1950s Kay Thin Twin K161

This is an original one from the 1950s not a reissue. Kay K-161 Thin Twin electric guitars made from 1952 to 1959, was one of the longest produced guitars by Kay Musical Instrument Company. This one looks like early 1950s (but hard to tell exact date). I purchased this original 1950s Kay Thin Twin K-161 “Jimmy Reed” style guitar that needed some restoration. All the original parts are there, but the guitar was disassembled needed work. You can see the page for this project here.

Reissues for this model are available from Fritz Brothers. T Bone Burnett owns and original one and used with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss a few years ago. It is hard to find an original one from the 1950s in decent condition. Kay Musical Instrument Company manufactured guitars (and other stringed instruments) in the United States from the 1930s until the 1960s. Established in 1931 at Chicago, Illinois by Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer, from the assets of the former Stromberg-Voisinet, which was founded as Groeschel Mandolin Company in 1890. Most of their guitars were value beginner models, but they have also offered a few higher-end models including the Twin Thin, the Jazz and Pro electric bass. As well as the Barney Kessel models. Kay guitars have found a cult-like following among tone junkies, notably T-Bone Burnett and Sean Hurley (John Mayer, session bassist). There’s nothing like the sound of an original, right?

Commonly referred to as the “Jimmy Reed” guitar because he was pictured on an album cover with one. The Kay Musical Instrument Company mass produced instruments in the USA and the K-161 Thin Twin was introduced not long after Gibson’s Les Paul. The Thin Twin is a semi-hollow body guitar and is NOT a thin-line. It is larger than its name “thin” implies as it is really a reference to the unique appearance of the dual pickups, having a very slim “blade” profile. The guitar’s body was 2 3⁄4 inches (70 mm) deep. Underneath the pickguard these thin blade pickups are actually large single coil pickups.

These guitars were also sold through catalogs branded as Silvertone (Sears Roebuck) and Old Kraftsman (Spiegel). The Silvertone version usually has a slightly different “pointier” headstock shape. This one has the more rare Kay style headstock.

Kay also built one of the earliest electric bass guitars using the similar “thin” single coil pickups called the Pro Bass. Commonly referred to as the “Howlin’ Wolf bass” as it was used by Andrew “Blueblood” McMahon in the Wolf band. The Kay Pro bass was the second electric bass on the market, built by Kay in response to Fender’s Electric Precision Bass. Unlike the Precision Bass that has a solid body, the Kay Pro Bass is a hollow body and has a different sound. These original basses are sought after and still used today in some studios. These basses have also been reissued by Kay.

More on Kay history.

One of the best known Kay electric guitars during the 1950s was the K-161 Thin Twin, most visibly used by blues artist Jimmy Reed. Debuting in 1952, with a single cutaway body, a distinctive tortoiseshell pickguard, and “twin thin” blade-style pickups that gave the guitar its name. Kay used these pickups on various Kay electrics dating back to the 1940s including the K-162 Pro Bass. The Kay Thin Twin was a semi-hollow body without F-holes introduced years before the Gibson’s iconic ES-335 semi hollow body guitar.

  • Nice flame maple front and back
  • Original electronics with oil in paper caps and pots marked W3738 304544
  • Original pickguard with all original screws
  • Original 3-way switch and switch tip
  • Four original cupcake knobs in nice condition
  • Kay shaped headstock with original single line deluxe Klusons
  • Body and neck refinished in nitro
  • Neck has been reset
  • Binding which is always a big concern on older vintage guitars is 100% intact
  • Jack has been moved from side to top of body (not sure I am happy about this and wish they left it in the original place), Original location plugged before refinish

Guitar has had a neck reset, original nut repaired, refret and refinish. All original parts including the pickups, pickguard, knobs, bridge and electronics. Great vintage player. Like many guitars from this era, it has a large neck profile.