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Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor Style B Guitar, 1931

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Since this is a time when many things are uncertain, let’s look at something from another uncertain time – a 1931. Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor Style B Guitar, built in the early years of the Great Depression.   This book was published by Vintage Guitar Magazine. 

This fascinating Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor was built during a very unsettled time and we’ll be drawing from the excellently researched book ‘Guitar Stories Volume 2’ by Michael Wright for historical and social information.

After World War 1, the United States entered a boom time and many businesses thrived. One was the Chicago musical instrument manufacturer Groeschel Mandolin Company, founded in 1890 and which was renamed Stromberg-Voisinet in 1921. (Stromberg-Voisinet is not to be confused with the Stromberg company; Charles Stromberg was a builder of high end, professional grade instruments in Boston, and his work has been compared to John D’Angelico’s).

In 1923, Henry Kay “Hank” Kuhrmeyer joined Stromberg-Voisinet as ‘Secretary’ but in 1928 he and an investor purchased the company and added an all new line of electric guitars and amplifiers. These used technology similar to new electric phonographs and radios, but for the time did not yet have enough power to compete with banjos or orchestras. Still, these were among the very first commercially available electric instruments.

In 1928, Stromberg-Voisinet began another naming shift, this time to KayKraft, and ultimately to Kay, and this shift was complete by 1931. Throughout the company’s existence, it built under its own name and many others. The Recording King name was owned by the Montgomery-Ward company, which began as a mail order catalog business but which had opened 531 retail stores between 1926 and 1929.

Stromberg-Voisinet began producing flat top instruments, using the ‘Venetian; design developed by in-house luthier Philip Gabriel and developed further by Joseph Zorzi and John Abbott. Archtop models were introduced in 1928 and by 1931 a range of Venetian mandolins and guitars, both six string and tenor, were available.

As the 1929 crash hit and the Great Depression set in, music trade efforts focused on recovery rather than innovation. Henry Kay “Hank” Kuhrmeyer had an influential position in trade organizations, and helped to create new operating principles for the industry. One of those involved limiting employee working hours to 40 per week. That’s where this now-standard arrangement began.

Here we’re looking at a Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor Style B Guitar, built around 1931 at the KayKraft plant in Chicago, Illinois for Montgomery-Ward.  It is in good working order, and has had a headstock repair. An archtop type instrument, the top is Spruce and back are Mahogany, both heat formed and ladder braced into the arched form. The sides and neck are Mahogany, with the fingerboard and bridge made of dark-stained Maple. The head plate is a ‘pearloid’ plastic with ‘Recording King’ stencilled on. The open gear tuning machines are not original but the rest of the hardware appears to be.

There’s one standout feature on this instrument, and that’s the neck joint.   This unique joint involves curving the heel on the neck and adding a receiving plate with matching curve that presses against the body.   A bolt runs through the heel and the neck block, and there’s a large wing nut visible.  Should the neck angle require alteration, it’s a simple matter of loosening strings and the wing nut, shifting the neck and retightening.   Simple and very effective!

As a Style B, the Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor guitar features extra decoration. There is wonderful gold flake stencil decoration on the top, thankfully covered with a clear coat of lacquer. This type of decoration was common to this period, but on many instruments the stencilling was not covered. If you run into those, be very careful about cleaning them as the stencil will come right off with many cleaners or polishes.

The Recording King KayKraft Venetian Tenor is a surprisingly comfortable instrument to play, and the cutaways on the body help keep it in position while seated. Sold with a later fibre (cardboard) case.

The name ‘KayKraft’ vanished around 1934 in favour of ‘Kay’.  After Hank Kuhrmeyer retired in 1955, the new management focused on electrics and moved from Chicago to Elk Grove, about 23 miles away. In 1965, the company was purchased by Seeburg (who made Jukeboxes) and again in 1967 merged with Valco. By 1968 it was all over.


 

Price: $999.99 CAD
  • Model: Venetian Style B Tenor
  • Year: 1931 | Approximate year
  • Finish Sunburst
  • Class: Vintage
  • Serial Number: N/A
  • Country of Origin: USA
  • Condition: Good
  • Date Posted: 31/03/2020

  • Consignment Item

  • Including Soft case
  • Instrument Weight: 3.47lbs 1.58kg
  • Scale Length: 584mm 23in
  • Nut Width: 29.66mm 1.17in

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