For several years, I’ve been
Jonesing for an old blonde
Kay Value Leader triple-pickup
guitar. I’ve searched the web—particularly eBay—a lot, but
never could find one in my
bottom-feeder price range. But
a few months ago, I found one
that was in parts on the ’Bay
and it intrigued me. It was
blonde, looked really old, and
seemed to have all the parts.
The guitar just needed to be
put back together correctly.
Noting that the seller had
excellent feedback, I then
checked to see what kind of stuff
he had been selling. I discovered
he sold a lot of items from estate
sales. Unusually, he was offering
this Value Leader in a 30-day
auction instead of the typical
seven-day affair. Because most
bidding takes place on the tail
end of an auction, this meant I
had time to research the model
and deliberate about how much
I was willing to spend. Before
long, I was able to determine
that working models normally
sell between $350 and $600.
This seller had a Buy It Now
price of $375 or Best Offer. I
love to see “or best offer” on an
auction, because this allows me
to make a lowball bid to test
the waters. So I offered $185,
plus shipping (it was listed
at $45, which I thought was
high). He shocked me with a
rude reply, insinuating I was an
idiot who didn’t know much
about guitars. I was going to
respond in an equally rude way,
but decided to just let it go.
Bottom Feeder Tip #2781:
Try not to be a smart-ass. It has
a way of biting you later.
The great Lonnie Johnson was one of many bluesmen who performed with a Kay Value Leader. The guitar was
available in single-, dual-, and triple-pickup configurations.
Kay built the triple-pickup Value Leader with seven controls: three Volume knobs, three Tone knobs, and a rotary
pickup selector. This model is missing one Tone knob and the original paddle-style selector. A previous owner
cut the checkerboard metal pickguard in half. Why, we’ll never know.
Interestingly, after five or six
days the seller wrote back. He
apologized and asked if I was
still willing to buy the guitar for
$185. I replied that if we could
lower shipping from $45 to
$25, I was interested. He agreed
and I sent him $210 via PayPal.
When the guitar arrived, I
immediately dug its old, faded,
beat-up finish. It just screamed
cool. Alas, I was less than thrilled
with the electronics. I could only
get one pickup to work and was
baffled by all the rewiring that had
been done over the years. Also, a
previous owner had inexplicably
cut the metal pickguard in two.
I took the Kay over to guitar
tech Jack Dillen for evaluation.
I watched him mutter and
shake his head a lot, and then
he confirmed that two of the
three pickups were dead. I left
it with Jack and asked him to
put the working pickup in the
neck position and to wire up all
the pots so that when I found
replacement pickups, I could just
drop ’em in. He said he’d get it
up and running for $75, which
sounded good to me. I knew
Jack would put the old Kay back
together better than I could.
When I picked it up a week
later, I was pleasantly surprised at
how much fun it was to play. The
neck (which has a non-adjustable
truss rod) was a bit warped, but it
wasn’t too bad. The neck pickup
sounded very bluesy and thick,
just as I had hoped.
This Value Leader simply
oozes attitude, but is it a keeper?
Maybe. I’ll have to see if I
can find two replacement pickups—
on the cheap, of course.
But at least the guitar has temporarily
satisfied my G.A.S. for
this model Kay. And it has no
shortage of vibe.
is a founding
member of the
trio. He also does guitar
clinics promoting his
namesake G&L signature
model 6-string, and produces
artists and bands at his studio in
Asheville, North Carolina. You can contact
Will on Facebook and at willray.biz