The Amateur Luthier

Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars

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Vintage Fretwire Dimensions This is my log of fret crown dimensions from vintage instruments that I have refretted Crown heights can ...

Vintage Fretwire Dimensions

This is my log of fret crown dimensions from vintage instruments that I have refretted

Crown heights can be rounded up to compensate for playwear and previous fret leveling
All frets are nickel unless stated otherwise


1940's Archtop

CW: 0.068"
CH: 0.037"

1940's Archtop

CW: 0.122"
CH: 0.034"

1950s Silvertone Archtop

CW: 0.100"
CH: 0.032"

1950's Archtop

CW: 0.105"
CH: 0.040"

1954 K-150 Archtop

CW: 0.114"
CH: 0.027"

1960 K6970 Swingmaster

CW: 0.094"
CH: 0.028"

1960's K573 Speed Demon

CW: 0.083"
CH: 0.029"

1960's Vanguard

CW: 0.104"
CH: 0.028"

1960's K6104 Flat Top

CW: 0.106"
CH: 0.035"


1930's H-1390 Archtop

CW: 0.064"
CH: 0.031"

1945 Archtop

CW: 0.068"
CH: 0.031"

1969 H-1230 12 String 

CW: 0.101"
CH: 0.034"

1970 Fender-branded Sovereign

CW: 0.099"
CH: 0.039"

1971 H-162 Flat Top

CW: 0.096"
CH: 0.034"

Other American

1920s Lyon and Healy Parlor

CW: 0.051"
CH: 0.036"

1930s Regal Arch Top

CW: 0.045"
CH: 0.038"

1930s-50s Gretsch Model 50 Archtop

CW: 0.099"
CH: 0.028"


1960s Kawai Electric

CW: 0.075"
CH: 0.045"

1960s Guyatone Electric

CW: 0.100"
CH: 0.036"

1966 Hoshino-Gakki Electric

CW: 0.059"
CH: 0.030"

1968 Hagstrom Viking II DeLuxe Semihollow

CW: 0.070"
CH: 0.022"

1970s Univox Coily Semihollow

CW: 0.093"
CH: 0.030"

1970s Aria Acoustic

CW: 0.095"
CH: 0.036"

1970s Yamaki 12 String

CW: 0.085"
CH: 0.039"

Rhode Island residents Chester P. Keefe and John C. Navilliat recognized the troubles associated with worn fretwire and the cost and time as...

Rhode Island residents Chester P. Keefe and John C. Navilliat recognized the troubles associated with worn fretwire and the cost and time associated with replacing the frets with brand new wire. They invented a new method of installing frets which involved easily replaceable inserts.

Their patent, US-3273439A, was filed in 1965 and granted in 1966

Illustration of the design

"The fingerboard is that part of a fretted stringed instrument on which the frets are placed. It is usually made of wood and may or may not be of one piece with the neck of the instrument. Frets are those devices which are positioned on the fingerboard perpendicular to the long axis of the fingerboard with such proper spacing as to effect the desired pitch of the string or strings when fingered in the proper manner for playing the fretted stringed instrument. The frets are usually made of metal and usually inserted into slots cut into the wooden fingerboard for this purpose and held there by friction. When the frets become worn or damaged or otherwise need replacement, they must be pried out of the wooden fingerboard and a new fret inserted into the slot which previously held the fret being replaced. This is a task which requires much time and skill to perform. Also with each replacement of a fret in the same slot, the slot becomes less able to hold the fret with proper friction due to the resulting enlargement of the slot.

In general: The object of this invention is to provide a device or devices which facilitates the replacement of a fret or frets, quickly and easily on a fretted stringed instrument without causing damage to the fingerboard.

In particular: An object of this invention is to provide a device in the fingerboard of a fretted instrument which accommodates a removable fret thereby facilitating the changing of frets without damage to the fingerboard, said device being made of such suitable material as will resist wear such as plastic or metal."

These inserts would be held in place either with screws or adhesive and would be easy to replace if an instrument needed new fretwire. Radiused slots in the fretboard could also be used to hold the inserts in by friction and most importantly conform to the radius of the fingerboard.

Navilliat passed away in May of 2018, followed 6 days later by Keefe. As far as I can tell, their sole patent never made its way onto production instruments and I am unable to find any examples of their work.

About Wilson Brothers Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1898 and became defunct around 1927 [2]. The corporation's name chang...


