The Amateur Luthier

Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars new and old

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I picked up this instrument for a small price due to its condition but it looks to be an instrument that is worth restoring. This guitar i...

I picked up this instrument for a small price due to its condition but it looks to be an instrument that is worth restoring. This guitar is valuable to me for two reasons, one the history it holds and two for the  age and condition that the intact pieces are in.

Image from Vintaxe
This guitar is a Harmony H-1390 Marquise [sic] model which the Demont Harmony database says were made from 1937 to 1940. Mine has "S 36" stamped in red ink on the back which definitively places it as a 1936 model.

Large, full toned, beautiful in appearance. High arched spruce top, inlaid with cut colored wood-block marquetry. Heavy celluloid bindings. Ovalled bound fingerboard. Tortoise celluloid guardplate. Adjustable bridge. Compensating tailpiece. Rich maple-grained mahogany shaded finish, highly polished.
No. 1390: $25.50

The history of the brand is fascinating too as Custom Kraft was one of the names used by St Louis Music and I've often seen the claim that the brand was only in use during the 1960s. I own a Kay-built archtop labelled Custom Kraft that I believe to be from the 1940s or 50s and I've seen similar claims on Reverb listings. There is also the possibility that the brand name changed hands but I've seen nothing yet to support that.

Besides the sorry state that this guitar was left in, it was very lightly played during its lifetime. The fretboard has very minor divots and the frets are rusty but not worn. The guitar unfortunately was not stored with care and so the back is completely detached from the instrument, the tail end is missing nearly all of its ornate binding, and it has a pretty nasty chunk taken out of the top

My conclusion is that Custom Kraft instruments were built by Kay at least in the 1950s until the brands dissolution in 1968 but before then they were also built by Harmony. Both Chicago manufacturers but of course very different guitars.

1960s Saturn Videocaster This is a super fascinating guitar with 4 pickups controlled in pairs. Each pair of pickups has a rhythm/sol...

1960s Saturn Videocaster

This is a super fascinating guitar with 4 pickups controlled in pairs. Each pair of pickups has a rhythm/solo (treble cut) switch, tone wheel, and volume knob. Each pickup has its own slide switch to enable or disable it. 

The neck of the guitar had a nasty twist in it and the truss rod only warped the area around the 3rd fret so I set to remove the rosewood fretboard and see what was inside.

I was actually really taken back by what I saw since this guitar not only has a truss rod but it also has 2 steel bars as neck reinforcements. Typically guitars from this era will either have a truss rod or a steel bar but this marks the first time I've seen a guitar built with both. The neck appears to be maple and the wood between the fretboard and the truss rod is mahogany. 

This type of truss rod is known as a compression rod because it works by having one end of the rod be anchored (in this case a half-circle nut stuck in a slot similar to the rod in my Kay Speed Demon) and the other have a nut and washer to force the rod to bend and move the guitar neck. These are generally not the best and there are more effective designs but this design pops up a lot in older cheap guitars.

I've already removed the compression rod and my next step is going to be to order a new, modern truss rod and install it. Then I will reattach the fretboard, plane it, and refret and the guitar will play and be more stable than ever

3300 x 2275 pixels for an UHD scan. Contains a standard Kay built parlor acoustic guitar with painted binding and moveable bridge as we...

3300 x 2275 pixels for an UHD scan.

Contains a standard Kay built parlor acoustic guitar with painted binding and moveable bridge as well as a Kay built archtop with a single "pancake" pickup in the neck position

Kay Guitar Brand Origins Guitars from the Kay Musical Instrument Company were often sold to distributors labelled under that specific dis...

Kay Guitar Brand Origins

Guitars from the Kay Musical Instrument Company were often sold to distributors labelled under that specific distributor's chosen brand name. This was a cheaper alternative to having to build your own in house brand of instruments. Often times tracking down the origins of brand names and the manufacturers of those guitars can be very difficult and so I've decided to try and compile a comprehensive list of all the brand names that Kay instruments were listed under. For the purpose of this article, I will only be including the US-built guitars by Kay and ignore the entire era of the 1970s and 80s where Kay outsourced their guitar brands to Japan.

