Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Kool Kay

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!

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?


Guitar Trash or TreasureRichard,

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.

Guitar Trash or Treasure 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:

Blue Book Publications
Attn: Guitar Trash or Treasure
8009 34th Ave. Ste #175
Minneapolis, MN 55425
Please include pictures of your guitars.

The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview
The Return of Johnny Cash—John Carter Cash Interview on Johnny’s New Songwriter Album

The Man in Black returns with the unreleased Songwriter album. John Carter Cash tells us the story.

Read MoreShow less

This 1968 Epiphone Al Caiola Standard came stocked with P-90s and a 5-switch Tone Expressor system.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

The session ace’s signature model offers a wide range of tones at the flip of a switch … or five.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Not long ago, I came home late from a band rehearsal, still overly excited about the new songs we played. I got myself a coffee (I know, it's a crazy procedure to calm down) and turned on the TV. I ended up with an old Bonanza episode from the ’60s, the mother of all Western TV series. Hearing the theme after a long time instantly reminded me of the great Al Caiola, who is the prolific session guitarist who plays on the song. With him in mind, I looked up the ’60s Epiphone “Al Caiola” model and decided I want to talk about the Epiphone/Gibson Tone Expressor system that was used in this guitar.

Read MoreShow less

Slinky playability, snappy sounds, and elegant, comfortable proportions distinguish an affordable 0-bodied flattop.

Satisfying, slinky playability. Nice string-to-string balance. Beautiful, comfortable proportions.

Cocobolo-patterned HPL back looks plasticky.


Martin 0-X2E


Embracing the idea of an acoustic flattop made with anything other than wood can, understandably, be tricky stuff. There’s a lot of precedent for excellent-sounding acoustics built with alternative materials, though. Carbon-fiber flattops can sound amazing and I’ve been hooked by the sound and playability of Ovation and Adamas instruments many times.

Read MoreShow less

The GibsonES Supreme Collection (L-R) in Seafoam Green, Bourbon Burst, and Blueberry Burst.

The new Gibson ES Supreme offers AAA-grade figured maple tops, Super Split Block inlays, push/pull volume controls, and Burstbucker pickups.

Read MoreShow less