Wilson Brothers Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1898 and became defunct around 1927 [2]. The corporation's name changed hands as recently as 1997 and expired again in 2007 according to the Illinois Corporation Search [1].

Tom Wilson, President of Wilson Brothers and former Lyon and Healy employee, invented an apparatus for building fretwire for instruments such as mandolins, ukuleles, guitars, and banjos. The "outstanding features" of the fretwire included barbs on both sides of the tang and a well formed crown. It was also hailed as being more efficient by creating more fretwire per pound of metal.

I began a search into the US Patents from that period and did find percussion related patents by Mr Wilson but nothing in the realm of fretwire.

1923 Music Trade Review [3]

1923 Presto [4]


Elton Trademarked Logo [1] Leigh Arthur Elkington was born in 1884 and lived in New York. He opened his first company and according to ...

The word Elton in an invisible oval shape
Elton Trademarked Logo [1]
Leigh Arthur Elkington was born in 1884 and lived in New York. He opened his first company and according to the 1920 census, he was the owner of a metal goods business. The name Elkington Co first appears in 1927 and by 1946 the company was known as L. A. Elkington Co. 

He was successful and continued to expand and purchase smaller companies and product lines to bolster his brand. In 1927 he bought out the fife and flageolet merchandising and tooling from the Rudolph Wurlitzer company  [5]. A year later he purchased the Eventone Manufacturing Co, which included the patent rights to the Eventone Letter Violin Mute [6].

Elkington died in 1967, at the age of 85, but his company continued and was an exhibitor at NAMM 1970 [2][9]. The company name was renewed in 1971 by a Jules N. Bloch and continued until it was dissolved in 1993 [3]. 


Where the name 'Elton' originated from is unclear but the brand was first used in 1915 and first appeared in retail in 1920 [1]. According to a 1971 filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Elton brand was used for "Musical Instruments, and Parts Therefor; And Musical Accessories-namely, Instrument Supports, Fasteners, Holders, Straps, Arm Rests, Head Guards, Capos, Megaphones, Gauges, Stands, Picks, Mutes, Twirling and Directors' Batons, and Carrying Cases Therefor, Reed Trimmers, Electric Reed Selectors, Cleaning Rods, Ligatures, Lyres, Music Racks and Clips, and Piano Tuning Hammers, and Pedal Extenders." 

Paper label from a tube of Elton nickel fret wire
A 1922 issue of the Music Trade Review discusses a circular distributed by C. Bruno & Son where they advocate for the value of Elton banjo resonators [4]. Following closely after were mutes for brass instruments which appeared in 1923 [2]. 

Elkington also built spring capos for guitars using the L. Filstrup design which was patented in 1889 (and expired in 1906). His capos differed from the originals but not being made of solid brass but instead of stamped metal. He did, however, continue stamping the original patent date on the capo [7][8]. 



According to a 1928 issue of the Music Trade Review, Gibson was passing out specially branded cigarettes at a gathering of musical merc...

According to a 1928 issue of the Music Trade Review, Gibson was passing out specially branded cigarettes at a gathering of musical merchandisers.
I wonder if any still exist...

1966-1968 Kay with Kluson "double line" tuners About I recently completed a restoration of a Kay jumbo guitar that had bee...

1966-1968 Kay with Kluson "double line" tuners


I recently completed a restoration of a Kay jumbo guitar that had been weathered for decades in an abandoned shack in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee and was in serious need of repair. It belonged to an unknown individual who did enjoy some pipe tobacco (there was a faint smell of it on the instrument before I began) and played the guitar to pieces. When the nut fell off of the instrument and was lost, they carved grooves in the first position for the strings to slide down by using the first fret as the nut.

My work included:

  • Filling the divots behind the first fret and in front of the nut
  • Redoing the filler around the inlays with rosewood and superglue
  • Patching a screw hole in the heel
  • Full refret
  • Neck reset
  • Stabilizing de-laminations on the sides
  • Fabricating a celluloid tortoise pickguard to replace the missing one
  • Removing the rough, factory x-bracing and rebracing the top with properly oriented spruce

Kay Factory X-Brace

This jumbo guitar originally had X-bracing from the factory but it is barely a step above the ladder bracing that most of these instruments have. Note the use of PVA glue instead of hide glue to attach the braces but that the kerfing is still attached with hide glue. They didn't seem particularly attached to any one adhesive towards the end of the company.

