Gay Acoustic

Okay, chuckleheads, get it out of your system now, because the guitar we’re featuring this month is indeed a Gay guitar. However, the Gay in question here is a little-known luthier based out of Canada in the 1950s and ’60s named Frank Gay, who built some of the most wild and far-out custom acoustic guitars in modern history. Gay’s unorthodox guitars—from their nearly-rectangular shaped bodies, to their Salvador Dali-esque headstock shapes—were perfect for country and western stars of yesteryear such as Webb Pierce, Johnny Horton, and Carl Smith, because these artists prided themselves on standing out in a crowd with everything from embroidered Nudie suits to rhinestone-encrusted Cadillacs.
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Little is known of Frank Gay in this country, but he is well-remembered in Edmonton, Alberta, where he set up a luthiery operation in 1953, building everything from lutes and mandolins to flamenco guitars, steel-string acoustics, and even some solidbody electrics. The most unusual Gay I’ve ever seen is the guitar pictured here. It was made for country singer Ferlin Husky, and now resides in the prestigious Mac Yasuda collection. I had seen the guitar on many of Husky’s album covers, and I thought the guitar was simply a Gibson J-200 painted with some wacky designs.

However, upon viewing this guitar in person over the summer at the incredible Rhinestones and Twangtones exhibit at the Fullerton museum in Fullerton, California, it struck me as perhaps Gay’s finest moment. The basic body shape is indeed modeled on a Gibson J-200, but if you look closely, you’ll notice a triangular soundhole (obviously influenced by the Gretsch Rancher), an elongated headstock, and a finely crafted bridge with intricate details. Best of all, this guitar has an astounding series of mother-of-pearl inlays not only around the binding of the spruce top, but throughout the top in a floral pattern that makes this git-fiddle the Sistine Chapel of Hillbilly Flash.

Gay’s early work was innovative and unique, but the glues, binding, and fillers he used almost always began to fall apart and disintegrate after a few years. Subsequently, Gay’s custom creations have by and large disappeared, making them exceedingly rare today.

The indignity that this guitar suffered was having the “Gay” crest on the headstock replaced by a “Gibson” inlay during a neck repair at the Gibson factory, and many people have thought this creation was a modified Gibson. A similar fate befell Carl Smith’s Gay, which also had its name on the headstock replaced by a “Customized by Sho-Bud” label. Then again, it could just be the name. Go ahead and laugh heartily, but these Gay guitars are very, very cool. I wish I had more information about Frank Gay and his guitars. He was definitely in a league all by himself, and we denizens of the cool and the crazy thank him for his unique view of the world!