Monday, April 22, 2013

Head over heels in love with you...

And now Little Maggie is home in California with her new owner Katya.  

It is truly a small, small low end world.  Here is a picture from a bluegrass jam from this weekend that show’s Katya with her 1937 Kay M-4 bass named Little Maggie and Dave with his bass a 1943 Kay M-1 named Molly Kay.  

The very pristine 1937 Kay M-4 on the left with Katya and the super clean, heavily played 1943 Kay M-1 on the right with Dave

Both of these basses traveled from Pennsylvania to California from The Bass Monkey Workshop to be with their owners.  What are the chances these two folks would have met each other and purchased their basses from the same place all the away across the country?

Just a pick'in and a grin'in!

Katya tells us I am completely head over heels about the bass”.  

That’s a good bluegrass song right there.

Monday, April 1, 2013

1937 Kay M-4 Little Maggie

And last but certainly not least is Little Maggie named after the Ralph Stanley song “Little Maggie”…got to love those good traditional bluegrass names. This beautiful blonde 1937 Kay M-4 was the forerunner to the 1940 Kay blonde S-9 Swingmaster. According to Roger Stowers there are only 150 of the M-4 blonde basses made and even less with the flower engraved tuners. As the production of the M-4 was phased out the engraved flower tuners were dropped from the Kay production. An M-4 is described as having the three piece neck, factory carved scroll, flower engraved tuners, real inlaid purfling with supposedly ebony fingerboard and tail piece. 

The real inlaid purfling is known to weaken the edges of a plywood bass which causes chipping and delamination around the body of the bass. The Kay S-9 features were a one piece neck, factory carved scroll, brass tuners, real inlaid purfling around the body of the bass and the bound FF holes. It also had a distinctive horseshoe shaped ebony detail at the button on the back of the bass. The S-9 also was known for its ebony fingerboard and tailpiece.

All original finish

Flamed maple neck, very smooth and some what meaty for an early Kay

The great three piece neck and real purfling

Newly installed end pin tip with a great shot of that flamed maple back

My favorite detail, the engraved flower tuners

She is a real looker.  The edges have all been repaired and color matched

You will be hard pressed to find another Kay M-4 this nice!

I have seen variations of the M-4 and S-9 that blended these features together. I have seen a labeled M-4 without engraved tuners and I have seen a labeled S-9 with the flower engraved tuners…so all bets are off as to how many of each specific M-4’s and S-9’s basses have these similar blended or missing features.

This bass named Little Maggie came into our collection from the mid-west and needed very little TLC. We repaired the weak broken edges to looking fantastic and strong. Other then a new end pin tip she is ready to make joyful music. Shortly she will be packing her bags and heading to California to greet her new owner Katya.

As you have heard me gush before, I love these flowered tuners and think they are so feminine. Knowing this bass is going to a new female owner (and her first bass purchase) I am so very proud to pass along our passion for these beautiful early Kay basses. Little Maggie is a strong player and has that distinctive early Kay growl. We tested her on the sound meter and she is a loud, boomy bass. I know Katya is going to love her and we will sadly miss her once she is gone. These basses are very rare and difficult to find in this preserved condition.

Little Maggie is on to a new happy life…

Oh yonder stands little Maggie
With a dram glass in her hands
She's drinking away her troubles
She's a courting some other man

Oh how can I ever stand it
Just to see them two blue eyes
A shining in the moonlight
Like two diamonds in the sky

Last time a saw little Maggie
She was sitting on the banks of the sea
With a forty-four around her
And a banjo on her knee

Lay down your last gold dollar
Lay down your gold watch and chain
Little Maggie's gonna dance for daddy
Listen to that old banjo ring

Pretty flowers were made for blooming
Pretty stars were made to shine
Pretty women were made for loving
Little Maggie was made for mine

The pre-war Gibson bass named Mother Maybelle…

We have been the fortunate stewards of a beautiful, pristine 1941 Gibson B-135 upright bass.  This lovely lady traveled all the way from the west to join our collection and be the inspiration to launch a new Gibson history page at the website.  With the history of the Epiphone upright basses being well documented at our website I thought it would be nice to expand our research to the second most asked question…what do we know about the original pre-war Gibson upright bass?  

I became aware of the pre-war Gibson manufactured bass through my Epiphone research and it would sometimes get blended together that the pre-war Gibson’s and the Gibson/Epiphone’s were the same bass.  They are definitely NOT the same bass.  They were not made during the same time period.  And the basses themselves are wildly different.  The pre-war Gibson’s were made from 1939-1945 in Kalamazoo, MI.  The Gibson/Epiphone’s were made after 1958 until 1963 in Kalamazoo, MI and then discontinued never to be re-made again.  The town and state of manufacture is about all these two basses shared. 

The bass shape, the neck, the tuners, tailpiece were distinctive on the pre-war Gibson basses.  The pre-war Gibson shape is very unique with the droopy maestro shape and the violin tips point out and downward.  In compared to a Gibson/Epiphone with its gamba shape, narrow upper shoulders and smaller over all body.

We will continue to add information to the pre-war Gibson web page as more information is discovered.  For now here are the pictures of our pre-war Gibson in all her glory. 

Beautiful bright blonde finish, all completely original  right down to the original flake wood bridge and gut strings

The bass is detailed with a double black painted pin stripe with those dripping tips

Vee shaped rosewood tail piece with original tail wire and end pin

Single Kluson chrome tuners as seen on all Gibson  basses

The mystery serial number?  No idea at this point.

Three piece neck with no outer rib linings

What a sweet gal she is for her age!!!

Not changing a thing for now...she will make music as she is

She was a one owner bass and stayed in the same family her entire life.  

