It seems that the world has been going through “vintage withdrawal” lately, with the prices of anything remotely classic skyrocketing, and with companies scrambling to recreate that retro sound. Extinct brand names are bought up, new/old guitars are released using labels like reissue and vintage, with not much of a nod to the tone, quality of the build, or design consideration of the instruments of the past. The folks over at Kay seem to have the solution for the classic bass tone addicts out there, and it comes in the shape of the K162 Pro Bass. And guess what? They didn’t have to go very far to do it.
Kay has been around for a long, long time, making guitars since 1890, and have been continually in business since. Their early guitars were primarily a value brand, but they have also offered higher-end models including the Twin Thin, the Jazz and Pro electric bass models—the Kay Pro bass was the second electric bass on the market, following the Fender Precision. Kay guitars have found a cult-like following among tone junkies, notably T-Bone Burnett and Sean Hurley. There’s nothing like the sound of an original, right? Or is there?
Appointments and Features
When the bass arrived for me to review, I was genuinely impressed. It was like turning the corner and seeing a restored ’57 Chevy parked in the street. You can’t help but take a closer look and ask a few questions. It felt great in my hands, and it was evident that the people who designed this bass have something many other builders don’t have—respect for what came before. The bass was well finished with smooth, even frets, slick little inlays, and the K162V was set up great right out of the case. It did have some “mystery” objects inside, which sounded like small bits of gravel as I picked the bass up. I’m hoping this was due to shipping, and not manufacture.
The bass is a recreation of the ones issued in the ‘50s, but with new production also come new, modern upgrades. The new features being introduced are a culmination of 50-plus years of R&D. The bass is a single-cutaway semi-hollowbody with a solid maple top, and with feedback-resisting sound blocks running the length of the body. The biggest upgrade is the addition of a truss rod and an adjustable bridge, which were absent on the original. This allowed Kay to slim the neck to a more streamlined, modern design. (No more 2x4 necks!) The floating tailpiece is as retro-hip as you remember, too. And if you’re looking for the funkiest in throwback features, don’t forget the original Kay “Kelvinator” headstock logo.
The bass found itself in my hands for a couple of hours—without plugging in. I really enjoyed the balance and feel of the bass, and letting the stock flatwound strings talk to me as an “acoustic” bass was refreshing. The tone was even and the resonant hollow body brought back sounds and licks of another time, but without the smell of 3000 smoky gigs burned into the wood. The resonant tone-chambered body makes for a great unplugged practice instrument as well, and its medium scale (31-1/16") neck felt comfortable and unrestraining. One design feature I really like was one it didn’t have: a thumbrest. Usually, I prefer one on a bass where I don’t have a meaty pickup to rest my thumb, but on this bass, I didn’t miss it. My hand was completely relaxed and comfortable without one. It was a very nice change for me.
When it was time to get electric, I plugged the bass into my trusty Ampeg B-18. I figured classic should meet classic. Dialing up a nice tone was not too tough—the Ampeg is pretty much set flat, except for the bass control, which is boosted a little, and the Kay bass controls are very simple: one Volume knob, one Tone knob, and one toggle switch that acts as a high-end cut switch, bypassing the potentiometer (The original Kay designers of the ‘50s did this so players could have a preset for the upright bass sound). At first I had the toggle set to bypass the tone control pot, which gave me a deep, thumping tone. Kay likes to advertise that the bass has upright-like qualities on this setting, and they are right. I had a blast on this setting, with palm muting being my technique of choice. Playing with the thumb is especially effective with this bass, allowing you to lay a thick, solid foundation in your blues, R&B or jazz gig. When switching the toggle back, the bass was a little noisy through the amp, but with a little tone roll-off, it settled in nicely. Using a pick on this setting, the bass took on a whole new tonal color—bright and lively—that told me it would make a great addition to anyone’s studio as well. I ran the bass through my recording rig, and it sounded big and meaty running direct. I would love to use this on my next project!
I didn’t play this bass live, but I did play it really loud through my Eden rig as well—does that count? What I found was a soild, true sound that was what a guitar should be: an extension of your fingers. The bass is addictive, which is a fine attribute for any instrument. As my fingerstyle playing got harder and I really dug in, the G-string popped out of its saddle, which I wasn’t expecting, but also showed the limitations of the bass. You wouldn’t play this guitar with Ozzy, but it would be at home in a surf-punk band. Again, this isn’t a primary bass in an arsenal, but rather a more specialized instrument.
The Final Mojo
The K162V is a great bass. If your fingers are used to playing a more modern bass, it may take some getting used to, but once you do get used to it, you’ll realize the value of an instrument like this. There is a reason the bass has a following, and a reason that Kay brought it back. With its combination of ultra-hip design and unmistakable tone, the K162V would be at great weapon to add to your collection.
you need that old-school sound with new-school reliability.
your tone taste is more modern.