Catch of the Day: Circa 1956 Airline P-5 Electric Mandolin

Circa 1956 Airline P-5 Electric Mandolin

It may say Airline on the headstock but you can’t fool us Kay, we know you made this electric mandolin. Sure, you may have changed the shape of the f-holes and modified the silhouette of the headstock, but that body shape, which dates back to the 1920s, gives you away. Like many builders of modestly priced instruments, Kay made things under their own brand as well as for anyone who wanted their own name on a line of instruments. In this case, the company paying the bill was the department store and mail-order catalog company Montgomery Ward, who used Airline as the moniker for their house brand. This particular mandolin dates to the mid-1950s and it’s the electric version of Kay’s top-of-the-line line K-72. (Click here to read our Catch of the Day story about a circa 1950 Kay K-70 that tells more about the company’s history.)

Kay’s instruments were moderately priced–the plainer K-95 electric mandolin sold for $92.50 in 1956–but they were always well made and a good value for the money. They usually had very nicely done sunbursts, which take a bit of care to do right, and the ornamental details like the checkerboard binding and the engraved and painted pickguard are elegant at any price. As an added bonus, the blade style pickup in this mandolin sounds really good. I actually had a chance to play this very mandolin the other day and it sounded great through a variety of amps. Fan of the blues guitarist Jimmy Reed will probably recognize that blade pickup as being the same style found in the Kay K-161 Thin Twin electric guitar, which is one of the best sounding blues guitars out there at any price. Being a hollow-body, this mandolin is a little prone to feedback at higher volumes, so it may not be the best choice for your heavy metal/bluegrass crossover band, but I think it would sound just dandy in an electric blues band or maybe a western swing group. The best part is that it’s very reasonably priced at $695 with a chipboard case. If you’d like to buy this mandolin, just give the dudes at Gryphon Stringed Instrument a call and they would more than happy to send it your way.

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