Every time I’ve gone into Buzzy Levine’s Lark Street Music in Teaneck, New Jersey in recent months, I have been taken with a solidbody Kay guitar with the name “Nick Blade” painted on the left front of the body, along with attractive arrow-like pinstriping. Just who was Nick Blade? Was Nick Blade a stage name? Was he local? What kind of music did he play on this guitar?
A Google search turned up a small-time Florida gangster named Nick the Blade Gesualo, who died last year while sipping Pinot Grigio in an Ormond Beach restaurant. A Facebook search revealed quite a few individuals named Nick Blade, most of who were millennials. My guess is, Nick Blade the guitarist has gone on to his final reward by now. We’ll probably never know.
The “Nick Blade” Kay 4144 Sizzler guitar is a lightweight single cutaway guitar, with what Buzzy referred to as, “a kitchen counter finish,” better known by Kay as Brown & White Plextone, a mottled combination of colors that resembles Formica. This guitar featured a master volume and two tone switches, all with chicken head knobs that don’t appear to be original. The two tone controls actually don’t do much, and there is a rotary control that appears to have been installed at a later date, as a 1959 Kay catalog photo of the 4144 model does not show such a switch. It didn’t do very much either. The pickguard is a neatly stylized star shape, and there’s a three-way toggle switch.
The set neck is comfortably chunky, with a maple fretboard, black dot markers, and no side dots. The ’59 Kay catalog claims the guitar has a truss rod, but I saw no sign of one, so perhaps it’s non-adjustable. In any event, the neck is straight. Kluson Deluxe tuners are featured on the forked headstock, along with a prominent Kay logo. The crude wooden bridge is adjustable and does its job…sort of. The guitar has a National style resonator tailpiece. There were no serial numbers with which to help date it.
Plugged in, the 4144 tuned right up, held it’s tuning admirably, and played remarkably well for a budget brand guitar that is approximately fifty-eight years old and has seen better days. The lo-fi “pickup units”, as Kay called them, put out sufficient volume and had a nice, woody tone, making this guitar a good candidate for a blues or Americana gig. These pickups even accepted mild overdrive with ease, but I could tell they would doubtlessly squeal uncontrollably if pushed too hard. Needless to say, if you’re a metal shredder, pass this Kay by in your search for guitar nirvana.
The 4144 Sizzler seems to have come and gone quickly, as it was not included in the 1960 Kay catalog, perhaps replaced by the laughably hideous K4101 and K4102 Solo King models. Google them and have a good laugh. They weren’t one of Kay’s better efforts.
This “Nick Blade” Kay 4144 is a reminder of the days when guitarists liked to personalize their guitars with gaudy lettering, and the mystery behind its former owner is quite irresistible in a rather odd way. The price tag of this quirky specimen of America’s golden years of budget guitars is an even $1000.
As always, the author wishes to thank Buzzy Levine of Lark Street Music in Teaneck, New Jersey for his cooperation in preparing this article.