GW Basses & Luthiery

  1930's Kay S9 Swingmaster Upright Bass Restoration

For years this poor bass was one of a few that was used for high school students to use while playing in the orchestra and jazz band as part of a high school music program. Eventually over the years it recieved its share of dents and dings, and at two different times the neck heel cracked in the typical "Kay" fashion and was repaired. Obviously the last repair to the neck involved completely removing the neck and re-gluing it, which was a poor job and best with a very sloppy glue joint that obviously didn't hold up.

So at some point it was decided to use it as a prop during a theater production / musical by the high school. I'm told during this time it was swung around by the neck, jump on, dropped, and basically treated like a cheap theater prop. Once the play / musical was finished it was going to be tossed in a dumpster... literally. The neck joint had come apart, the fingerboard was coming off, the edges are about half gone, and about half of the seams on the front and back are coming apart. The good news is that all of the parts are there and none of them are broken, including the bridge and nut which I put aside.

Will, a local 15 year old student at the school who was also a bass player asked if he could have it instead. They agreed and he and his Dad ended up calling me to see if I could possibly glue it back together and make it playable so Will could have his own upright bass to practice on at home. Once they delivered the bass to me I became curious about the "Pan-American" company label that was inside the bass, and did a little google search on it. Turns out the Pan-American Music Company was absorbed by Conn in 1928 and Conn continued to use the Pan-Am name up until 1956 when they stopped using it and simply badged everything "Conn". It turns out this is a re-badged 1930's Kay S9 Swingmaster bass. I wheeled and dealed with Will and his Dad so that I could have the bass for myself, as I have always wanted to get into playing upright. We put together a deal that gets Will a different upright of his own, I get this beautiful old girl to bring back to life and play for my very own.

I'm going to be mostly playing Rockabilly with her, so here is what I'm thinking:
  • Clean up all broken joints and repair with hyde glue
  • New purple weedwacker strings (for now)
  • Dual pickup system, one at the bridge and another under the fingerboard for the "click" of my slap, with dual Aguilar Pre-amps
  • I MIGHT put a purple metalflake with lime green flames and red outlines on just the front and thinking of a matching headstock, but I'm not committed to this yet.....

Here is how she arrived in my shop in late July of 2008

Poor girl has had a rough life!


Two previous neck break repairs

Neck joint completely seperated

Front and back seams coming apart



Edges are pretty beatup with missing wood in many spots

One piece carved neck and headstock scroll, not the typical Kay glued on side scrolls


There is a beautiful black ebony fingerboard under all that!


08 August - Putting the neck back together

Off with her head!

Fingerboard removed

Scraping off the old glue and levelling the glueing surface

Ready to drill a hole down through the heel for a dowel rod. It has been half-way attempted in the past... I'm gonna make it SOLID!

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