These braces are massive, unscalloped pieces of coniferous woods with totally random grain orientations. Note the spruce bridgeplate which has been chipped out by the ball ends of the strings I decided that since I was going to be fully restoring the instrument that I might as well redo the x-bracing
Original Kay X Bracing

In-progress picture of my bracing (not all braces are pictured)
I opted to keep the tone bars in roughly the same positions as they were originally to give this instrument a unique tone in line with what Kay had originally designed (intentionally or otherwise). My bridge plates are made from spruce, to allow for the best tonal quality, with the important distinction that I cap them with maple to protect the delicate spruce and add a little more strength. Of course I went ahead and addressed all of the cracks.

What is this instrument?

I continued to research the origins of this instrument but was unable to find an exact match. I tossed around a couple ideas until I took a closer look at the catalog.

The body of the guitar did not match the neck...

K-6104 "Professional" Country-Style 

The K-6104 was a top of the line dreadnought model built between 1966 up until Kay went bankrupt in 1968. It featured "genuine Australian pearl" position markers in a "longhorn" shape which is the colloquial name given to that model of guitar. It featured a quite intricate "batwing" bridge design.

Note the catalog says "Grover machine heads" yet all of these guitars came with Kluson tuners. 

K-8130 Solo Special II

The K-8130 "Solo Special II" was a jumbo guitar also built between 1966-68. It was slightly less expensive than the Country model seen above but built just as well without the flashly appointments. It had a straight Rosewood bridge and simple binding. 

The Instrument

My guitar had the body from a K-8130 and the neck from a K-6104 and they were so perfectly mated together that I was completely stumped. Part of the appeal to restoring vintage instruments is the "forensics" and looking for details or evidence of modifications so I set

The heel had begun to separate from the body and so a bolt had been driven through the heel to keep it in place but the neck had never been removed. I was the first person to steam the neck out which was evident by the original hide glue remaining in the pocket which matched up with all the Kay glue jobs I've seen. The weathering and playwear was consistent on both pieces which meant they had been together for many years. 

I first wondered if they had simply swapped the bridges but the K-6104 was a dreadnought with different binding and a different rosette and so there was no way that this instrument was a modified K-6104. The K-8130 had block inlays and was finished in a brown lacquer as opposed to black and so the neck certainly didn't belong to a K-8130

My Conclusion

The Kay Musical Instrument Company merged with Valco in 1966-67 and folded the next year in 1968. (corrected 2/12/20)

I believe that this instrument was built by Kay when they were scrambling to sell their remaining inventory and liquidate their assets. This guitar was thrown together from parts belonging to two different models and then promptly left the factory in a last ditch effort to get their money's worth. It had been assembled in a manner consistent with every other Kay guitar I've worked on and so I had no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Did this instrument get taken home by a worker? Was it shipped out as a factory-second or did Kay send it to an unsuspecting owner who ordered one of the two aforementioned models? Did the owner even notice or care? We'll never know. 

Where is it now?

I listed it on Reverb and it sold fairly quickly to a player out in North Carolina. Hopefully the instrument continues to get played and lives another life for the next 50 years! 

I suspect a refinish or an overspray might be the proper method to ensure the wood is properly protected for decades to come but I leave that decision up to the next owners.

Here is an iPhone 7 video of the instrument that I recorded, unfortunately I didn't think to mic it up and do a proper demo

Here is the original listing for the instrument with more detailed photos

All catalog images came from:

The Jackson-Guldan Violin Co. 1950s-60s photo of the Jackson-Guldan factory on 165 W Main St. Image Credit The Jackson-Guldan Viol...

The Jackson-Guldan Violin Co.

1950s-60s photo of the Jackson-Guldan factory
on 165 W Main St.
Image Credit

The Jackson-Guldan Violin Company was established in 1915 by H. M. Jackson, Benjamin Jackson, and German immigrant George Guldan (the Jacksons purchased into the company) in Columbus, Ohio [1]. The company was owned by one person from 1923 until the company's dissolution in July of 1954. That person was likely one of the Jacksons as Guldan had left in 1925. They were the only U.S. manufacturer of violins from 1930-1938 and 1940-1954 [4 pg.20]. Jackson-Guldan was known primarily for their student-level instruments which were manufactured en-mass and sold through mail order catalogs and jobbers. Their factory was located by the Scioto river, a very good location for a manufacturer

Shortly after World War II, they were producing an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 violins a year but the numbers declined to barely 6,000 instruments by the mid 1950s. The turning point was 1949 when they began operating at a loss and were unable to recruit and maintain existing workers. Their working force in 1954 consisted of 5 employees (including the owner) [pg.36]. 