Disclaimer: Brand names were often shared as distributors changed who they wanted to buy instruments from. There are brands listed here that were made by both Harmony and Kay as well as other companies.

Also would like to shout out to for having one of the largest searchable index of guitar brand names. I took quite a bit of info and some brand names from his site and simply compiled them into my list. All credit for those discoveries goes to him and the respective owners.


Image credit, unknown author
Airline guitars were sold by Montgomery Ward through catalogs and physical stores. The brand was used from 1958 to 1968 and more recently reissued by Eastwood Guitars [5]. Airline guitars were also built by Harmony at some point in the brands lifetime.

In my experience these guitars seem to be the most highly priced Kay guitars around; even the basic acoustics tend to be more expensive for the brand name. Airline guitars are probably most recognized for the "Res O Glass" body construction and unique design styles that you see artists such as Jack White using. 


"Interesting factoid. Alamo purchased many parts from Kay when they went out of business and you see Kay tuners and fretboards on some of their guitars for a while after this." [Brian R]

Arch Kraft

Image source,
Budget archtops produced from 1933 to 1937 [Wright 172]. Distributed through the Vitak-Elsnic Company catalog which was based in Chicago, Illinois [25].


Produced from 1929 until the late 1940s [Wright 169, 170]. Produced for the Continental Music Company.


Image credit, Reverb - Creekside String Shop
Distributed by Unity Buying Service in the 1950s and 1960s [20].


Image credit, Reverb - BW Guitars
Distributed through Sorkin Music Co in the 1950s [26].

Distributed by Monroe or P&H according to the Kay Vintage Reissue Website [20]. I'm not able to find any definitive info on what either of those companies are.


Image credit, Rivington Guitars
"House Brand name for Abercrombie and Fitch" [Brian R].

The Catalina brand name might've also been used for guitars built by Harmony [22].

Custom Kraft

Custom Kraft Archtop: Image credit, mine
Custom Kraft "900" Amplifier: Image credit, mine
Custom Kraft was a line of instruments produced for St Louis Music Supply Co. The guitars were made by Kay and the amplifiers were produced by Valco/Supro [2]. An article on Premier Guitars claims that the line was launched in 1961 and were produced until Kay was purchased and subsequently went under in 1968 though some instruments still bearing the name appeared into the early 1970s. [3] 

My archtop uses a tailpiece that I've only seen on 40s and 50s Kay instruments but it did not come with its original Kluson tuner either. The current St Louis Music Co has no relation to or info on the original company and so I am not able to verify my assumption that the brand was in use before 1961.


Produced for the Carl Fischer catalog from 1929 to 1936 [Wright 169, 170]. The company is based in New York, New York [24]

Possibly produced by Harmony later in the 1950s. See this Reverb listing for evidence of a Harmony construction (headstock shape)

Franklin Music House

Made by Kay in the 1930s [17].

Distributed through its name-sake, Franklin Music House based in Newark, New Jersey [Spann 207].


Image credit, Reverb - Found Sound
Guitars built in the 1950s for an unknown retailer [16].

The headstock design includes two rockets and two airplanes flying towards themselves. The "F" in Futuramic is also very similar to the font used on Fender guitars.

Alamo guitars had a model of lapsteel called the Futuramic and Noble released accordions under the same name but there is no apparent connection.


Kay produced guitars for Gretsch during the 1940s [Wright 171]. I have a 1947 Gretsch New Yorker archtop that I have heard was a model built by Kay as well.


Groehsl was founded in 1892 and later acquired by Stromberg-Voisinet which rebranded itself as Kay [11]. Their instruments were produced between 1918 and 1921 [Wright 169]


Distributed by Aldens [20]. Also manufactured by Harmony. Commonly seen from the 1960s. 


Made for (or with) the Shireson [sic] Brothers in 1933 [Wright  170]. 

The company is properly spelled as Schireson Brothers Manufactured Musical Instruments. The resonators were made by Kay with cones and hardware supplied by Schireson Bros [12].


