Playing old time for a local history swap/artifact display at the fire station and saw this. The owner asked what I could tell him - it was in his family but he didn't know anything about it. Off the cuff I said Kay Kraft was a Sears mail order brand and this was probably 1930s/40s. How far off was I? Overall pretty good condition, headstock overlay coming unglued a bit near nut, neck ruler-straight, frets excellent (probably not much playing time), skin head fraying & unusable but tears around edge revealed a steel tone ring (rod), steel neck-angle adjuster present at heel (I've heard of these but never seen one). Easily restorable - if anyone wanted a mando-banjo!
looks to be in real nice shape
Not far off. Wasn't a Sears, though, they were Supertone.
This instrument was manufactured by Kay of Chicago, Ill.
The Kay company was announced in June 1931 and at the same time the Kay Kraft banjo instrument line made its debut. Attached is the Kay Kraft banjo line from the Progressive Musical Instrument Corp.'s 1931 catalog. Note that Kay Kraft banjos were available in "Banjo-mandolin" like your example. The Kay Kraft banjos were one of the first attempts by Kay to enter the retail field with a Kay brand. Before that the company was named Stromberg Voisinet that primarily served the trade, jobbers, distributors, etc. In Sept. 1931 Kay sent essentially the attached catalog to the entire trade inviting orders. There were Kay Kraft guitars, tenor guitars, mandolins and,of course, the banjos. Here is the hard part. From my research into S/V and Kay I cannot determine how long Kay continued to manufacture Kay Kraft banjos. S/V and Kay had always been a Montgomery Ward supplier but M/W did not catalog Kay Kraft banjos in the 1930's although they received other banjo models from Kay. My sense is that the Kay Kraft banjos line was discontinued about mid-1930's - say 1934-1935. In 1935 Kay moved into a new factory and that may have been when the Kay Kraft banjos ended. But I'm not sure of the Kay Kraft banjo termination date or even the year. BTW - the neck adjuster you observed was patented by S/V (really the co. pres., Kay Kuhrmeyer) in Oct. 1933 - application filed earlier.
Edited by - beezaboy on 03/25/2023 16:53:33
Thank you, beezaboy, for this detailed and scholarly explanation. I should also mention that we took the resonator off, revealing a very nicely made pot with a single co-rod. It could easily be converted to open-back if desired.
The owner offered it to me if I would see to the restoration (a new skin head and setup), but I declined. I play plectrum and clawhammer (and guitar) in our group and I just couldn't see a use for it, at least for me. My question is: what, if anything, do people do with these? The "real" mandolin players I know regard them with disdain. But even the banjo-uke has its advocates (I went to whole series of workshops on it!) so is there some modern player who specializes in banjo-mandolin? That would be interesting.
Short answer from a jazz age (into prewar) banjo person.
The Banjo Mandolin has been the subject of derision from almost the beginning at century turn. One writer dubbed it a "mongrel". It is said to be too shrill; doesn't sound banjoey; subject to unwanted overtones. I don't think there is a general popularity for the instrument nowadays although I heard one fellow single string the instrument admirably within the last couple of years.
This corresponds to my uninformed impression. Searching the Internet it appears that it's used mainly in Celtic music at present, although the charming Ragtime Skedaddlers are led by a banjo-mandolinist. I don't find it in contemporary music though, but that's far from definitive.
'gibson banjo FON 3077-17. ' 49 min
'gibson banjo FON 3077-17. ' 50 min