Undated photo of the Jackson-Guldan factory
Image Credit
The quality of their instruments was a topic of contention. Carl Schwartz, of the National Association of Musical Merchandise Wholesalers criticized Jackson-Guldan instruments and chalked their moderate success up to a lack of German-built alternatives during the war. After the war ended, the German instruments were able to be imported and were again preferred by schools thus so retailers were unable to sell their stock Jackson-Guldan violins [4 pg.48]. The consensus that I have discovered upon research of J-G violins is that they were often "over-built" which stifled the tone of the instrument. 

The company was purchased by a Mr. Francis Luke Daniel who reopened the plant in the Fall of 1954 after hiring new workers and repairing the damaged and worn tooling and machinery. He also introduced a new department dedicated to repairing violins [4 pg.37]. Daniel's resume included working for Sears and Roebuck and opening their first store in Rio de Janero, Brazil [6].

Image Credit: [4]

Luke Daniel appealed to the United States Tariff Commission in 1957 to try and prevent imported instruments from driving his company out of business [4 pg.1]. They did not succeed and began to cut corners in production of violins to drive their costs down, most notably by switching from carved tops to heat pressed tops [3].

Jackson-Guldan's shift to guitars was well informed at the time but the guitar market crashed at the end of the 1960s and it was the nail in the coffin for Daniel's venture. The company folded for the last time in 1971 and stock was sold off [5]. The factory was torn down in 1973 to make way for new development. Daniel's daughter told an individual that excess stock and materials were burned but that her brother had kept some of the tooling and molds [3]. Luke Daniel passed away in 2010 [6].


I am unable to determine the exact year that Jackson-Guldan began producing guitars but the earliest ones appear to be from the 1940s. Their guitars are not serialized and not all of them have stamps identifying them as being Guldan instruments so their hardware is the most accurate method of dating them. Consult Guitar HQ's guide on dating Kluson tuners for closed-back tuners and my guide on dating open-back Kluson tuners to determine when your instrument was built.

Lineup of 4 Jackson-Guldan guitars
Image Credit:
Jackson-Guldan guitars are student-grade instruments that are parlor sized and made from plain, domestic woods. They distributed amplifiers as well which were likely built by Valco.

In 1962, Daniel applied for a patent on an innovation on the acoustic guitar that was branded the "Adjust-o-matic". It allowed for an adjustable neck angle via two screws which would prevent the need for expensive neck resets. His patent was granted in 1965. 

1950s "Stadium"-branded Guitar
Image Credit: Mine

Brand names

  • Baron "Custom"
  • Champ
  • Chris
  • Dart
  • Go-Go
  • Hootenanny
  • Jay-G
  • Mercury
  • Norwood
  • Oahu "Prince"
  • Stadium

Serial Numbers

There is currently no known meaning behind any Jackson-Guldan serial numbers



The Music Trade Review Dec. 13, 1924 Image Source About The Waverly Musical Products Company was one of the largest producers of me...

The Music Trade Review Dec. 13, 1924
Image Source


The Waverly Musical Products Company was one of the largest producers of metal products and accessories for stringed instruments during the 20th Century. They supplied their products to nearly everyone from the budget instruments like Harmony and Kay to the renowned brands of Martin, Epiphone, and Gibson.

They were established in July, 1919 as the Waverly Novelty Co and had their main office and showroom in the Canadian Pacific building located at 342 Madison Avenue in New York City. Their factory was located at 71-73 10th Street in Long Island, New York [2]. The company was incorporated as Waverly Musical Products Co Inc in 1922 which would be its name going forward [5].

In 1922 the business was staffed by
  • President - Richard Condon
  • Vice President - Albert K. Trout
  • Treasurer - Henry C. Lomb.
  • Secretary - Henry Klein
In the 1970s, the company was put up for sale by Mr. Lomb, who was a descendant of the original founders, and the company ceased to exist as of 1981 [3][5]. It was then purchased by Stewart-MacDonald and reestablished in Bozeman, Montana in 1989 where they began production of guitar parts up until 2004 [2]. Stew-Mac continues to produce parts under the Waverly name and I believe the company has been relocated to Athens, Ohio with Stew-Mac.


The Music Trades Sep 29, 1929
Image Source
Waverly tuners are the easiest to identify but many of their other products remain shrouded in mystery because of the lack of identifying stamps and source material like catalogs. If anyone locates an original Waverly catalog, I would be very much interested in purchasing and digitizing it.