Kamico Parlour Flat Top: Picture credit, myself

Kamico was marketed as a cheaper line of Kay guitars and distributed as a lower priced version of Kay's regular guitar line [1]. They were introduced in 1947 and continued to be manufactured until 1951 [Wright 130, 173]

Kay Kraft

Image Credit: Jake Wildwood's blog

Kay Kraft were an early brand of instruments produced from 1927 to 1937 by the Stromberg-Voisinet Company which later became Kay Musical Instrument Co [Wright 94]. This brand is occasionally confused with Custom Kraft due to both having the same spelling of "Kraft" but they are entirely unrelated.

Kay Kraft guitars are also known for having an adjustable bolt-on neck construction which allowed for the angle of the neck to be adjusted by a plate between the neck and the body. They are also known for the "Venetian" mandolin style shape.


Image credit, Reverb - Martys [sic]
Produced for one year only in 1934, these resonators featured either a curly maple or mahogany construction with a wooden resonator plate [Wright 170].

Lark Jr

Image credit, Reverb - Clayton Audio
Likely made between the 1930s and 1950s


Marathon flat top: Picture credit, myself
Marathon was a house brand for the original Southland Musical Merchandise Corp. in Greensboro, NC. It was primarily used for cheaper guitars mostly of Japanese  origin. If yours was made by Kay, in those days, Kay was a US made brand. The original Southland ceased to exist in about 1990 after being sold to a company called Onsite Energy Systems in 1972. I went to work for the Original Southland on Aug 1, 1972 as a stock clerk. I became a road rep for them in April of 1973. I still do the same thing today, 46 years later, but with different companies these days. In 2003 I "resurrected" Southland. Whatever history of the company that exists is in my brain. All the older employees have passed on.
Sorry I can't give you specific information about your guitar. Kay Guitar Company still exists today. Perhaps they can help you;
Ed Rider
Marathon branded guitars were distributed by Southland Musical Merchandise Co in Greensboro, North Carolina. The brand's origin date is unknown but my acoustic (pictured above) has Kluson tuners that date it to the late 1950s. Youtube user Joseph Macey dates his collection of Marathon guitar picks to the late 1950s at the earliest and continuing into the 1960s [4].

Many thanks to Mr Macey for his video led me to the Southland name and then to Mr Rider who gracefully responded with his knowledge about the brand.


Image Credit, Music Go Round - St Charles
Marvel guitars were marketed by the Peter Sorkin Company out of New York, USA. Made in the 1950s through the 1970s according to Jedistar [9].

I've played the model pictured to the left and it feels like a normal, low end Kay arch top guitar. Nothing particularly impressive about it except the name and headstock logo.


Notable model, 1933 Marveltone Arch Kraft No.778 archtop [Wright 172]. Also produced or distributed by Regal [13].

No apparently relation to the Marvel line of Kay guitars.


Guitars and banjos manufactured by Stromberg-Voisinet in the 1920s [Gruhn 442]


Image credit, Jedistar
Produced during the 50s and 60s by both Harmony and Kay [19]


Picture credit, Elderly Instruments
Oahu was a brand of instruments produced for the Oahu Publishing Company based in Cleveland, Ohio. These instruments were built to appeal to the Hawaiian genre of music and commonly feature square necks. These instruments likely were made as early as 1927 [Wright 116] and as late as 1938 [Wright 170]. The Oahu Publishing Company closed in 1985[8].

Old Kraftsman

Picture credit, Music Go Round - Greensboro
Old Kraftsman instruments were marketed through the Spiegel catalogue which was based in Chicago, Illinois. Found as early as 1942 in the Spiegel Holiday Catalog scan [14].

In my experience, most of the guitars under this brand name were basic Kay models with nothing extraordinary about them.


