The Kay-made Swingmaster P-5 carries the torch for its higher-end predecessors, like the company's Barney Kessel model.
When the guitar boom of the 1960s hit, manufacturing operations all over the world rushed to meet skyrocketing demand. There were factories in Japan and Italy, in Southern California and Czechoslovakia, and, perhaps most prolifically of all, in Chicago, Illinois—that long-established center of American retail distribution. Chicago instrument makers churned out entry-level guitars in enormous volumes, and by the time of Beatlemania, it seemed like they couldn't build them fast enough.
The three big names from this time and place were Harmony, Valco, and, the maker of today's featured instrument, Kay. All three companies competed and at times collaborated, and supplied instruments to retailers like Sears and Montgomery Ward to be sold under a dizzying array of brand names.
This is one of a series of Kay-made instruments with appointments similar to that of the earlier Gold K generation.
In today's vintage market, Harmony is known for the sheer volume of beginner guitars it produced, while Valco, the company behind brands like Supro and National, has enjoyed something of a Jack White-ified resurgence over the past two decades. (Believe it or not, "Fell in Love with a Girl" was released in 2001.) Kay's reputation and legacy, while high among a certain set of collectors and players, is perhaps less well defined, but still claims a fascinating history of its own.
Like Harmony, Kay's origins can be traced to the 1890s when it started as the Groeschel Mandolin Company. In the 1920s and '30s, it went through some name changes, eventually landing on Kay Musical Instrument Company under the leadership of Henry Kuhrmeyer. Kay was right there at the birth of the electric guitar as one of the first makers to explore this new arena in the 1930s.
These Kleenex box variations on the P-90 have larger pole pieces, but typically less midrange than actual P-90s, giving them a distinctive tone that's highly sculptable thanks to individual pickup tone and volume controls.
The most intriguing stretch of Kay's history came in the late 1950s, when it sought to compete directly with higher-end brands and market more professionally oriented guitars, called the Gold K series, which included a set of signature models for jazz great Barney Kessel. A Kay catalog from 1959 proclaims, "Only Kay offers you so complete a line—ranging from a $24.50 student model to a $400 professional electric." A $400 guitar in this era would put it on the same shelf as a high-end Gibson. Mr. Kessel himself made the switch to Gibson by 1961, which, going by the guitars featured in Kay catalogs from this period, coincides with a refocus by the company towards the lower end of the market.
The humble headstock marks this Kay-built Airline as a more affordable model than its Kelvinator-headstock-equipped inspirations. Nonetheless, it is a formidable example from the heyday of Chicago guitar builders.
The Gold K and Kessel models (along with the Thin Twin, which was played by bluesman Jimmy Reed) are the most recognizable vintage Kays and are set apart by their higher-end hardware—flourishes like the ornate "Kelvinator" headstock (which, along with the pickup frames and pickguard, resembled the appointments of that company's line of appliances) and the distinct Gold K pickups, sometimes called Kleenex box pickups, for obvious reasons. Moving through the '60s, as Kay shifted away from the original Gold K guitars, these pickups—a variation on the P-90, with larger pole pieces—continued to be used on other models including today's featured instrument, the hollowbody Swingmaster P-5 archtop. Sold under the Airline brand name exclusively through Montgomery Ward, this guitar shows up in a 1965 edition of their catalog simply as an Archtop Dual Cutaway. While often vintage dealers and others label any Kay with the Kleenex box pickups a Barney Kessel model, this does not appear to have been the actual designation. Instead, this is one of a series of Kay-made instruments with appointments similar to that of the earlier Gold K generation, but overall, more in the mold of the other guitars then being sold through catalog partners.
Here's an unobstructed view of the curly maple back of this Airline Swingmaster P-5. The neck appears to be rosewood.
According to the Reverb listing for this guitar from Guitar Showcase of San Jose, California, it has a replacement bridge and some swapped screws, as well as a noticeable crack on the bottom near the trapeze tailpiece hinge. The listing also points out the strength of the Kleenex box pickups, which are controlled by a 3-way selector and individual tone and volume dials. The triple set of pickups on this guitar is part of what makes this model one of the most sought-after Kay instruments of the 1960s—at about one-third to one-half the price of a two-pickup Kay with the actual Kessel designation and Kelvinator headstock. This specific guitar was listed at $1,995.
There's a tendency for those of us who are interested in the history of gear to seek easy categorization and neat, orderly model names and serial number sequences. During the '60s guitar boom, among the wholesaling factories things were never quite so simple. They used what parts they had. That stack of bodies might meet that pile of necks, and the result might contrast a bit with how that model looked last year or will look in the next batch. Oddities, contradictions, and inconsistent information abound on the vintage market when it comes to Chicago guitars, and Airline-branded Kays like this one are a typical example. Ultimately, though, it's this mysteriousness and the possibility of finding something truly unique that makes guitars like this so much fun.
- Vintage Vault: 1968 Gibson Trini Lopez Deluxe - Premier Guitar ›
- Vintage Vault: Late-'70s Mesa/Boogie Mark I and Mark II Combos ... ›
- Vintage Vault: 1960s Kay Swingmaster K763 - Premier Guitar ›
Guitar Center Presents: Holiday Gift Guide
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Les Paul Desert Burst Satin
Fender Classic Series 5 Guitar Case Stand Tweed
Fender Holiday Guitar Cable Keychain
Fender Limited Edition Holiday Sweater
Harbinger MLS1000 Personal Line Array Speaker System
Sterling Audio P10 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
Sterling Audio Harmony H224 USB Audio Interface
Apogee BOOM 2x2 Audio Interface
Gibson Unveils New Digital Amp
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
Belltone Announces P-90 Foil-Tron Single-Coil Pickup
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.