Kay Truetone Guitars in the 1950s and 1960s

Written by michael brent
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Modern guitar players often place a high value on vintage guitars from the 1950s and 1960s, which in some cases exhibit a higher quality of materials and craftsmanship than mass-produced guitars. Among these vintage guitars are the Truetone line manufactured by a company called Kay during the 1950s and 1960s.

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Kay Musical Instrument Company

Chicago-based Kay Musical Instrument Company was founded in the 1930s. Until its demise in the late 1960s, Kay manufactured numerous guitars, under its own name and also under various "house brand" names for specific retailers. One of these brands was Truetone, which was the house brand of guitars produced for Western Auto Supply Company, a retail chain that sold automobile parts and accessories and other consumer products. These products included the inexpensive Truetone guitars manufactured by Kay. However, Kay wasn't the only manufacturer to produce Truetone guitars, which also were supplied by the Harmony Guitar Company.

Kay Truetone Archtop

Kay's Truetone Archtop models were similar in appearance to Kay's Archtop Guitars. Both had hollow bodies with two "f-holes" on the front and a white pick-guard. The Kay Truetone Archtop model featured Kay's distinctive "cheese-grater" pickups, a metal cover atop the pickups that resembles a cheese-grater. Kay also produced an acoustic archtop model under the Truetone brand, which was similar in terms of both material and construction to Kay's line of acoustic guitars.

Truetone Speed Demon

Kay's Truetone Speed Demon was an inexpensive electric guitar manufactured in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The model catered to teenagers who wanted to emulate rock 'n' roll idols of that era. The Speed Demon featured individual selector switches for each of the three pickups, with a fourth switch that could select all three pickups simultaneously. The guitar also featured separate controls for volume and tone and a bridge that allowed the player to adjust its height.


The Kay Musical Instrument Company merged with another company, Valco, in 1967, but went out of business in 1968. As a result, original Truetone guitars manufactured by Kay are rare, although they can be found in shops and online instrument outlets specialising in vintage guitars. In fact, a number of modern musicians are known to have played Kay Truetone guitars, including Bob Dylan, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow, Robert DeLeo and Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots and Jack White of The White Stripes.

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