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Michael Kelly Guitars delivers five gorgeous tributes to the Golden Age of guitar making, each with its own style and strengths.

Some of the most sought-after guitars ever made were constructed in the 1950s, from Stratocasters to Telecasters, Les Pauls to Flying Vs, along with inimitable hollowbodies. It was a time when the electric guitar was fluorishing and finding its way into the hands of players across the country. It was the birth of rock and roll, and these instruments became as important to that movement as the songs themselves.

 

But the guitars of the 1950s aren't only valuable for sentimental reasons. Perhaps because it was a simpler time, before guitarists needed a million tones at their fingertips to feel creative, the instruments of that era imparted an unforgettable style and the fundamentals of great tone and playability. With that in mind—as well as the need for modern players to have tonal flexibility—the Michael Kelly Guitar Company has introduced the 1950s Series. Consisting of five unique models, this series embodies the best of both the era that inspired them and today.

 

What You Need To Know

  • The 1950s Series consists of five models: the 1952, the 1953, the 1954, the 1955 and the 1957.
  • Shared features among all in the series include exotic wood tops (flame or quilt maple), bolt-on neck construction, 3-way pickup switching, inline tuners, dot inlays, body shape with contoured arm cut, master volume/tone controls and coil taps for extended tonal range.
  • All models except the 1954 are offered in different finishes

Because each of these models has its own unique flavor, I thought it best to provide a breakdown of each one.

 

1952

Though its $449 retail price tag certainly qualifies the 1952 as an entry-level guitar, its fit, finish and features are those of guitars typically priced much higher. The dual MK PAF-Plus humbuckers provide a wealth of tones, from twangy cleans to saturated metal punch, thanks to the aforementioned coil tapping available on all the 1950s Series models. Its maple neck and fretboard are comfortable, with a 12" radius that facilitates both chording and playing leads equally. And at this price point, the flamed maple top with white binding on both the Natural and Deep Cherry Red finishes is an added bonus, imparting the look of a fine instrument that's worth much more than its price tag.

 

1953

The 1953 model screams vintage every step of the way, though it's definitely no one-trick pony when it comes to tone. This beauty boasts a T-style single coil pickup in the neck position and a stacked single coil at the bridge, arming you with classic, shimmering, California-style cleans as well as thick 'bucker tones for days thanks to its coil tapping feature. The 1953 is built with an alder body and flamed maple top available in three finishes: Black Vapor, Caramel Burst and the gloriously vintage-looking Blue Jean Wash. All three have a maple neck, with rosewood fretboard on the Black Vapor and Caramel Wash finishes and maple for the Blue Jean Wash. The 1953 has a $580 retail price tag, again a stellar value considering all it has to offer.

 

1954

The 1954 is what Michael Kelly calls the "black sheep" of the 1950s series, and dark is definitely what it does best, from its black-backed alder body to the quilt maple top in a ghostly Satin Black Wash finish. Like the 1953 it also has a vintage T-style single coil in the neck position, but at the bridge is a powerful Rockfield SWC humbucker, a slightly overwound pickup that gives you all the sparkle you want on the clean side but that's also capable of killer vintage growl and even more aggressive tone when cranked. And of course it's tappable if you want to express its single-coil tones. The maple neck has a compound radius rosewood freboard (10.5" - 16"), making it a delight to play at every position. It's a remarkably versatile instrument and a true player's axe that does a great job blending vintage and modern sounds, especially considering its $580 retail price.

 

1955

The 1955 is certainly a standout in the 1950s Series thanks to its numerous visual appointments, incredibly flexible tonal abilities and its impeccable playability. It starts with a swamp ash body that's capped with a beautiful flamed maple top and real flamed maple binding—something rarely seen on guitars under $1000. Like the 1954 it has a tappable Rockfield SWC humbucker at the bridge, but a tappable MK Mini Humbucker at the neck for added dimension. This combination really opens up the voicing this guitar is capable of. From tried-and-true cleans to vintage breakup and powerful crunch, I found myself drawing a wide array of tones out of this guitar, which is especially impressive considering its minimalist master volume/tone and 3-way switch configuration. Personally I don't care for too many knobs and pickup positions, so for me it was a real treat to have so many tones so readily available. The 1955 also has a 10.5" - 16" compound radius fretboard, availabe in both rosewood or maple depending on the finish (Amber Trans and Black Wash have maple, while the beautiful Caramel Burst uses rosewood). The 1955 retails for $729, making it an incredible value for experienced players looking for the pinnacle of style and tonal abilities in an electric guitar.

 

1957

Finally we have the flagship of the 1950s Series, the 1957. This guitar has everything a player could want, starting with a premium swamp ash body adorned with a quilt maple top available in Amber Trans or Black Wash finishes. Like the 1955, it also has real flamed maple binding for an added air of sophistication. The 1957 is a sonic chameleon thanks to a Rockfield SWV humbucker at the neck and a Seymour Duncan Little '59 humbucker in the bridge position. Both are equipped with coil tapping, providing you single coil sounds from each with the pull of a knob. What this equals is a tone machine that any player can be inspired by, regardless of the style of music they play. From stoner rock sludge to classic rock to country twang, the 1957 does it all, and does it well. And it looks great in the process. Still it manages to come in at under a grand, retailing at just $875.

 

Conclusion

Although well-built guitars under $1000 are commonplace these days, Michael Kelly has really raised the bar with the 1950s Series. With outstanding models ranging from below $500 to under $1000, the 1950s Series really hits the mark as you can't go wrong with any of these instruments. Even better, they've created a range of guitars that appeals to every level of player and genre while embodying the innovation and style that made the '50s such a high-water mark in guitar making. Just like a classic Chevy from the same era, the 1950s Series really hits on all cylinders and looks great doing it.

 

Resources

The 1950s Series at Michael Kelly Guitar Company

 

The Michael Kelly 1950s Series at Winter NAMM 2014

 

Shop Michael Kelly instruments at Musician's Friend

Find a Michael Kelly dealer near you

 

 

  

Ara Ajizian, Harmony Central's Editorial Director, has been playing bass and guitar as well as singing since he was 18, and soon that love of music combined with a passion for writing; launching what's now a decade-long career immersed in the gear world. He's thrilled to be back on the Harmony Central team after two years as Managing Editor for Musician's Friend covering gear, bands and events and gigging in the Los Angeles area.

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