretboard but it's not. You can see in the McMullen
photo the guitar has a brown fretboard. This was taken about 1933 or
before during the New York or Chicago sessions. So this is why I think
that model was the older style. I'm pretty sure the 14 fret and Recording
King models came later but the facts I have researched conflict a little.
Top Row L to
R: Spark Plug Smith, Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, Curley Weaver, Ruth
Willis. Bottom Row L to R: Buddy Moss, Coot Grant and Sox Wilson, Fred
McMullen, Joshua White.
Tired of seeing EBay auctions use
this article to sell guitars with issues. So here's some helpful info in
addtion to what is below. Main issues to look for when buying these guitars
are hidden signs of past or future repairs. In the photos below you will see
the neck joint which can become loose and the wooden shim can become
problematic and making another requires the same skill as resetting the neck
on any Martin. Next the upper bout can start to cave in with wavy
deformation and dipping around the sound hole and upper bout including
cracks in the worst cases. The next common issue is a crack down the middle
of the fretboard which I describe below. Not all Krafts have these issues
but most will have at least one or more. These guitars are great for people
with some good repair skills. They are a little quirky for the average
player that just wants a cool blues guitar.
Here's a closer look at the wingnut
you tighten. It really seems to stay tight and snap loose easily. I was
expecting a nightmare but it was much easier and better working than I
ever imagined. The fretboard extension just extends over the top freely
and the playability is quite good. The next several photos show the system
in great detail. What appears to be an ebony plate is tacked to the neck
block area to keep the neck from twisting or rotating. Then the neck rides
on this track you see below. You can also see the screw on the heel cap
that you are NOT suppose to loosen. That screw simply acts as a pin that
holds in the long heavy bolt shaft and prevents it from turning. You would
think this system would be heavy yet the entire guitar is still very
balanced and light.
See how the fretboard extension just
hangs over the upper bout and after 75+ years still working great.
I broke the system down so you could get a
really good look at the total parts list.
Below you see 3-4 dots where tiny
brad nails hold this wooden plate in place on the neck block. The face of
that plate is curved to match the end of the neck. This makes the neck
slide on an arch. Very cool design for it's time.
See Below: This joint is where most of
these begin to fail pushing the top of the neck block toward the butt. Below
is a 12 fret model which has less mass and wooden support inside the upper
bout and has been repaired by installing a thin angled mahogany shim. The
resulting crack in the upper bout was repaired and reinforced. The
compression of the top also buckles the area around the sound hole making it
kinda wavy. By repairing this and installing the shim you can stop the
damage from getting worse and restabilize the guitar. The 14 fret model has
a larger piece of wood supporting the upper bout but still does not prevent
this failure. The also makes the upper bout tend to rise or belly up a
little beneath the fretboard extension. When buying these pay close
attention to these details to understand what work will have to be performed
and adjust your price accordingly.
Below is the angle you can see if the
neck block is being caved in at the top. I caught this one before it started
doing damage and you can also see the original ROPE STRAP that came with
Below I have removed a fretboard from
the neck that needs to be reglued back down. The wood in the neck shrunk
over 70+ years and makes the square steel rod push the fretboard off. This
is something I notice in many of these. You have to remove the fretboard and
level the steel rod again then reglue the fretboard and that will fix it for
I have to chisel all the glue off then
glind this rod down until it's flush with the wood again then reglue the
fretboard. The neck is straight as an arrow so this system does work.
WARNING: The most
common failure of these Kay Kraft made necks is the support rod pushing up
on the fretboard and cracking it. This is a sign of the neck slowly failing,
wood shrinking and need for a good 200-400$ in repairs. Also the old
National El Trovador resonators have the same issues and just so happens
they were made by Kay for National in the early 1930s. A crack down the
center of the fretboard is NOT just a cosmetic non issue.
Below is an original case. Now you'll
know what one looks like.
Below is a photo of a 12 fret body on
the right and a 14 fret on the left. Notice the difference in the length of
the tailpiece. The 12 fretter has the bridge and bridge plate closer to the
butt end. In many ways these are two different guitars.
Below; An original early 1930s bakelite
bridge with this reversible saddle which is angled for tuning compensation
on one side and straight on the other. Very cool feature indeed. These are a
valuable find in perfect condition and could actually add to the collector
value. Although I wouldn't sweat having the original bridge too much.
