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Image Credit: Mine Background The 1930s were the era of elegant, art deco inspired guitars and the rise of stenciling as a finishing ...

Kay Deluxe Lyre Soundhole Guitars

Image Credit: Mine

Background

The 1930s were the era of elegant, art deco inspired guitars and the rise of stenciling as a finishing technique. Thousands of instruments were styled with lacquer as a cheaper alternative to more complicated carving and higher quality or figured woods. This led into the trend in the 40s and 50s of cowboy stenciled guitars which, if you're interested, I would highly recommend this site: http://www.cowboyguitars.net/

These instruments mainly appear in the Continental Music catalogs from the era but they likely exist for a number of Kay distributors

Construction

These rare Kay guitars are most easily identifiable by their unique lyre soundhole shape which some folks may refer to as a harp shape (if they are unfamiliar with lyres). It is cut out of the laminated wood top and is more of a stylistic decision than one motivated by tone. The top is separated into sections by a painted diamond which features a sunburst on the outside and a faux-flame tiger stripe on the inside. The top is ladder braced and so a structural problem will be the sinking of the top around the soundhole when strung up to tension. 

Two variants of this instrument's headstock exist.
  1. Gibson-esque "open book" headstock
  2. Harmony-esque "rounded point" headstock 

When Were They Built?

Image Credit: [Wright 170]
The great book, Guitar Stories: The Histories of Cool Guitars. Vol. 2, lists them as being built from 1937-1938.

Two scans from a 1939 Continental Music Catalog show the No.2091 (with the open book headstock) and a sister model, the No.5400 (with the rounded headstock). The No.5400 has the lyre soundhole but does not have the extensive stenciling. 



The open book headstock profile with the Kay DeLuxe label is a design used by Kay in the 1930s and is gone by '44. The yellow and red label disappeared by the end of the 1930s

Image Credit: Mine

By 1942, the open book headstock vanishes from the lower end models (the K-60 and K-62 still sport it) and the rounded headstock profile takes over.

These Kay guitars lack the lyre soundhole design but have similar stenciling and thus are still representative of the design choices of the factory.
Image Credit: VintAxe - 1942 Continental Music Catalog

The rounded point headstock shape began, at the latest, in 1938 and continued throughout the 1940s. The blue shield logo can be found in a variety of instruments from the 1940s and is one of the traits to look for when dating an instrument to that era.
Image Credit: VintageGuitar.com

Conclusion

Models: 2091, 5400
Years built: [1937-1939]


The open book headstock profile and/or  mustard yellow/red label denotes an earlier build of the lyre soundhole series of Kay guitars. The rounded headstock profile and/or a blue label denotes a later build shifting into the 1940s.

Sources

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



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