Will Ray’s eBay Prizes 1959 Kay Upbeat

IF THERE’S ONE WORD KAY ENTHUSIASTS love to hear, it’s Kelvinator. It’s a term used to describe the art deco headstocks on the most coveted Kay models from the late ’50s to early ’60s. In the early days of eBay, I ran across this Upbeat model and was immediately smitten. It’s a blond beauty featuring two Barney Kessel pickups, a 17"-wide cutaway body, and full black Kelvinator headstock. When it first appeared on eBay, it had an opening bid of $450. I had bookmarked it and checked it every day for a week. The last 24 hours of an auction usually show the most action, and I watched the price sit at $450 until the last five minutes, when it started inching upward in $25 increments. Snipers! I put on my own sniper gear and laid down my bid of $601.51 about ten seconds before auction end. I thought for sure that I would lose out on it, but to my surprise I was the high bidder at $600 even. Shipping was $35 and I immediately sent in a money order for $635 (this w
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A couple of weeks later the Upbeat arrived. It was left at my doorstep by UPS and the box for the Upbeat was beat up. I was thinking the worst as I opened the half-crushed box, but the seller had packaged the guitar to withstand a small nuclear blast. It took me 15 minutes to get through all that bubble wrap, but when I did, I was treated to the beaut pictured here.

So how did it play? Actually, not so great. The frets were badly worn down and hard to bend strings on. Also, the neck had a warp that was impossible to get out with Kay’s abysmal cantilever-style trussrod system. So, I took it to my old friend and repairman John Wescott. He said he could easily refret it and sand out the bow in the neck with a belt sander, and it would be pretty cheap to boot. I took him up on it, and when I got it back a few days later, it was like a whole new guitar! The action was just right, I could bend strings easily, and it played wonderfully.

The seller had done his best to describe the guitar, but the worn frets and warped neck were not a blip on his radar. Will Ray tip #731: It’s always up to the buyer to ask questions before an auction ends. It was my fault for not doing so because I had stars and Kelvinators in my eyes. Still, I feel like I got a good deal on it, even factoring in the extra $125 refret, since I see these on eBay now for $1,800-$2,500.

Will Ray tip #732: Always keep a good guitar tech/repairman handy for those acquisitions that need a little help. It’ll make you feel better about the purchases you’ve made that you’re on the fence about. I’ve had this Upbeat for almost 12 years and it is one of my favorite guitars. It’s still very easy and fun to play, and it sounds great. I guess that means it’s a keeper.