According to a 1926 issue of the Music Trade Review, Waverly also produced fretwire [4].


Waverly tuners are often identified by their 3x3 plate tuners which have squared off ends and are relatively plain looking. They then expanded to adding a tiny "nub" or "bell" to the end of their plates which became larger and eventually became an identifying feature of many Waverly tuners. Some of the single unit tuners (not attached to a large plate) have a "scalloped" end which resembles a simple flower. Many tuners have a plain etching pattern in two lines down the length of the tuners.

They are also easily distinguished from Klusons by the worm shaft (the rod that the plastic button attaches to and turns the tuning post). The worm shaft brackets are "straight" and mount perpendicular to the shaft while Kluson patented "bent tab" worm shaft mounts which were hailed as being a better design and being more stable.

Some Waverly tuners will need new buttons due to old ones that have crumbled but it is not nearly as pervasive of an issue as it is with old Kluson tuners.

1930s "Square Plate" Waverly tuners
with small black buttons
1950s "Square Plate" Waverly tuners with
regular sized buttons
1930s(?) Waverly "Etched - Square Plate" tuners
with "Product & Process Patents Applied For"
stamped on the reverse side
1960s Waverly "Etched - Bell End" tuners

1930s Waverly "Bent Tab" tuners
Note that the worm shaft mounts are not stamped on
but are actually part of the plate that has been bent

1940s Waverly "Small Bell" tuners
1940s Waverly "Etched - Scalloped" single unit tuners
Image Credit: Reverb - Copper Basin Guitars
1940s-50s Waverly "Diamond Back - Bell"
closed-back tuning machine
Image Credit: Reverb - Matt Umanov Guitars


The main focus of my research is to clear up the inaccuracies and confusion that arise from the complicated web of brand names. This is whe...

The main focus of my research is to clear up the inaccuracies and confusion that arise from the complicated web of brand names. This is where I address common errors and unique facts (that often lead to confusion) that I've encountered.


Harmony and Gibson exchanged parts 

The exact terms of their relationship is unknown but we know that Harmony purchased a large quantity of P-13 pickups for their lapsteels and H-56 electric archtop models. Harmony later purchased wide range mini humbuckers for their thinline electric guitar models such as the Chris Isaak guitar.

As seen in my 2019 interview with a former Harmony employee, Gibson purchased surplus celluloid pickguard material from Harmony.

Kay built for Gretsch during the 1940s

Often chalked up to wartime shortages in manpower by modern communities, I do not know for sure. Kay did build some Gretsch branded guitars, such as the New Yorker, during this time period.

Harmony built for Fender during the late 1960s and 1970s

Fender did build their own acoustics such as the Kingman, Palomino, Newporter, and such models during the 1960s and early 70s. They distributed a more economical brand of instruments denoted with the F-#### numbering scheme that were built by Harmony. Such models included the Harmony Sovereign.


Harmony date stamps do not mean [F]irst and [S]econd half of the year.

The DeMont Harmony Database is recognized as one of the best resources for information on Harmony guitars. Unfortunately Mr DeMont has passed and his website remains frozen in time. On the FAQ page there is a claim from a former Harmony employee that challenged existing knowledge on the date stamps.

The consensus today is that the stamps still stand for [F]all and [S]pring of the year of manufacture despite what the DeMont database quote suggested.

Evidence lies in short-run Christmas guitars with [F] date stamps where it makes more sense for them to have been built in the Fall rather than the First half of the year and to sit around until the holidays.

Some late 50s Harmony models have [FL] date stamps which indicate Fall.

Kay, Harmony, and Regal are not the same company and did not build guitars for each other*

Believe it or not I've seen people claim that Kay built guitars for Harmony or Harmony built guitars for Kay which is entirely incorrect. They are entirely separate companies.
  • Kay Musical Instrument Company (1890-1969) [1]
  • Harmony Company (1892-1975) [2]
  • Regal Musical Instrument Company (1896-1954) [3]

*Regal was purchased by Harmony in 1954 and they used it as a brand name for years afterwards. This often causes confusion. They never exchanged instruments while Regal was independent.

Kay, Harmony, Regal, and any Chicago manufacturer did not build for or sell guitars built by Gibson or Martin

  • Gibson built guitars for Spiegel that were branded Old Kraftsman. 
  • Kay also built guitars for Spiegel that were branded Old Kraftsman. 
But Kay did not build guitars for Gibson nor the other way around. Those instruments have the exact same brand name because Spiegel was in the market to sell instruments branded Old Kraftsman and it was unimportant as to who built them.

