Whack Job: Dinette Guitars Harlequin

July 8, 2014

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?


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.


This guitar rules on many levels. The Harlequin’s color combinations, playability, 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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