The Kay guitar company’s orgins date back to the 1890′s, starting with the Groeschel Mandolin Company of Chicago, Illinois. The company’s name was changed to “Stromberg-Voisinet” in 1921, and shortly afterwards, in 1923, Henry Kay “Hank” Kuhrmeyer (the origin of the name “Kay”) joined the company and quickly worked his way up to the top. By 1928, Kuhrmeyer had bought the company and that same year the company started producing electric guitars and amps.
Now I don’t know who was first out of the gate, but Kay’s current website claims that they were the first American company to produce an electric guitar (a fairly signifigant claim if true). Regardless, it is widely accepted that Kay was indeed one of the earliest manufacturers of electric guitars. Things progressed, and by 1934, the company was officially known as the “Kay Musical Instrument Company”. The company became larger and more successful over the years, leading to the addition of a new factory in Elk Grove Village, Illinois in 1964. But somehow by 1965, the company had hit rough times and was bought by Seeburg, a jukebox manufacturer that sold Kay to Valco in 1967.
Kay/Valco went out of business soon afterwards, and in 1969 its assets were auctioned off. Syl Weindling and Barry Hornstein of W.M.I. (the main importer of Teisco Del Rey products) purchased the Kay brand name during this time. As a result of this, the names “Teisco” and “Kay” were used on Teisco Del Rey guitars for a while in the early 70′s. The company changed hands a few times since then and today there are currently budget, asian-manufactured products sold under the Kay brandname available.
Kay manufactured guitars under several different brandnames, so for those interested here is an incomplete attempt to match some of the more common brandnames to the stores that distributed them:
- Airline – distributed by Montgomery Wards
- Barclay – Unity Buying Service
Beltone - distributed by Monroe or P&H
Custom Kraft - St. Louis Music
- Holiday – distributed by Aldens
- Old Kraftsmen - distributed by Spiegel
- Orpheum – distributed by Wards Catalogue
- Penncrest - distributed by J.C. Penney
- Sherwood Deluxe - Montgomery Wards
- Silvertone - Sears & Roebuck
- Supertone - Sears & Roebuck
- Suprema - distributed by Eaton’s Canada
- Truetone - distributed by Western Auto