What can you tell me about this "Airline" Hollowbody?

I just picked this guitar up and have been working on it over the last couple days. It looks a lot like a "Kay" instrument, but I have never seen one. Just wondering if anyone knows some history about this name. Thanks

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That is Montgomery Ward's "In house" brand, much like Sears had Silvertone and JC Penneys had Penncrest. It's Chicago made, either Kay or Harmony.

You should be able to ID it exactly by Googling for Vintage Montgomery Wards catalogs or Vintage Airline guitars. Lots of info out there.

Mark is 100% spot on. Those department stores used Harmony & Kay interchangeably based on who could build them at the lowest cost that particular year..

Based upon the lack of tuner ferrules and no truss rod (AND no "Steel reinforced neck" sticker), it's likely a Kay.

Let's not leave out Stelllllaaaaaa!!!

Was Stella store specific, or just an even cheaper shade of Harmony? Never thought about that...

Old Kraftsman too, for that matter.

"40 1/2" by "15".

Maple, but Marketed.

As Mahogany or Blonde Finish.

Definitely Manufactured by Kay of Chicago.

It was sold by Montgomery Ward, but made for Valco.

The 30's Valco Company  (Victor Smith, Al Frost, and Louis Dopyera).

Better known for the National and Supro Brands made until sometime in 1968.

The Company  merged with Kay in the late Sixties, but went out of business very quickly.

So this would be a Kay Guitar made for Valco by Kay, or  Kay/Valco merged. But Marketed as Airline.

For Valco owned the Airline Brand. Distributed with easy payments available, through the Catalogues of Montgomery/Ward.

Interestingly,  Eastwood Guitars have acquired the Airline Brand Marque Rights now, and thus Manufacture all the current Airline Models as of today!

The Eastwood Airline Brand Demographic  is Targeted towards  purchasers of the very different, "Res O Glass", Solid Body Styles. So someone to strongly stand out.

Montgomery Ward also sold Guitar made by Harmony  as well as Kay during this period. But I believe this to be a Kay Guitar, made for Valco or Kay/ Valco utilising the Airline Marque.

The salient point is during this period Valco owned the Brand Marque and therefore did a straight forward Licensing Deal, for the use of one of their Trademarks. However,  think of TrueTone Guitars.


And you will be there!



Harmony Brand also distributed a virtually identical Product, in a similar fashion.




A fine bit of research, Peter. Thanks for all the info :)

Oh, and regarding Stella (boy, my fingers still hurt when I hear that name): Back in the 20's & 30's, they made serviceable instruments. Ledbelly famously used one of their 12 strings.

When Harmony acquired the Stella trademark (I like Peter's so very proper term: "Marque Rights), Stella branded instruments were the lowest quality instruments that you could buy. If I remember correctly, they retailed for around $15.

I'd venture a guess that most USA forum members over the age of 55 had one, usually as part of a 'lessons/discount guitar package' that were so popular at the time. 

They were terrible instruments with action at the first fret of about 1/8" and a good 1/2"-3/4" at the 12th fret. That is NOT an exaggeration. Combine those spec's with the obligatory Black Diamond Strings gauged 13-62 (we're talking early to mid 1960's) and it made for a horrible and painful experience. These instruments were responsible for discouraging thousands of guitar students from sticking with the instrument. Oh yes, and the word 'tone' was never used to describe their 'sound' which was like bailing wire stretched across a cardboard box.

I understand that several board members have rebuilt the instruments into playable units. I applaud them:)

Have a good 'un :)

That could be me then. I've had 5/6 and I have one that I love. Great action sings like a dream, I did however replace the bridge and tail piece, As some one once said if you kiss enough frogs you'll find a prince. 


Looks like a Kay to me too. Some of these have solid tops but most of what I've seen have plywood tops. Even with that there are some that sound pretty good and even those that don't can handle pickups pretty well. Biggest issue with ALL of these, Kay or Harmony alike, are neck sets. I haven't seen one in decades that didn't need to have the neck joint rebuild as well as reset unless it that had already been done. You can find a LOT of them with chopped down bridges or even some with the base of the bridge missing and only the saddle under the strings .


 Paul, It seems to me that in our generation of guitar players these "entry level" guitar were a rite of passage. The only reason I stuck with it was that one of my older brother brought home a "better" guitar ( a Ventura which... sure looked nice.) It showed us that it was actually possible to hold down strings AND strum at the same time and the trenches in our finger tips weren't as deep.

Seems like a lot of Stella's were/are sold on Leadbelly's name but most people don't know that he spend most of his life "down and out" and a Stella was probably all he could afford. 

I don't think that the Stella's Leadbelly played were of the Harmony variety. I have always believed that they were the ones produced by Oscar Schmidt. Harmony bought out Schmidt in 1939 and used old stock until 42. I own two  and although the neck profile may seem awkward to us now, they still play very beautifully.  This site may be of interest 


Interesting site, Steve. There are some nice looking instruments there. 

What a wonderful forum we have here. You guys are so very knowledgeable and I appreciate the history you have given me. I suspected that it was a Kay as I have seen many of them, but not this particular name. It's in very good condition with good neck angle and bridge height. I have it all strung and setup playing it a "open G" tuning and it's been alot of fun to play. 


Heres a pic of the "Steel Reinforced Neck".

Yep, It seems (and this is just my casual observation) that Kay often put them on the back & Harmony on the front. It's not an absolute rule :)

You have a VERY cool axe, Justin....and it's in excellent shape.  You're gonna have a ball with it :)

Take care, man & have a super weekend.


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