Often found in top-ten lists of
the world’s ugliest guitars is the late-1950’s Kay
Solo King, whose shape looks like the state of
Ohio with a guitar neck sticking sideways out
of its eastern border. The guitar pictured here—
made in 2013 and dubbed “The Harlequin” by
Dinette Guitars—is an obvious nod to the original
Kay whack job, but it differs greatly for what
might be obvious reasons, as well as some notso-
obvious reasons. Um, let me explain…
The body shape is close enough to the original
Kay design that a silhouette-only rendering
might prompt an ambulance chaser to consider
the benefits of a copyright-infringement case.
But Dinette dressed things up (or down) a bit
more than the rather Spartan Solo King. The
phrase “functional art” comes to mind, as the
diamond-shaped pieces of hand-painted, interlocking
plexiglass look like wall art stolen from
Ricky and Lucy’s apartment. Then, there’s the
hollow pink formica body, which further transforms
the vibe into the arena of kitsch. What
were they going for here? An LSD-inspired—
and subsequently junked—tailfin design for a
powder-puff hued 1956 Plymouth?
PLAYABILITY & SOUND
Another one of the ways the Harlequin differs
from its Kay counterpart is that it plays like a
dream. While I’m not suggesting that Kay guitars
didn’t play well—some models are, in fact, awesome—
the Solo King was not known as one of
their better-playing models. I’ve played several
Dinette guitars (I own two), and they really have
a special feel. There’s a resonance and tightness
that just shakes your bones—and that’s
when it’s unplugged! Plugged into an amp, this
guitar has a wonderful sustain and a raucous,
vintage-vibe sound. The 22-fret neck is quite
comfortable, and it allows clear access to the
upper frets. The components are a combination
of new and old: Seymour Duncan P-90s that just rip, a ’60s Schaller bridge and tremolo,
and modern Kluson locking tuners.
The Kay Solo King listed for 75 bucks in 1960.
Now, if you ever came across one, I suspect that
it would fetch stoopid money—though there’s
a great copy made by MyRareGuitars that sells
for just under $500 that is worth investigating.
The Harlequin is “mos def” a one-off. It is what
it is, and only this one exists. What I paid for it
doesn’t even begin to express how much I like
it, so I’m not going to say
what I paid, but I would
highly recommend that
you go to the Dinette
website to get a better
idea of what they do.
WHY IT RULES
This guitar rules on
many levels. The Harlequin’s
and sound are awesome
and unique to
this guitar. Everything
comes together in perfect
harmony. But I have
to warn you, Dinette guitars
are hard to come
by, and for as long as
they have been around,
they’ve managed to
stay very underground.
Located in some secret
lair in northern California,
one might surf into
one for sale on Craigslist
or reverb.com. But however
hard the hunt is, these guitars
are well worth it. Check
out dinetteguitars.com and try
to tell me it ain’t so!
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