Museum: Gibson Guitars

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1931 Kel Kroydon KK1

FON 13. Among the finest L-bodied Gibsons ever built are those branded Kel Kroydon -- built between 1929 and '33. Kel Kroydon was Gibson's earliest budget line, and unlike those that followed it (Kalamazoo, Cromwell, etc) wasn't a department store catalogue brand. Kel Kroydon instruments shared many construction similarities with their Gibson equivalents; and the bodies of the Kel Kroydon flat tops built in the early 1930's are identical to those of the 'Argentine Grey' L2, but for the gold sparkle trim and greenish-hued sunburst finish. What differentiates these two models are the shape of the headstock, and the lack of neck reinforcement in the Kel Kroydon.

Now, that last bit -- the absence of a truss rod in a Kel Kroydon -- has a significant effect on the tone and usability of these guitars. Without the stiffness added to the neck, the fantastically light Kel Kroydon tends to have a very weak fundamental tone, very little headroom for a heavier attack, and -- dare I say it -- an over-abundance of overtones.

In addition, many Kel Kroydons (and other Gibsons) from that period were built with very thin fingerboards -- often half the thickness of what would be considered 'normal'. Couple this with the absence of a truss rod and a smallish oval carved neck, and the result is what we repair-people like to call a 'spaghetti noodle neck'. And pretty much all thin-board Kel Kroydon's have one. These necks are far too flexible, bowing forward badly under string tension - with awful implications to playability. (As an aside, the thicker fingerboard Kel Kroydons seem to fair much better in this department).

So, it's because of the its thin fingerboard and lack of neck reinforcement that a Kel Kroydon doesn't sound and play as much like an Gold Sparkle L2 as it ought to.

Enter this guitar. Kel Kroydon FON 13; built in 1931.

This KK1 was sent to Folkway with the normal symptoms. High action, and way too much relief. It simply wasn't playable; but it was otherwise in very fine condition. The top was perfect and essentially crack-free and the top arch was even, there were only a few loose brace ends, and the original bridge wasn't modified. It was too fine a guitar not to save it… so that's what we did, and with exciting results.

The original fingerboard was carefully removed, and the neck was then routed to accept a Martin-style T-bar neck support - but not a steel one, as that would have made the guitar very neck-heavy. We sourced out a carbon fiber T-bar for the job and glued it into the cavity that was exactingly cut for it. The carbon T-bar was so stiff that, even without a fingerboard, the neck no longer flexed more than a few thousandths of an inch under torqueing.

Next, a new accurate-looking rosewood fingerboard was made for the neck. A big bonus is that we corrected the original guitar's poorly spaced frets while we were at it, so it now plays in tune. Another little bonus is that this Kel Kroydon now also has Gibson-style side dots. The new fingerboard was glued onto the neck, and then carefully carved with nicely rounded sides to feel just right in the hand. The original fingerboard's radius was very flat -- around 20" compared to Gibson's 10" to 12" norm -- so we split the difference and radiused the new board at 14". We installed vintage pearl fingerboard dots and modern fretwire, and finally made a bone 30's-Gibson-looking nut with proper string spacing. French polish was used on the sides of the fingerboard to blend it all together; there was no overspray or refinish done.

The end result is nothing short of spectacular. The neck is stiff, the neck angle is perfect, the relief is exactly where we would set it if there were an adjustable truss rod, and the frets play beautifully. The feel of the neck is heavenly and, thanks to those side dots, you play a heck of a lot better.

The best part, though, is the tone. With the stiffness added to the neck and more mass in the fingerboard the guitar now has a beautiful voice with a strong fundamental. A lovely array of colorful overtones compliment the fundamental, without overshadowing it; and the guitar now has the headroom it was hungry for. It takes a heavy right hand attack without complaint or giving up its tone, but still maintains its responsiveness to a light touch. It is very much like an Argentine Grey L2, or period L1 in its tone; clear, round, dark, open, and a little bit smoky.

Yes, you can say we're pleased with how this one turned out.

Red spruce top, with an extra light X bracing; mahogany back, sides and neck. Bound top, unbound back, rosewood bridge with new aged bone saddle. Original tuning machines, original finish throughout. 24-5/8" scale, 1-3/4" nut. A few previously repaired back cracks, and the bridgeplate is likely a very well made dimensionally accurate replacement.

With newer hardshell case

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