Sears-Roebuck often had their Silvertone guitar catalogs littered with Kay, Harmony, and Danelectro built instruments and they were not distinguished as such because it did not matter to the consumer. As long as Sears could provide the guitars that the people wanted, nobody cared who it came from.

St Louis Music Supply Co switched their "Custom Kraft" brand instruments from Harmony to Kay during the 1940s. Why? I'd bet that it was money. They were in the business of reselling merchandise and a better deal is a better deal.

(Brand Name 1) was not built by (Brand Name 2)

I've heard variations of this  (ex: "Old Kraftsman was built by Silvertone") which is a wrong conclusion drawn from some aspect of factual information. Kay did build guitars for Sears, which sold Silvertone, and Spiegel, which sold Old Kraftsman. 

Therefore the manufacturer of some Silvertone guitars did make some Old Kraftsman guitars. 

But brand names are not real companies, there was no Silvertone factory just like there was no Craftsman factory. The real companies create trademarks and resell or outsource products under that name

Think of Walmart's Mainstays brand and Target's Threshold brand; they do not have their own respective companies that build these products. I'd almost guarantee that the overseas factories that build these products are neighbors if not the same company.

An uncommon brand name does not make a guitar rare or more expensive*

*With the exception of Airline instruments which can command a higher price due to the high profile players who use them

I recently sold a Kay electric archtop branded Marwin for the Barth-Feinberg catalog at market price for such a Kay. I've had no luck in selling branded instruments for higher than their OEM branded counterparts are worth. Nobody pays more for an instrument with an obscure brand name unless it has a unique styling or feature.


Custom Kraft, Kleartone, Old Kraftsman, Why? American consumers and design trends are a relationship that I do not know nearly enough abo...

Custom Kraft, Kleartone, Old Kraftsman, Why?

American consumers and design trends are a relationship that I do not know nearly enough about to fully discuss here but the historical trends that I can see fascinate me and are worth mentioning.


Brand names have to be unique and distinguishable to draw people towards their products and also to support trademarking so it is no surprise that misspelling words is the easiest way to accomplish that. You'll take a second look at a word you think is misspelled and having it plastered on a billboard will ensure it draws your attention. 


In 2020, we are deep in a trend that involves dropping vowels from common worlds to form names such as the dating app Tindr, the blogging site Tumblr, or the image hosting site Flickr. Musicians are even following suit such as the artist The Weeknd or the band DNCE. We also deliberately misspell words such as Lyft which substitutes a 'y' for an 'i' or Chick-Fil-A which shortens the word "chicken" and then phonetically writes the word "fillet" using a dash.


Graphic design in computers has also evolved in its own way. Windows 98 was styled around clearly defined monotone-colored boxes where websites utilized textured backgrounds like ripples or sand grains to stand out. That is horrific to modern web designers who currently stick to "flat" or "metro" user interface elements that focus on brighter colors and less lines. I like to view it as an "implied" boundary between objects where buttons are rarely fully enclosed by a box and instead are more "open". You click on the area around a word that is either differentiated by color or by a common distance between the word and the ones above it and below it. Parallax scrolling (two or more objects moving at different rates) was real hot in the beginning of the 2010s but, thankfully, has started fading away.


In the early to mid 20th century, a trend was to replace the letter C with its sound-a-like letter K. Look at brands like Kleenex, Kraft Foods, Kool Aid, Krispy Kreme, etc which were all established around the 1920s through the 1940s. The letter K has more sharp angles and edges than C, which is a continuous curve in sans-serif fonts, so it draws your eye to it. 

It makes sense that instruments follow the design trends of the era.

Search the 1930s Regal RadioTone or the Kay Television Model which feature art-deco interpretations of telephone towers. Jump to the 1950s for the "cowboy stencil" guitars which followed the boom of television and The Wild West in the media. The 1960s had a huge boom in electric guitars and copies of expensive brands that professionals were using was common. Hofner Viola bass copies are a dime-a-dozen from the late 60s and early 70s.

Additional Reading

There is a great article by Phil Patton from the American Institute for Graphic Arts entitled Krazy About K which discusses the American fascination with the letter K in far more detail than I do.

The Capo A capodastro or capo tasto is a device that allows the "open" notes on a guitar (played without fretting) to be raised...

