Review: Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K1700V Pro, K6700V Artist and K8700V Jazz Special

These solid new archtop guitars are modernized recreations of the ornate artist models Kay created for jazz great Barney Kessel in the late 50s.
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Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K6700V Artist

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K6700V Artist

These new archtop guitars are modernized recreations of the ornate artist models Kay created for jazz great Barney Kessel between 1957 and 1959. The guitars on review here are similar in construction, hardware and appointments, and differ primarily in body size. All were tested through a reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb with Alessandro hand-wired circuitry, and a Vox Mini Superbeetle head and 1x10 cabinet.

K1700V PRO

The smallest of the three guitars at 13 inches wide, the K1700V Pro is a real eye-catcher with its flashy Kelvonator gold-dot luncheonette headstock overlay, Kleenex-box pickup covers, clear reflector knobs, crosshair tailpiece and silver-backed pickguard with a Barney Kessel inscription. Our review guitar wore a flawless black gloss finish (the other colors are Natural Blonde and Tobacco Sunburst). Accenting it all is cream binding on the body, neck and headstock, and an ivoroid cap on the heel. Together, it adds up to an appealing guitar, and one that plays well, courtesy of a moderately thick, C-shaped neck, nicely finished frets and a good factory setup. The nut corners could have been a little smoother on our review sample, but everything else felt fine on this guitar.

The Kay Custom Ceramic single-coil pickups sound good and have no problem churning out the grind when played through higher gain amps and pedals. Their output was less than that of the stock Gibson P-90 in a ’63 Les Paul Junior I used for comparison, but the K1700V’s neck pickup covered the bases for everything from round jazz tones to aggressive blues and rock.

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature SeriesundefinedK1700V PRO

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature SeriesundefinedK1700V PRO

I had several opportunities to play the K1700V Pro with an instrumental group doing a mix of jazz and world music, and it sounded great played cleanly though a Fender Deluxe Reverb, and adding some distortion-pedal grind gave it a cool singing tone that was fun for solos and such.

The smaller body makes this guitar a good choice for higher volume applications. Overall, the K1700V Pro is a win-win for any player who wants a cool grab ’n’ go archtop that’s also a stylish reminder of Kay’s golden era.

SPECIFICATIONS

K1700V Pro

CONTACT kayvintagereissue.com
PRICE $1,250 street, hard case included

NUT WIDTH 43mm, bone
NECK Canadian hard maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover Sta-Tite
BODY Laminated flame-maple arched top, flame maple sides, laminated flame-maple arched back. 13" wide
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style on rosewood base, crosshair chrome tailpiece
PICKUPS Kay Custom Ceramic 8 (8.5kΩ) neck, Ceramic 8 (10.5kΩ) bridge, both with chrome Kleenex box covers
CONTROLS Two volume, two tone 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS .010–.046
WEIGHT 6.5 lbs
BUILT China

KUDOS Great look. Compact size. Plays well
CONCERNS Nut corners are a bit sharp

K6700V ARTIST

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K6700V Artist

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K6700V Artist

Most of the above applies here, with the main difference being a laminated spruce arched top and a body width of 15.5 inches. (That makes the K6700V close to the size of an Ibanez George Benson model and convenient for those who don’t want to sling a full-sized archtop.) Kessel reportedly used the original version as an early member of the Los Angeles–based Wrecking Crew, the group of top-tier studio musicians who played on many hit records of the ’60s and ’70s.

Playing-wise, K6700V feels much like the K1700V, but it has a bigger acoustic voice. It wound up being my favorite of the three for jazzier stuff, and it can handle quite a bit of volume without feeding back. It’s a very versatile guitar — perhaps that's why Kessel liked it for session work — and thanks to having independent volume and tone controls (as per all of these guitars), there’s a good range of sounds at your fingertips.

I like how you can dial in a wooly neck pickup tone, and then switch to the middle position to blend in the bridge pickup as needed to make rhythm parts and solos jump out. The tone controls on all of these guitars go from clear to quite dark on the final bit of rotation, which allows you to “click” into a burnished sound with just a quick twist of the knob. All in all, the K6700V is a cool guitar that can cover blues, jazz and anything else where a fat, twangy archtop sound is needed.

SPECIFICATIONS

K6700V Artist

CONTACT kayvintagereissue.com
PRICE $1,300 street, hard case included

NUT WIDTH 43mm, bone
NECK Canadian hard maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover Rotomatic
BODY Laminated spruce arched top, flame maple sides, laminated flame-maple arched back. 15.5" wide
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style on rosewood base, crosshair chrome tailpiece
PICKUPS Kay Custom Ceramic 8 (8.5kΩ) neck, Ceramic 8 (10.5kΩ) bridge, both with chrome Kleenex box covers
CONTROLS Two volume, two tone 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS .010–.046
WEIGHT 7 lbs
BUILT China

KUDOS A great looking and nice playing mid-sized archtop with good versatility
CONCERNS Nut corners are a bit sharp

K8700V JAZZ SPECIAL

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K8700V Jazz Special

Kay Barney Kessel Gold K Signature Series K8700V Jazz Special

The original model from 1956 is apparently what Kessel played at concerts and TV appearances, and with a body width of 17 inches, it qualifies as a full-size jazz box. The K8700V has upgraded cosmetics in the form of split fretboard inlays, which look nice, although the black epoxy filler around them is noticeable. It also has an art deco chromed trapeze tailpiece instead of the crosshair tailpiece that’s fitted to its siblings. Again, a sweet-looking gloss finish reveals the lovely flamed maple on the body, and the figuring on the arched back is particularly striking.

The guitar’s playability is on par with the K1700V and K6700V, and the light-gauge strings and smooth frets enable an effortless feel whether bending or doing speedy runs. Perhaps due to a jolt during shipping, the guitar arrived with the bridge out of place. While repositioning it was easy enough, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Kay to pin the bridge bases on these guitars to prevent them from sliding.

The K8700V has the most acoustic presence of the bunch, and it sounded good enough unplugged that one could be tempted to simply put a mic on it for recording. Amplified through a Deluxe Reverb, its sweet characteristics translated well via the Kay Custom pickups, making for rich jazz tones and an easy transition into fired-up blues and rock with some distortion added.

Considering its modest price, the K8700V offers a lot of bang for the buck and is definitely worth checking into if you’re in the market for an archtop guitar that also happens to be one of the flashiest signature models around.

SPECIFICATIONS

K8700V Jazz Special

CONTACT kayvintagereissue.com
PRICE $1,350 street, hard case included

NUT WIDTH 43mm, bone
NECK Canadian hard maple
FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75" scale, 12" radius
FRETS 22 medium jumbo
TUNERS Grover Imperial
BODY Laminated spruce arched top, flame maple sides, laminated flame-maple arched back. 17" wide
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style on rosewood base, art deco chrome tailpiece
PICKUPS Kay Custom Ceramic 8 (8.5kΩ) neck, Ceramic 8 (10.5kΩ) bridge, both with chrome Kleenex box covers
CONTROLS Two volume, two tone 3-way toggle
FACTORY STRINGS .010–.046
WEIGHT 7.45 lbs
BUILT China

KUDOS Larger body gives it the best acoustic sound of the bunch. Plays well and looks fantastic
CONCERNS Nut corners are a bit sharp

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