Here is her story as told by the previous owner…

My Uncles name was Marvin Kippur. On the photo I sent you of the base of the neck, backside you will see that initials MK etched in the finish. Funny enough when I saw your Internet name as Molly Kay it influenced my decision to sell you the bass. Strange coincidence?

Marvin's mother had bought him the instrument in the early 40s as he was a music student in Denver, Colorado. He used to tell me stories of carrying the bass on the public bus system to get back and forth from lessons. I was amazed the poor bass did not get beat up too badly through all of that but he was always a very careful man and his love for music was reflected in his treatment of his instruments. I am not sure when it happened, maybe the mid 60s, he had a saw accident while working with his son and lost half of his index finger on his left hand. This pretty much stopped his Bass playing but he still played piano as much as he could. He actually had a prosthetic made but without the sensation he said it just wasn't the same after that. I remember as a small child sitting at the piano bench learning chopsticks and such fixated on his half of a finger as if I could not believe he could still play the way he did. He mostly liked to play Jazz but still had a hankering for classical and Big Band. Caldonia and Route 66 were a couple of his favorite songs. He passed in 2010.

It was sometime in 1998 that I found out that Marvin had an upright Bass. My whole life I only knew of his piano playing because he had lost the finger before I was born and never really mentioned the Bass to me. The Bass sat patiently waiting in a room in his house that us kids never went into. My mother actually borrowed the Bass from him because a friend of hers was a player in a local bluegrass/ old timey music band. When I found out I nearly blew my socks. He then agreed to give me the instrument as long as I found it a good home if ever I was to part with it. He had no idea that it was such a piece of American history being a Gibson made upright and was thrilled when I began to research the instrument. He almost asked me for the bass back when I found out how rare it was but then decided to trust my care and judgment concerning the instrument. I had played 12 string guitar and mandolin for years and the chance to work on a fretless instrument with a bow was very intriguing. The bass proved quite challenging, I had the forearm strength to handle it and got relatively good playing it but the size always intimidated me. I also play music alone mostly and it was hard to get excited about what I was able to play alone with the bass. I am no Edgar Myers. One of my favorite quotes when people ask me why I play alone all of the time I say, "Music is like my girlfriend, I do not like to share her with others". (I have since began recording and laying down tracks with a digital system so that I can share the music I create with others but not deal with headaches that other musicians and egos can cause, including my own). I then moved more towards violin and viola but always got the bass out just to hear the magnificent presence of those deep low notes. The ability to really feel music vibrating through the body can only be achieved by the Upright in my experience, and this bass can do that well. I will miss the ability to do that whenever I like but the diversity I can achieve with the violin has my attention now. I will always thank the bass for the introduction to fretless playing and using a bow.

The only Bassist of note that has played the instrument is Kimmit Stone, formerly of Spyrogyra and the Rippingtons. He is a friend of my Mothers and sponsored by Fender. He loves this Bass and always said that for a plywood instrument it is exceptional, even sounds better than some of the solid tops he has played. I am sure he will be very jealous that you are to be the new owner.

I believe my Uncle would be proud of your ownership of the instrument. From what I can gleam from your comments and your website I do believe this is the ideal situation for the bass to begin a real instruments life! I will look forward to seeing what your reaction is to the bass, what you come up with in your research and the music you will make when you get the chance to finally play it.

My reaction is...what a monster bass!  

Closets thing I'll play to a carved bass.  She is a keeper for life.  
Thank you Gregory, we are blessed to own this special bass with a colorful, well documented history.  

There's a dark & a troubled side of life
There's a bright, there's a sunny side, too
Tho' we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us ev'ry day, it will brighten all the way
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

The storm and its fury broke today,
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear;
Clouds and storms will, in time, pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear.
Let us greet with the song of hope each day
Tho' the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Saviour away
Who keepeth everyone in His care

Recorded on May 27, 1928 by the Carter Family (Mother Maybelle)

Final chapter on the 1941 Epiphone B-5 named Ruben

Finally a sunny day. After a long winter with very little snow and even less days with sunshine we were bless with a sunny Saturday with 50 degree temperatures that allowed us to get outside for photos…followed by a miserable cold foggy Easter Day.

Ruben the 1941 Epiphone B-5, #623 is finished and being played weekly at our jams. The bass cleaned up really nice and has met all my expectations. The most labor consuming part of the set up was the fingerboard. This bass had DEEP grooves worn into the fingerboard. It took lots of scraping to get the original Brazilian rosewood fingerboard smooth again. Lonnie kept the board fairly flat with out much scoop in case I wanted to change the strings to Spirocore.

Deep grooves still are there after a good scraping

The rosewood fingerboard is now smoothed and ready for the nut to be  re-glued and shaped

This is only some of the shavings.  That is real Brazilian rosewood, a rare wood on today's market

The broken edges being repaired.  This is an early stage before sanding and color

For now the bass is set up perfectly for me with the non-adjustable original wooden end pin and a new crutch tip. The playing height, the strings selection and the cosmetic touch ups are perfect…I would not change a thing if I could. I plan on playing this bass for a while at jams and festivals and enjoy listening to its voice open up. The vintage golden honey color, the highly flamed neck and the loud boomy sound are a joy to make music. Knowing this bass had set silent for 30-40 years makes us so proud to hear it sing again. I love a bass with history and character and this bass surely has all that.

Before in "as purchased" condition.  Note the masking tape around the outer edges on the upper bouts.  A real effort to remove it cleanly.

After restoration


Beautiful golden honey in the bright spring sunshine
The highly flamed maple neck
Lonnie's carved bridge can not see them when you are looking down and playing

                          The End!