One of my favorite things to do in this business is save great old guitars. Especially the cheap ones because you can get creative with very little stress. Awhile back one of my customers, a local player named Gus Campbell (www.guscampbellmusic.com), brought me his old 1950’s Kay guitar.
He was rather distraught having found that after restringing it the bridge, which was a string through wrap around design, had broken.
The usual remedy would be to remove the old bridge, make a new one and string it back up except this guitar was old and to ever play right it would need a neck reset as well and it just wasn’t worth it monetarily nor would it be an easy job! So I started asking questions about the guitar…when did you get it, what songs are you using it on, anything to get a feel for how it was used. Then he mentioned what I wanted to hear. “I mainly use it for slide” he said. Then the lightbulb went off…why not make Miss Kay a slide machine? With the high action that suits a slide guitar, the neck reset would be unnecessary and I could use the existing bridge as a base for a tune-o-matic bridge. With the addition of a trapeze tailpiece I could make this thing work! So I started off. First I routed off the broken part of the bridge.
It would need to be gone to instal the tune-o-matic, but doing so would weaken the area significantly and I’d need something to sink the bridge posts into, so I decided to create a simple brace that would mount to the inside of the bridge plate.
I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and pre drill the pilot holes for the posts in both the bridge and the brace. I figured out the measurements to get good intonation with the new bridge and marked and drilled the holes. But then, how to align them while glueing? Easy, I grabbed two toothpicks and inserted them in the brace. Then it was quite simple to spread on some wood glue, reach into the guitar, and push the toothpicks up through the holes.
The glue held the brace in place while I applied clamps and once secured, I just pulled out the toothpicks…easy.
Once the glue had set it was just a matter of installing the posts and setting on the bridge. I found an old Kay trapeze tailpiece and installed that as well.
A set of strings later she was up and running!
Gus was happy and played some gigs using Miss Kay for his slide songs and a few weeks later called and said he loved it so much he wanted to make it electric, I was definitely on board for this! So we chose a pickup, in this case a McNelly Stagger Swagger (www.mcnellyguitars.com). I didn’t want to have to modify the guitar too much so I made a mounting plate for the pickup that would clamp itself in using some ebony blocks (much like a Sunrise acoustic soundhole pickup or any number of others).
I airbrushed a little colored shellac to match the guitar, but I wanted it to look a little old and amateurish, this was a 60 year old Kay after all, no need to get fancy…just make it work. We decided to add a volume and tone control to the upper bout.
This was easy enough, I mounted the harness to a thin maple plate, drilled the holes in the body, and once it was wired up, they were mounted to the side. I popped on a couple of old speed knobs and she was ready to rock!