Picture credit, Reverb - Willie's American Guitars
The Orpheum brand name appears on a variety of instruments from different manufacturers but was initially created by the American banjo manufacturer William Lange Banjo Co [6]. In the 1960s, the name was recycled and applied to Japanese-built guitars and the brand has recently been resurrected again. The American-built models were made in the period between the 1930s and 1940s according to Jedistar [7]

I was unable to find a clear builder for these guitars since the name passed through so many hands but the guitar pictured is an exact match for my Kay-built Marathon acoustic guitar.


Distributed by the William Lange Banjo Co up until the 1940s [15].


Image source: Blog - Craigslist Vintage Guitar Hunt

Penncrest was the in-house brand for J.C. Penney. Sold through the 1950s and 60s but the exact dates are unknown.

Looking through the catalog scans at the Wishbook Web archive, I was unable to find any references to Penncrest in the 1966 JC Penney catalog.


Image credit, Jedistar
Made around the 1940s for Sears [18].


Mentioned a time or two on the internet, I currently don't have any information for it yet.


Kay produced some guitars for Regal in the 1930s such as the model numbers: 2106, 2110, 2112 [Wright 170].


Image credit, Keith Holland Guitars
Sold through Gretsch catalogs only in 1948 [Wright 132]. 


Image credit, Reverb - ToftHill Music
The pictured guitar is from a Reverb listing that claims its a 1950s Kay. The headstock matches the 3-bump design and the dovetail neck places its construction before 1961. They also mention that it might've been from a Montgomery Ward catalog though I am unable to confirm that.

Possibly badged for an unknown local retailer.


Image credit, Jake Wildwood's Blog
Silvertone guitars were manufactured by both Kay and Harmony for Sears, Roebuck and Co. The pictured model is a 1941 Kay Crest archtop.


Image credit, Reverb - Meacham's Music
Made between the 1940s and 1960s and distributed through the Mongomery Ward catalogs [20].

S. S. Maxwell

Produced by both Harmony and Kay but between 1933 and 1934, they were produced by Kay [Wright 170, 172]. Not to be confused with S.S. Stewart which was produced by Harmony.


Image credit, Blog "Your Grandpas Guitar"

Distributed by Tonk Brothers Co in the 1930s


The original name of the Kay company. Instruments were distributed under this name from 1921 until 1932 [Wright 169]. I speculate that the name might've possibly appeared again until the company's rebranding to Kay into 1937.


Made for Silvertone by Harmony [23] and possibly Kay as well.


Some Supro branded acoustic guitars were built by Kay in the 1960s up until 1968 [Wright 172].


Image credit, Reverb - Needful Things
Distributed by the Canadian catalog, Eatons. The listing that the included picture is from claims the guitar was built in 1936.


Image credit, Reverb - CGS
Approximately 1950s based off of the bridge shown in the Reverb listing and the fretboard wood color but nothing is nailed down.


Picture credit, mine
Distributed by Western Auto in the 1950s and 1960s.

This particular model is an early 1960s Kay Speed Demon.


Produced during the 1930s and distributed by Tonk Brothers Company as late as 1938 [Wright 172].


One of the house brands of Montgomery Ward [10]. Produced banjos and flat tops as early as 1925 and as a solid body guitar as late as 1961 [Wright 169, 175, 178].


Image credit, mine
Wabash guitars were distributed by the David Wexlar Company [21]. Personally, I've seen claims that they were made by both Kay and or Regal. 

The headstock pictured is from a 1/2 size "Buckeye"-stenciled cowboy guitar project that I haven't started work on yet. The tuners on the right side of the headstock are 1930s patented "Safe Ti-String" and the tuners on the left and unbranded.




Wright, Michael. Guitar Stories: The Histories of Cool Guitars. Vol. 2, Vintage Guitar Books, 2000.

Gruhn, George, and Walter Carter. Gruhns Guide to Vintage Guitars: an Identification Guide for American Fretted Instruments. Backbeat Books, 2010.

Gruhn, George, and Walter Carter. Gruhns Guide to Vintage Guitars: an Identification Guide for American Fretted Instruments. Backbeat Books, 2010.


