This Kay K-5924 semi-hollowbody (from either 1966 or ’67) is the first electric bass Anna Butterss bought, on the advice of her friend, producer-musician Paul Bryan.

Photo by Tristan Williams

On her debut solo album, Activities, the in-demand bassist flexes feel over flash, converging her upright roots with electric bass playing to make songs that transcend genre.

“I’ve never been particularly interested in listening to people shred on the bass,” explains bassist/composer Anna Butterss. “It’s certainly impressive, but it doesn’t hit me emotionally at all. I’m more interested in how the music feels.” How the music feels perfectly encapsulates the sonic and stylistic kaleidoscope that is Butterss’ debut solo release, Activities. Released on June 24 via Pete Min’s Colorfield Records, Activities represents the musical culmination of the different ideas, concepts, and aesthetic choices that Butterss has been exploring in recent years.

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This Solo King features a Masonite body, a set neck, a single pickup, and a weird, oversized Gumby-style headstock.

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!

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For several years, I’ve been Jonesing for an old blonde Kay Value Leader triple-pickup guitar.

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.

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