The Capo

A capodastro or capo tasto is a device that allows the "open" notes on a guitar (played without fretting) to be raised in pitch. They are commonly used in place of tuning an instrument higher because a capo is safer and runs a smaller chance of breaking a string or the instrument such that a guitar tuned to E standard can be capo'd on the 5th fret and be in A standard without any increase in tension. 

Guitar capos have a wide history of designs and uses but one that is often overlooked is the built-in capo. Pictured below is a 1920s Lyon and Healy built guitar with a capo that was installed into the guitar at the factory. It slides down a channel in the fretboard and is tightened with a thumb screw to set the instrument's pitch. I am unable to find any catalog scans or L&H patents for this design but it is the first one I've seen.
1928 Lyon and Healy Washburn
Image Credit: Reverb - DFW Guitars


1894 was the year that F. R. & R. Whelan patented their "Capo Tasto" for the guitar. It was a bulky device that slid along a short track spanning a single fret. It was secured to the headstock via an elastic band which would pull it back out of the way when not in use.

Inventor Czar Prince patented his capo in 1897 which also could only modify the pitch from a single fret. It was inlaid into the guitar behind a specific fret and activated by a lever which pushed a secondary fret upwards just behind the primary fret. It likely would've been praised for its ease of use and fluid movement in changing the tuning despite the intrusiveness of the device.

E. H. Winchell applied for a patent in 1901 for a capo that used threaded inserts in the guitar's fretboard to attach and remove the device. If you wanted it on the 3rd fret then you simply unscrewed it from the headstock, lined it up on the 3rd fret, and tightened the thumb screw to mount the capo. This allowed for infinite placements as long as you had the inserts installed in the board but would've taken more effort to change tuning.
In 1902 an E. R. Kappeler patented a device which ran on a rail inlaid into the fingerboard. It also included a loop which was intended for the player to insert their fretting hand's thumb into which could be used to move the capo while playing. The capo was locked into place by pushing the loop upwards towards the neck and unlocked by pulling the loop. This was intended to allow easy tuning changes on the fly
1922 brought a patent from A. C. Whiteman which used a telescoping tube that was mounted to the headstock as the rail in which the capo was mounted on. The capo could then be extended or retracted easily and could be pushed all the way back when not in use. Two adjustment screws on the capo allowed for use on radiused fretboards by bowing the portion contacting the fretboard. This design was likely the least obtrusive when playing as there was nothing wrapping around the neck to contact your hands. I presume it suffered from rattling as there was little to no downward pressure on the fretboard.
N. M. Johnston patented his capo in 1925 which also used the headstock for support. His capo was a metal bar which flared out at one end and had a channel cut out of the other end. A thumb screw sat in that channel and could be tightened or loosened to secure the capo at a specific fret.
1957 featured a design free from rails and headstock mountings. D. D. Raze patented a T-shaped capo that was pressed into pre-drilled holes in the fretboard and held in place by the friction of the hole. It was stored just behind the nut when not in use. This design may have suffered if the friction holding the capo in place was lessened by general wear and tear but it seems to be the most low-profile of the designs.

Modern Use

Integrated capos have disappeared from modern guitars entirely and are incredibly rare to find in antique guitars. The standalone capo was patented in 1850 by James Ashborn and improved upon alongside the integrated capo through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Hamilton Capo is a common piece with old guitars along with the elastic fabric capos that are even more common with budget instruments.
Modern capo units are removable which allows them to be attached to any number of guitars and they benefit from being cheap and reliable. The spring capo is probably the most common design out there right now. There just isn't a demand for a capo that is limited to a single guitar much less one that involves so much drilling and modification. Unfortunately they are a relic of a gone time but I believe they are worth remembering.

Modern, Inexpensive Spring Capo

Further Research

There is a great site called which features a brief timeline of the capo's design as well as other tips. It currently appears to be online but the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has a copy of it which can be viewed here:

Kay truss rods are not an exceptionally great design, they use the basic compression rod system that Gibson patented in the 1920s but Kay f...

Kay truss rods are not an exceptionally great design, they use the basic compression rod system that Gibson patented in the 1920s but Kay fell short in their execution. 

Gibson used a concave channel for the rod to follow in order for the compression to effectively counteract the forward bow in a guitar's neck. Kay used a nearly flat channel which makes the compression rod have a minor effect but its not always consistent down the neck. Often a Kay truss rod will bow the neck around the 3rd or 5th fret and leave the rest of it untouched. I opt to replace these rods with modern steel truss rods from LMII which perform miles above the original rods and are stronger.