  • Brian R (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Nate G (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Gary B (Facebook - Kay Guitars)
  • Walter C (Facebook - Kay Guitars)

Updated: 11/4/2018

Department Store Guitar Neck Reinforcements 1965 Harmony Stella, Credit:  Jake Wildwood What does it mean? Sometime in the early 20...

Department Store Guitar Neck Reinforcements

1965 Harmony Stella, Credit: Jake Wildwood

What does it mean?

Sometime in the early 20th century the big guitar manufacturers realized that as people moved away from gut and towards steel strings that the guitars would be subject to more stress and tension so the designs would have the change. Martin began reinforcing their guitar necks with an ebony bar around the 1920s and it continued until 1934 [1]. Then they began constructing their guitars with a steel bar shaped like a T for stronger support without having to acquire exotic woods [2]. Then in 1967, Martin switched again to a hollow rectangular tube of steel inlaid underneath the fretboard to provide more strength than a thinner bar but without the weight of a solid bar [1]. Then in 1985, Martin settled on using an adjustable steel rod which supported the neck while also allowing the amount of relief in the neck to be increased or decreased [2]. Nowadays, most guitars, including the cheap Chinese ones, have an adjustable rod of sorts which allows for better playability and adjustment long term.

1961 Catalog Scan from

Most Kay guitar models are built with poplar necks with the higher models having more quality woods such as mahogany and maple. Poplar is a domestic hardwood that is fairly cheap yet still sturdy; maple outperforms poplar by miles for guitar construction though it is more expensive. From what I'm able to deduce (using catalog scans), 1961 was the transitional year where Kay switched from dovetailed neck joints to bolt-on necks and advertised their "Thin-Lite" adjustable neck. I cannot find any reference to an adjustable neck before that year and would appreciate any corrections on the topic. Usage of the Thin-Lite in neck construction slowly spread to more models but the cheaper models still lacked it. 
Comparison of some of the steel bars I have lying around
All the bars pictured above came out of guitars I have worked on, some are still apart and so I'll put the rod back when I reassemble the instrument. I don't have an incredibly large sample size to pull from but I thought it was interesting that the Harmony had a slanted end on its steel rod. All the rods need (or needed) some hammering to straighten them out as they were either put in wonky or warped over the years. 

These steel rods were inlaid into the necks of the guitars they came out of and are the only thing fighting against the tension of the strings to keep the neck straight. The string tension always wins and so you end up with warped necks due to either the wood compressing under the rod or the rod bending or even a little of both. Once these necks are warped they cannot be adjusted and either have to be sanded level and refretted, fretted with larger fretwire in hopes of compressing the board back, or having the fretboard remove and refitted. 

A truss rod from a Kay Speed Demon that had broken
and needed to be removed
This rod came out of my Kay Speed Demon after I removed the Indian rosewood fretboard. I knew my truss rod was broken as when I turned the nut the entire rod turned with it which would indicate that it had broken loose somewhere and was no longer applying tension to the rod. 

Its made of a long steel rod with threads at one end and a flat head at the other, similar to a nail. The rod is held in place by the two semi-circle washers which sit in slots cut into the poplar neck that hold the rod in place. At the tail end of the rod, the washer has a square hole and is supposed to be welded to the flared end of the rod which keeps it stationary. Then at the head end there is a free floating washer which pushes against the wood when the brass nut is tightened which causes the rod to bow upwards. I was surprised to see that the truss rod channel was cut too deep for the rod in both of my Speed Demon projects. Kay remedied that by placing a 3/4" long wood shim in the center of the rod which contacts the fretboard to apply the pressure. 

My discovery was that the weld at the tail end had broken and so the rod turned freely between both washers and was not able to be tightened causing the neck to remain warped and unadjustable. So I took to my two separating knives and using a household iron on the frets I took the fretboard off. It went very well up until the tail end of the guitar where the neck became thicker (to accomodate the bolts) and the truss rod stopped resulting in more poplar to heat. That part did not come off as clean and will require touching up later. 

My new plan is to take a modern truss rod from LMII and affix it into the guitar in hopes of keeping this guitar playable for far longer than the original rod did. 

