Cataloging my experiences and encounters repairing and restoring guitars

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Kay-built Image Credit:  Reverb - Mike's Gear Garage Harmony-built Image Credit:  Reverb - Aunt Tilly's Harmony-built (w...

1940's Patriotic Guitars

Kay-built
Image Credit: Reverb - Mike's Gear Garage
Harmony-built
Image Credit: Reverb - Aunt Tilly's
Harmony-built (which I now own)
Image Credit: Ebay - Clark's Music

When and why were they made?

Having never seen one in person to check for identifying stamps, I cannot decidedly say when or who they made them based off marks on the inside of the instrument but context clues and other listings give me an idea. I see listings claiming they were built in the 1940s or 1950s and I would expect them to have been built shortly after WWII and not post-1960 like the Harmony-built 'Buck Owens' red, white, and blue guitars.

I can say with a strong degree of certainty that they were built in Chicago by both Kay and Harmony. I identified the guitars by using their headstock shapes as those are often the most distinct characteristic between the two manufacturers and they rarely overlap. The Harmony instruments are labelled with the house-brand of the individual stores they were sold under while the Kay instruments are called "The Patriot".

Construction.

Knowing the possible manufacturers, its highly likely that they're made from birch all the way around. The bridges are Brazilian Rosewood (which definitely supports the pre-1960 assumption) and the fretboards are ebonized or painted hardwoods which was common for budget instruments. 

The instruments have open-back Kluson tuners which are correct for the 1930s and 1940s. The Harmony instruments have white buttons while the Kay models have black buttons and then the Harmony flat top has these bizarre red, white, and blue colored buttons. They look to be well done (disregarding the plastic rot which plagues all of these) and so I suspect it might be factory.

Harmony - Image Credit: Aunt Tilly's
Harmony - Image Credit: Clark's Music

Harmony

The Harmony flat top has cracks through the top which are indicative of a solid wood top which Harmony instruments are well known for using. The bodies were painted white with a faux-flame finish that has all yellowed with age.

Kay

The Kay archtop would've been built with head-pressed laminate wood that they advertised as "crack proof" because of the perpendicular grain patterns. The Kay has a flamed back which could be a faux-flame like the Harmony or it could be that the outermost ply of wood is a thin veneer of flamed maple. Both of which I have seen, in person, on Kay instruments. The frets are nickel-steel like modern instruments.

Kay (replaced tuners) - Image Credit: Mike's Gear Garage


The Liberty

Distributed by Continental in 1942 Source as the No. 2087

How many are out there?

I've only ever seen 3 listings for the Harmony built instruments. Two for archtops and one for this flat top model. I've reached out to the owner of the first archtop via Craigslist who was kind and explained that she did not know much about them nor could identify any stamps in the body.

I now own the Webster flat top and it has no stamps on the inside to indicate any sort of date.

The Kay Patriot comes up more frequently, likely due to the fact that its a consistent model name and not a variable brand name. There is not a whole lot of them that come up for sale though.

I've read through dozens of old catalogs from various companies in my ever-constant search for more information on department store guitars from the mid 20th century and I have yet to come across any reference to these models suggesting that they were likely a very limited run.


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Be excellent to each other dudes