Kay K-136 Solid Body Electric Guitar , c. 1957

Kay  K-136 Solid Body Electric Guitar ,  c. 1957
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Item # 9744
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Kay K-136 Model Solid Body Electric Guitar, c. 1957, made in Chicago, two tone green lacquer finish, hardwood body and neck, rosewood fingerboard, chipboard case.

This festive looking guitar is the primal Kay solidbody, the K-136. This later '50s iteration of this Chicago-made electric slab-o-wood was made around 1957. While we can't date it exactly as the pot codes soldered over, it matches the version shown in Kay's 1957 catalog at a list price $73.00.

This is a very early solidbody design, and despite its relative obscurity an innovative one as well. Jumping into the new early '50's solidbody market Chicago competitors Kay and Harmony hit on generally similar designs, both somewhat inspired by Gibson's Les Paul. These were both more compact and simple instruments with small single cutaway bodies and integral full-length thru-body necks, something Rickenbacker usually gets the credit for pioneering. While Harmony's Stratotone is better remembered (the power of a catchy name?) Kay's K-136 is in some ways a better designed guitar.

The most notable feature of the K-136 is the neck-it is VERY chunky with a beefy round profile that gets much deeper towards the body and a thick rosewood fingerboard. The body is flat topped, deeper than the Harmony with less rounded edges giving it a chunkier feel. The entire guitar is finished in a very eye-catching two-tone metallic green and cream white lacquer, with a dramatic "V" motif on the body. This is topped off with a cream plastic pickguard, inexplicably raised with grommets off the body similar to Rickenbacker practice.

There is one single-coil pickup mounted solidly to the top under a chrome cover, positioned close to the center of the body controlled by standard tone and volume pots with cream-colored knobs. The one-piece rosewood bridge is painted green to match the body. It is mounted on studs and is adjustable for height (an advantage the Stratotone does not offer) mated to a standard short trapeze tailpiece.

The tone is quite raunchy but a bit less "presency" than the H-44, due to the different pickup design and placement. Guitarists often joke about "baseball bat" necks, but this one REALLY does feel like a vintage Louisville slugger, thinner at the nut then getting massively thicker approaching the body. While this does not play like a '50's Les Paul, the instrument is otherwise quite handy. As these early Chicago-made early solidbodies go this is a quite usable example very appropriate especially for period Chicago blues and early rock'n'roll sounds. While perhaps not to every taste, all in all the K-136 is a fun early solidbody with a cool period vibe.
 
Overall length is 37 1/2 in. (95.2 cm.), 12 in. (30.5 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 25 1/2 in. (648 mm.). Width of nut is 1 11/16 in. (43 mm.).

This guitar is a nice example of this fairly rare Kay, showing some general wear but all original except for new buttons on the original Kluson Deluxe Tuners. The two-tone metallic finish has checking and numerous small dings, rubs and dents but no large areas of loss. It has faded dramatically on the top, somewhat less on the sides and neck and very little on the back which retains a striking green hue. There are no seam separations in the body and the instrument is completely solid. It retains the original brass frets and as typical for Kay the fretwork is somewhat spotty.

The instrument remains all original except the tuner buttons and plays as well as these primal solidbodies usually get, without extensive re-working anyway. The neck has some relief but this is relatively minor; there is no truss rod but more than enough wood! The neck angle is excellent (especially compared to the similar Harmony H-44) and the bridge has plenty of room to adjust up or down as desired.

Even with the original questionable frets (by modern standards) the guitar plays well over much of the neck, with some minor fretting out above the 15th fret; this could be cured with a plane to true the fingerboard and a refret but we have left this instrument original for now. Frankly if you play up there a lot this is probably not your guitar anyway. All-in-all a cool example and quite ready for swamp-rock or similar grooves! Overall Excellent - Condition.