Dear Guitar Trash or Treasure,
I bought this Kay guitar 10 years ago and I have no idea what it is. There are no markings on the guitar and no serial number I can find. Can you tell me what I have, and how much it is worth?
Kay produced hundreds of different models between the late 1930s and late 1960s and most of them don’t have a model name/number or any kind of identification at all! This makes for a very difficult (and often frustrating) process to identify a Kay guitar. As far as I know there are two books on Kay Guitars: ‘50’s Cool: Kay Guitars by Jay Scott focuses on the 1950s era guitars, and Guitar Stories, Volume Two by Michael Wright does a very nice job outlining the Kay history and gives a complete description on all Kay models. However, if you don’t know what model your guitar is, it is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
I’ve found that the best way to date a guitar is to look at old catalogs. Kay was very good about issuing a catalog every year, and they appear to be fairly accurate and up to date. There are several websites that post old catalogs. After a little research, I found an exact match to your guitar in the 1966 and 1967/68 Kay catalogs. Browsing these old catalogs is usually very interesting and it has become a pasttime of many collectors – simply to gain more information on guitars.
It is helpful to know how Kay numbered their guitar models. 99.9% of Kay guitar models start with a K and are followed by two, three, or four digits (examples: K64, K125, K6700, etc.). Numbers tended to run in series whereas the same series would have consecutive numbers (K300, K301, K302, etc.). Guitars in a series were often based on the same style/shape and each number indicated different features such as number of pickups, bridge types, and finishes. Keep in mind that most model numbers never appear on the actual guitar.
I found your guitar as part of the K400 Series, which were labeled in the catalog as Professional Electric Guitars. Your guitar is model K400 with two pickups and a Burnt Orange finish, produced between 1966 and 1968. Other models were available in this series with three pickups and Soft Teal Blue, Gleaming White, and Rich Cherry Red mahogany finishes. Standard features on this guitar include a maple body, high-powered magnetic pickups with individual string adjusting posts, separate tone and volume controls for each pickup, a Melita Sychro-Sonic adjustable bridge, and a bound rosewood fingerboard with seven hand-laid position markers. In 1968, this guitar retailed for $225!
Kay is and always has been a budget brand in relation to the big names. For many years, collectors only cared about the 1950s guitars, specifically the Barney Kay models. With many 1960s guitars such as Fenders, Gibsons, Gretsches, and Rickenbackers out of reach, the cheap brands of the 1960s are becoming very appealing. Many Kay guitars are still budget instruments that won’t bring more than $200, but your guitar was part of their highend series. I would value your guitar between $700 and $1,000 based on how collectible it is becoming and the overall coolness factor (Burnt Orange finish is sweet!). Don’t be surprised to see this guitar keep rising in value as more big name 1960s guitars become further out of reach.
Source: 50’s Cool: Kay Guitars by Jay Scott, Guitar Stories, Volume Two by Michael Wright, and various 1960s Kay catalogs.
Zach Fjestad is the author of the Blue Book of Electric Guitars, Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, and Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers. These publications are available through Blue Book Publications. Guitar Trash or Treasure questions can be submitted to:
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