The Lightnin' Hopkins Rig
D. Jones LB 2006
Updated Mar 2009

I bought this pickup in an Austin, Tx pawnshop in the 1980s. I used it in a few acoustics over the years and used to play it live in a Gibson L-00. I loved the Lightnin' Hopkins like tone but never realized it was the same model pickup he actually used in the early years. Lightnin' Hopkins was one of my greatest influences learning guitar and remains a core part of my playing style. In recent years I viewed all of the rare Lightin' performances and was floored when I saw the pickup was the same one I owned and that I even had the plastic cover plate still in tact (see photo below).

As you can see from the album cover (Lightnin!) the guitar is a late 1940s Kay jumbo with it's unique shape pick guard mounted with 3 screws and not only the old pickup and tortis mounting plate installed into the sound hole but wire to a tone and volume knob that's been added to the guitar. I've always been a huge fan of the tone he produced in his oldest recordings both amplified and non. That tone haunted me and like an angel the phone rang one day and Atlanta musician and song writer Bill Sheffield was on the other end. He had a guitar that made him think of me and asked if I wanted it, an old Kay which perked my ears. I owned the guitar for a while before realizing what I had. The huge dry bass and fat trebles absolutely rival the best J-185s Gibson ever made. There is some indication from videos that the exact guitar Lightnin plays in the album cover above is not bursted or even an all mahogany body. Hard to say for sure but it is a Kay and most likely sold under a department store brand.

I guess the real shock came when I started considering some of the old pickups I own and realized while watching the rare performances DVD of Lightnin' Hopkins this was not only the same brand, model and era guitar but I also owned the same exact pickup. Could this be an accident? I haven't mounted the pickup in the guitar but I keep them together because they represent the tone of an era and of a master coming into his prime playing years. This was an era when he was still full of fire and spark and had his had tipped to the side and all the moves were sharp and crisp. He later went to an early 1950s Gibson J-50 which was a time Gibsons acoustics were beginning to go downhill in a lot of ways but you can still find a few fantastic J-50s. The main problem with both these models is they have a nut width that's a good bit less than 1-3/4" which was a trend you see more of in the 1950s.  The 1950s Gibson guitars also had the pointed shapes on the pick guard, natural as well as bursted finish and often times lacked the tone of the 1940s models. A sign of things to come for Gibson in the dark years of the 60/70s. One thing for sure these two guitars and their pickups forged a whole sound of blues coming into the electric era.

Update: Information sent to me indicating the pickup may be from a rare Gibson or National lap steel guitar from the 1930/40s.

Update 2009: Sold the pickup from my collection to a player named Joe Richardson in Texas where I originally found the pickup. He did a great job incorporating it into another wonderful old blues guitar. Here's a photo of the pickup back in action and making music once again!  Joe says it sounds fantastic. Here's a photo to the right showing Joe on his porch in Austin with his old Kay and the pickup installed. Notice those cool old volume knobs. Here's a quote. "Hey man....finally got that old pickup put in the old Kay...sounds absolutely AMAZING !!, Thanks Joe"

mp3 Sound Recording (acoustic)

More recordings of this guitar in other styles

GUITAR SPECS

Total length - 41"
Lower bout width - 15.5"
Waist width - 9"
Body Length 19.75"
Sound hole diameter - 3.5"
Upper bout width - 11.25"
Nut width - 1-5/8"
Saddle string width - 2-1/8"
Scale length - 25.5"
Body thickness - 3.5" to 4-1/8"


1947 L-12 Kay flat top jumbo

The Ladder Bracing Pattern

Beautiful body shape and it's very comfortable to hold for a jumbo

They were not afraid to use screws in that era (eyes roll) and this bridge design is straight out of the department store catalog. Never the less it has mojo pouring out.

 

Typical cool but cheesy Kay graphics

 

Beefy yet very comfortable neck shape

Maple back and sides and very much like a poor mans Gibson J-185

Model L12 1947 #6116 ?

1940's WWII era brass frets?