Up for sale, a 1959 Kay Barney Kessel Artist archtop in collector-grade condition and in perfect working order, complete with the original brown Lifton hardshell case. With its original blonde nitro lacquer finish and single pickup configuration, this Kessel combines two of the Artist model's rarest features. The top of Kay's archtop line in 1959 (along with the two other Kessel body sizes), the Artist boasts a full 15 1/4" lower bout, with a body depth of 3 3/8" for a very full and round archtop tone. The solid spruce top is press-arched and superior to a laminated top, with a very vibrant and dynamic acoustic tone that translates well through the single neck position "Kleenex Box" P-35 single coil pickup. The maple back and sides have deep curly figuring, and this Kessel is a stately, professional instrument produced in this model's brief lifetime when Kay crafted fine, high-end archtops to compete with Gibson and the other heavy hitters of the day. The pickup has ample output, with clear, glassy cleans that have incredible warmth and articulation, with a touch of growl when you dig in. Professionally setup here at Mike & Mike's Guitar Bar, this Kay boasts a fresh set of 11-50 roundwound strings and low, comfortable action.
The neck has a fairly generous and chunky C shape with good shoulder, increasing modestly in heft as you travel up the fretboard and measuring .900" at the 1st fret and 1.015" at the 9th, where the profile begins to subtly transition into the heel. The hand-carved bone nut measures 1 11/16" in width, and the Brazilian rosewood fretboard sports pearl block inlays and cream binding. The original medium jumbo frets are intact, having been leveled in the guitar's lifetime and currently exhibiting zero wear. The scale is a full 25 5/8", and the long scale design increases the tension on the top, yielding more projection and power. On the headstock, the original nickel Grover Rotomatic Pat. Pending tuners are present and turn very smoothly, holding pitch as they should, and the original metal Kay serial number badge is intact too, mounted with its original pair of tiny nails.
No description of a Kay Barney Kessel is complete without discussing the incredible Kelvinator headstock. This was Kay's most ornate and eye-catching headstock design, not seen beyond 1960 and this is a very clean example. The plexiglass headstock overlay boasts the Kay name along with a prominent and raised Chevron with further Art Deco detailing. There are a few extremely common and light cracks in the plexiglass veneer (purely cosmetic) adjacent to the tuning posts, but even these tiny fissures are much smaller than virtually every other Kay Kessel model we've seen.
All of the electronics work as they should, with Volume and Tone controls which retain their original near mint clear DeArmond reflector cap knobs. The Melita bridge is another top-tier piece of hardware only used on select Kay models, with a carved ebony base and adjustment for each individual string saddle. The original nickel trapeze tailpiece rounds out the hardware compliment, although the original pickguard is not present.
Cosmetically, it would be a challenge to find a cleaner Kessel model for sale, and this one is the nicest we've seen in years. The nitro lacquer Blonde finish has a gloss sheen, with no touchups or overspray, highlighting the ripples of figuring in the maple back and sides. There is one roughly C shaped shallow mark in the finish near the neck heel where the guitar rested on a stand that reacted lightly with the lacquer, and one scuff on the bass side of the heel, but that's about it. The neck profile is flawless and free of wear in every register. The "Kantilever" truss rod adjustment works as it should, housed in the heel cap on the neck. Overall, this guitar is as well-kept as any 60 year old archtop you're likely to encounter, and a fine example of one of the nicest instruments ever manufactured by Kay.
The original brown Lifton hardshell case is included. This is the same style case with mottled brown exterior seen on Gibson's finest instruments of the late 50s. The case has a purple plush interior with Lifton's "Built like a fortress" badge still present. All of the latches work and the stock handle is intact.