The rod is a long carriage bolt that extends from the nut to just before the neck meets the body. It is held in place by two semi-circle washers with square holes cut in them. The adjustment nut is brass and sized for a 5/16" socket. It bears against a washer and the first semi-circle washer. Tightening the nut pulls the end of the rod towards the nut which bows it and is the basis of the functionality.

The washer at the nut is not attached to the rod but the washer at the far end is held in place by the resistance of the carriage bolt's square-neck against the square channel in the washer. This keeps the rod from turning freely when you try to tighten the adjustment nut.

My Kay truss rod turns freely, how do I fix this?

Using a pair of needle nose pliers, grab the brass adjustment nut (while it is attached to the rod) and give it a gentle wiggle. You should be able to push and pull the rod and have it move about an 1/8" overall. Pull the rod and give it a gentle twist to see if it moves. If the rod turns then the square neck of the bolt has not met the washer and I would recommend repeating the process. If the rod does not turn then you should be able to tighten the adjustment nut and your truss rod will work again.

The worst case scenario is that your rod is actually broken in which case you won't be able to fix it and it will need replacing. The best case scenario is that you prolong the life of this (admittedly poor) OEM truss rod and the minimal adjustment it provides.

TYPE-DD-11A .1 MFD. 75 V.D.C. Kay guitars typically have these red or yellow capacitors which were built by Delco Radio

.1 MFD.
75 V.D.C.
Kay guitars typically have these red or yellow capacitors which were built by Delco Radio

Image Credit:  Vintaxe - 1938 Chicago Musical Instrument Catalog This unit transforms any regular non-electric guitar, tenor guitar, ma...

Image Credit: Vintaxe - 1938 Chicago Musical Instrument Catalog
This unit transforms any regular non-electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandolin, violin, cello, or bass into an electrical instrument, which may be played through the Kay amplifier. The unit consists of a pick-up, volume control, cord and plug. Easily fitted to instrument; does not damage instrument in any way.
TYPE H Converts any flat top instrument by placing point of unit against the bridge and fastening unit to instrument top by two small screws. Suitable for flat top guitars or mandolin, or for violins, cellos and basses. Price. complete with cord and plug $22.50
TYPE S Converts any adjustable bridge tenor guitar or mandolin by replacing the regular bridge with the unit, eliminating original bridge. One bridge top piece reversible for Spanish or Hawaiian guitar and one optional top piece for mandolin are supplied with unit. Price. complete with cord and plug  $22.50


These units were designed to mount onto a guitar and be removable and interchangeable like the later DeArmond pickups.

They don't surface much in my research but an interesting footnote in the history of Kay Musical Instruments

1966 DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1100 Gold About The DeArmond Rhythm Chief is probably known as one of the best sounding pickups for ...

1966 DeArmond Rhythm Chief Model 1100 Gold


The DeArmond Rhythm Chief is probably known as one of the best sounding pickups for archtop guitars and originals can break the $1000 mark. The Rhythm Chief appeared in the 1950s and continued to be built, to my knowledge, until DeArmond shut down around 1985. The most recent Rhythm Chief I've encountered was a 1982 which had a similar, if not identical, schematic to the 1962 Model 1000 schematic I've listed below. 

Despite its popularity, information about the wiring is surprisingly sparse. I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to repair a couple vintage DeArmond monkey-on-a-stick pickups. The usual troublemakers are the pickup lead wire which crumbles and shorts out (Mojotone sells a great replica wire) and the paper in oil capacitors which leak and fail. Less commonly the coil is actually damaged

A quirk that I documented was that the wiring schemes were constantly changing design, capacitors, and potentiometers. This makes it difficult to state that there is a definitive Rhythm Chief wiring schematic. I've documented the pickups that I've worked on and included their wiring diagrams here so you can find a schematic that most closely matches what you are looking for.

Also as a resource for DeArmond pickups, I'd highly recommend

1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading: dead

1962 Model 1000
Coil Reading: 15.8k

19?? Model 1000
Coil Reading: 7.3k
This model features unusual potentiometers with the pot code embossed on the phenolic board. I know for certain they were original to the pickup but I am unable to decipher the pot code. Following previous code standards, 360 should be the manufacturer code and 10070 should be a batch number. It has a similar style to the 1982 that I worked on so I assume its a later model, possibly '70s.

This schematic wasn't appearing to work so I rewired it according to the 1962 specs

1967 Model 1100
Coil Reading: 14.42k