Below: The original style tuners with
SAFE-T-STRING stamp. Also all flathead screws.
Below: Original pickguard simple
mounting system, 2 spacers and 2 screws. Some models did not come with a
pickguard. This is a bakelite plastic material.
No Back Braces!
Modern X Brace System! 12 fret model
Below: 12 fret model infrared photo of
bracing and bridge plate location. You can also see the crack repairs on the
upper bout. This one has a shorter tailpiece to accommodate the rear shifted
bridge plate. This is the louder and more responsive of the two models but
less fancy and did not come with a pick guard or bakelite bridge. I still
think this is tonally superior in every way to the higher end version. This
one below has be repaired on the upper bout treble side and you can see
those additional braces. These are also not laminated guitars like some
people state in museum and other sites. Some of the other Kay models did
have laminates like the full archtop above indeed had laminated back when I
got it. It also does not even compare tonally to this 12 fret model.
Below is a 14 fret model with a
completely different bracing arrangement and to accomodate the bridge plate
being farther forward for the 14 fret model they moved the X braced aft and
caused the guitar to be more restricted and less bass. I have to wonder if
real luthiers made this decision but it cuts the bass out of this guitar
compared to the 12 fret model giving in a sound that's really not much good
for anything but rags and slide. It's funkier but lacks volume and bass of
the 12 fret model. Now I am feeling very fortunate I found a 12 fretter or
I'd never realized this huge difference. The bracing here reminds me of a
Dell Arte more than anything. Notice the dark area at the neck block area.
They added a big support there to prevent the top from caving in which is
something these are very prone too from neglect and abuse. Notice the longer
and shorter tailpieces too.
Below is one of my personal guitars that I play all the time (12 fret
model). It never had the decals or pickguard. I also bring
this guitar out to gigs and visiting Cora Mae Bryant's house. She's the
daughter of the Georgia guitar wizard of the 1930s Curley Weaver and a
legendary blues singer and player in her own right.
Here's the back of the 12 fret model I
own. This one is made of
mahogany but they came in Maple, Rosewood and Mahogany. The Rosewood models
(see photos below) were more rare and I assume more prone to damage and not many of them are in
existence. Mahogany and maple are very stable woods and sound great for
To vary height of strings above
fingerboard, loosen strings and wing nut inside of body. Push heel of neck
backward or forward to desired string height. Retighten wing nut. Never
loosen wood screw in neck. Patent applied for Kay Musical Instrument Co.
Here's another version I scored without the two
cutaways and fancy headstock. This is a fantastic blues guitar and I'm
going to enjoy it for many years. They are built light as a feather and
loud as hell. This was a major score and these can be had well under
750.00 if you look hard enough. I've only seen a few of these ever. There
is a decal version of this model played by a famous bluesman from my area
and I've always wanted to get one.
NEW VIDEO OF THIS GUITAR AFTER RESTORATION
A cool headstock design but less flash that then Kay
Kraft. This says Kay Deluxe.That headstock design is actually pretty smart
because it helps the angles of the strings to the nut improve. Some modern
headstocks they call "Snake Head" do the same thing. It's actually quite a
bit smarter than many of the Gibson and Martin shapes which have string
angle issues and no imagination what-so-ever.
Below is the peg head of an old Recording King I
rescued and still in the process of restoring. These were even more rare
than the Kraft but actually the same model.
Below: Here's David's (DBerch) Recording
King (14 fret model) heard in the recording mp3 above. You can see how the pickguard
looks. Many of the Kay Krafts had no pickguard or holes drilled for them.
This one may have a non original replacement bridge. They came in a unique
carved wooden shape with a bone saddle or an adjustable two way black
bakelite bridge. That does not hurt the value at all.
There were other models later with
the Kay Kraft logo but did not have the same design. There were even
mandolins and tenor guitars with this model name and with the bolt on
necks on some of them. See photos below.
VintageInstruments.com to see the full display of photos of this
ultra rare rosewood model below. This rare model has more appointments,
banjo tuners, patent applied for label and other features. Quite an
impressive work of art if you ask me. Way ahead of it's time. Breedlove
has nothing on these guys.