Guitars and love have been inexplicably intertwined for over 500 years. Don’t challenge me on that, because I haven’t had time to look it up…but it seems highly likely that as soon as the Oud hit scene (somewhere in the 9th century), somebody was using it to impress the other sex. Since the renaissance lute started to evolve into the modern six string guitar we play today, balladeers have been chick magnets. How else can we explain John Mayer? It’s not hard to imagine a pimple faced teen in the 16th century writing a heartfelt ballad to his crush, laboring over the lyrics, perfecting the melody, then sheepishly performing his masterpiece. It’s also easy to imagine another, more angst filled song ensuing after his first attempt was rebuffed...16th century love can be so cruel.
Guitars aren’t just vehicles of expression though, they can play other roles in relationships as well. Sometimes a guitar reminds you of a girl, sometimes a guitar helps you get the girl, and sometimes...you get rid of the guitar in order to keep the girl. And in the case of my friend Alan, it is all three.
A story about a Boy, a Girl and a Devil of a guitar
The back end of 1965, I was just 16. Our schoolboy band was becoming more proficient and new gear was needed, so we all went down to the local music shop. We had drooled over the Bells catalogue for months and it was clear that we couldn’t afford the big brands, even Hofner was just out of reach. But it didn’t matter, because there was the best eye candy in the shop, the Kay “Red Devil”.
Wow! It was shiny, red and chrome and had a Bigsby tremolo. It didn’t matter what it played like, it wasn’t easy, but I’ll get used to it. It didn’t matter what it sounded like, it wasn’t good, but I can turn the volume up on the amp. I just loved it! To be fair, for bashing out the 12 bar of the day it was great. It cost 63 guinees. That’s old money for 1 GB Pound + 1 Shilling = £1 Guinee.
I could probably have brought a second hand Fender or Gibson for just a bit more, but didn’t realize that at the time.
Its first outing was for a birthday party that some girl wanted us to play for. When asked how she found us, she said she just “closed her eyes and stuck a pin in a load of cards on display in her sister’s fish and chip shop”, and it was us. The FBI.
On the night of the show, we didn’t have a van so we loaded our gear into 2 cars. There wasn’t enough room for me and the bass guitarist, so we had to catch a bus to the venue.
The party was great, this girl knows how to throw a party, and she was a looker. I thought she was 21. We flirted a bit through the night, but she was way out of my league, so I was chatting up her mate and made a date with her. And that was it, night over, off we went home, on the bus.
Two days later the phone rang at our rhythm guitarists home (I spent a lot of time with Garry). His dad said “there’s some girl on the phone for Alan”. It turned out to be the girl who had thrown the party, Sue. Her exact words were “Hi, it's Sue here from the party, my friend can’t make it but I’m available...and by the way, I just love your guitar!” and that was the start of a 53 year relationship.
Over the years we often laugh about that phone call and whether her mate could or couldn’t make it. Or, whether Sue made up the story to get the boy. She denies it of course, but there’s always a wicked glint in her eye.
We got engaged when we were 17 and we married at 19 years of age, June 19th 1969. When we set the date, Sues parents weren't too pleased. Her dad said “I hope you’ve got enough money to buy a decent wedding ring”…I hadn’t.
Because of my inability to play better (could it have been something to do with the guitar? It was a looker, but apparently Clapton had one and he couldn’t play his either), I gave up any notion of being a musician and moved into management. So, along with my Selmer 150w valve amp,the Kay “Red Devil” went back to the local guitar shop and was exchanged for a wedding ring at the jewel’s a few doors down.
After marrying, Sue and I started an entertainment agency which we ran quite successfully for a number of years. Over the next 30 years or so with work obligations, 2 boys, and the usual family commitments, playing guitar (on an acoustic I picked up cheap on a whim) was only an occasional thing. Then 10 years ago there was a paradigm shift in my life when my younger brother died of cancer. It had a huge effect on me and for some reason I just picked up my guitar one day and gave it a hammering, and the next, and so on. I needed a better guitar. I was attempting blues at the time, it suited my mood.
