Old Kraftsman Solo King
1. Sporting the Old Kraftsman brand, the Solo King model was made by Kay from 1958 to 1960. Because of its shape, the guitar is also known as the “Map of Ohio” model. 2. Tonewood? The Solo King is constructed with Masonite—a material consisting of steamed and pressure-molded wood fibers. But don’t scoff: Vintage Danelectros were also made of Masonite, and they still play a role in rootsy music today. 3. The Solo King’s asymmetrical headstock leaves plenty of room for the Old Kraftsman logo. 4. Wired to simple volume and tone knobs, the Solo King’s single “pancake” pickup sounds surprisingly cool.
It was like the Wild West during the early days of eBay, and you could often find some pretty interesting things out there. I acquired this Old Kraftsman guitar in the late ’90s and had to do some research to figure out exactly what it was.
I discovered I had a Solo King, which is also known as the “Map of Ohio” model because of its shape. Selling for around $75 new, these were made by Kay between 1958 and 1960, and were considered budget student-model guitars at the time. They are slowly becoming collectible these days, yet are still considered somewhat affordable. I snagged this one for $107 plus $25 shipping. I got it cheap because the seller had zero feedback, and most buyers were afraid of being ripped off by scam artists during those early days of eBay. I wasn’t too worried at the time because I emailed the seller beforehand, got his phone number, and chatted with him. He seemed alright to me.
Bottom Feeder Tip #285: These days if you’re shopping on eBay, there’s no need to be afraid of buying from someone with zero feedback. As long as you use PayPal, you’re protected on most purchases and can get all of your money back plus shipping. It’s pretty safe now.
This Solo King features a Masonite body, a set neck, a single pickup, and a weird, oversized Gumby-style headstock. The flat “pancake” pickup actually sounds pretty darned good. The bridge is cranked down to its lowest setting, yet the action is quite playable. There’s no adjustable truss rod, but the neck is chunky and has near perfect relief. The 19-fret neck is fairly comfortable and the brass frets still have plenty of life left on them, even after 50 years of battle.
I’m always amazed that companies could make such good guitars back in the ’50s from whatever they had available at the time—like Masonite, in this case. The guitar has a nice, fat tone that’s perfect for blues and quirky rock projects. So is it a keeper? You bet. Even if it didn’t play and sound so good, it’s such a trip to look at!
Will Ray is a founding member of the Hellecasters guitar-twang 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.