Works Cited

Goya F-11 Restoration Finished Before Specs Non-cutaway. Concert size: Body width: 360 mm. Body length: 465 mm. Body depth: 98 ...

Goya F-11 Restoration




Concert size:
Body width: 360 mm.
Body length: 465 mm.
Body depth: 98 mm.
Spruce top with [fan, flamenco] bracing.
[flamed] Birch back & sides.
4-ply bound top.
Unbound back.
Mahogany neck with non-adjustable T-shaped duraluminum truss rod.
Unbound rosewood fingerboard with pearl dot inlay.
Rosewood bridge.
Double pickguards.
Nickel plated strip tuners.
Natural finish.

The Pickguards

The pickguards were a thin, white plastic that had been stuck to the guitar on both sides of the soundhole, a very common flamenco guitar setup. Unfortunately the pickguards on these guitars commonly peeled up and off the guitar and mine was no exception. This one, however, was a nasty and sticky mess as the glue holding the pickguards had run and gotten all over the bridge and top. I used Goo Gone and careful scrubbing to remove the pickguards entirely and clean up the residue from where they used to lay. That wasn't a terrible task but it did take some time and multiple attempts to get the guitar clean enough for me to be happy. The most fascinating part, in my opinion, is how the lacquer underneath them stayed out of the light for 55 years and was stark white compared to the rest of the guitar. That color is what the entire guitar top would've looked like in 1963 if you picked one of these guitars up off of the assembly line. 

The Bridge

The guitars strings had torn through the body and into the bridge when I received it. Not only did the string ends travel up into the bridge but they also traveled forwards towards the neck, the worst one moving about 1/8th of an inch forward... I assume someone had put slightly heavier strings on the guitar, since the Goya catalogs mentioned that these guitars could take them all, and the lightweight bracing was just not able to take that much tension

The most common repair I do now-a-days is bridge plate reinforcing which involves gluing a very dense hardwood plate on top of the damaged bridge plate and drilling new string holes through that. The plate repair protects the top and bridge from the upward pull of the strings which improves the sound of the guitar as well as preventing bellying and other bridge damage. 
The holes in the top and the bridge after I removed it
I used fish glue to affix slivers of spruce into the slots in the top.
I repeated the step with rosewood for the bridge
Afterwards the bridge had slight damage due to my carelessness with a heater to remove the bridge and because of my repairs. So I hit the bridge with a couple thin coats of nitrocellulose lacquer which melted into the existing coats and cleaned that right up. I then polished the bridge and glued it back onto the body. 

The Side Crack

The guitar had a nice and nasty crack running along the lower bout that extended for about a foot so I got to work on repairing that. I used my homemade cleat-puller (that Pete from Driftwood gave me, he built them after seeing them on Stewmac's website) to pull the cleat tight against the body from the inside while I clamped the gap closed. I repeated this 4-5 times before I had managed to snugly close the crack and make it almost unnoticeable.
Unnoticeable might be a strong word but it doesn't look bad compared to what it was

Neck Reset


I tried 3 times to hit the dovetail through the 13th fret but I missed every single time, unfortunately. I'm still learning in many aspects. Thankfully the guitar actually has a hole through the neck block where, supposedly, a bolt went through when these guitars were constructed as bolt-ons.

I used some spare brass tubing lying around to create a nozzle for my DIY neck steamer and I ran that hose into the soundhole and shot hot steam through the neck block. Doing so loosened the neck and I worked it out of the guitar. I noted how easy it was to remove the neck by using this method as it requires no drilling on the fingerboard (if you know its there before you drill...) and that Goya's dovetails were nice and snug.

My work after an hour or so of toiling with it


Lastly I had to set the neck (which I overset and had to remove the neck for a second time to correct... More lessons learned), get the saddle and nut placed back into their rightful spots, lubricate the tuners, and find some suitable strings for the guitar. 

The "G" in the logo was peeling off so I watered down some fish glue and covered the letter with it. After letting the glue dry, I used warm water to wipe off the excess and lucky for me the G has stayed in place!