After a bit of time and research on eBay I found a very nice, 30 year old Epiphone Sheraton. My passion for older guitars had begun. I was becoming a collector of mid-priced vintage guitars. One day Sue asked me if I had ever come across a KAY like the one I’d sold, and if I did, to get it and she would buy it back for me. Wahoo, a green light from the wife to buy a guitar! So I started looking, and looking. I put wanted ads in the two leading guitar and bass mags in the UK. Probably 3 years went by and no luck. Then one night I got a call from a guy in Anglesey, North Wales. He sent me photos and there it was, a Kay 592 Red Devil. We exchanged a few emails and phone calls. All was going well until his wife decided that if it's probably the only one in the UK it must be worth something and told him not to sell it. Shit! Even so we still exchange Christmas cards and he has become an email pen pal buddy.
So I carried on looking and found the Reverb site one day. There was a Kay Red Devil for sale by Cole Music Co. in America. It turns out that they often come up in the USA. And that was the problem, it was in America. Sue knew that I had found one but didn’t know where it was. I told her and she just said “is it the one, is it ok, does it look as good, is the price ok, Yes. So what’s the problem?“ It’s in America and it's going to cost nearly £300 to ship it and there was the import duty to think of. She just leaned across and pressed BUY. Luckily I’d been having an email chat with Eben and we seemed to gel, so I had a good feeling about things. I even got a little bit of a discount to help with the shipping. About 10 days later a FedEx van pulled into my car park and delivered a very large, very substantial box. When the driver had gone we just stood looking at it. Sue was just as excited as I was. Was it going to be OK? So, we set about the great unpacking of a big box and smaller box inside, (it was certainly very well packed) and found what appeared to be the original case. With much trepidation I opened the case (remember I’d not seen one of these since 1969). The description was “near mint condition”, and it was. It was in immaculate condition and looked fantastic. It’s just as we remembered it. So here I am again. I’ve just paid a fortune for a mediocre guitar when I could have bought a used Gibson or a Fender. It didn’t matter! If it didn’t sound or play well it was a trophy piece. Something to look at hanging on my wall, something to bring back memories of my first meeting with Sue, playing in the band together, and our short solo duet time.
But guess what? The action was low, the neck was perfectly straight, all the hardware looked amazing, it was even still in tune! Well almost. Only one thing to do. Plug it in to an amp! Great sound.
I think that Sears, the distributors, must have sent all of the duff ones to the UK because the more research I did, the more it came up with the fact it was great eye candy, but a crap guitar. But this one was great! It has a great acoustic jazz sound, and great low end bass. Put her through an echo pedal and she sounds amazing, sweet. Thanks Eben and Cole Music Co. for posting that one on Reverb. It was exactly as described and you were great to deal with. It’s also great to exchange the odd email chat and to see what else is in store now and again.
Well the coda to this story is: About 6 years ago our youngest son, Mike, turned 30 and decided he wanted to learn to play the drums. Our other son, James, picked up a bass guitar one day and learned to play bass. I met my old friend Garry, out of the blue one day (rhythm guitarists from the old group). We all started jamming together early on, and my wife Sue, and Garry’s wife, were persuaded to sing. We had a band! We don’t gig, we just have fun and hold parties, playing for friends and for charity events. Whenever we play I’m so proud to have my 2 sons playing at the side of me. It’s a great buzz and the wife is our front man! On our 50th wedding Anniversary our band played and I played the Kay Red Devil, a full circle for a Guitar. OK it may not be “THE” one, but it is “the” one. In front of 120 people I played Kay and sang “Wonderful Tonight” then accompanied Sue singing “Till There Was You”. OK call me cheesy but it was a blast. Thanks again Eben for coming across the Kay 592 Red Devil.
I checked in with Alan in preparation for posting this story and he had another update: He and Sue had just celebrated their 70th birthdays, and Alan rocked the Kay Red Devil on stage with the band!
Do you have a cool, gear-centric story you want us to tell...or better yet, you want to write? Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tags: Vintage
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