Nicknames. We've heard them all our lives. Music and movie stars get 'em, babies get 'em (and sometimes they stick for life), devices, situations, processes, products... they all get 'em. When you hear 'Ol' Blue Eyes,' or 'The King of Rock and Roll,' you think of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. When you say 'muscle car' or 'double wide' or 'chatterbox' or 'Sherlock' or Brainiac,' you've got a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about. Nicknames are used to simplify, categorize, describe, to apply a kind of shorthand... so everyone's on the same page when remembering, referring to or discussing something. Maybe you're even called by one. We've all got family members that have monikers like Scooter, Peanut, Bug, Red, Lumpy, Beano and a million others, some that everyone uses, some just used in family circles, sometimes just one on one with a partner or spouse. Derived from something that's happened to us, some physical feature, something we've done, a part of or a mis- or re- pronunciation of our actual names, nonsensical words that exist in no dictionary, maybe even from something we love... to eat, to do, to read, to hunt, to drive. They can be endearing or irritating, they charm or chafe.

Silvertones have nicknames, too.
Crest, Royal, Artist, Kentucky Blue, Black Beauty, Espanada, Two Twelve, Twin Twelve, Medalist, Meteor, Jupiter, Rocket, Stratotone, Silhouette, U1, U2, Dolphin Nose, Jack White, Chris Isaak, Thin Twin, Jimmy Reed... many of these names are from the Sears catalog, many of them are from the application of the name of the Harmony, Kay or Dano counterpart of a particular guitar, some are from other sources; tradition, association, appearance. There's one, however, that I've not been able to either figure out or find any historical or company reference to. Not in Sears catalogs or literature, nor in the many Kay catalogs, brochures and material I've pored over for lo, these many years. The nickname? "Aristocrat." I see it applied all the time to a lot of different electric and acoustic wide-bodied f-hole guitars made by Kay. Cutaway, non-cutaway, one and two pickup, dark sunburst and natural blonde (and gold!), pickguards curly and wavy, decorated and plain (or missing), mostly from the 1950s, and all from Kay.

Not that the fine marketing folks at Kay
didn't apply nicknames to their various models - they most certainly did, and with great flair and frequency. Here are a few: Swing Master, Professional, Masterpiece, Combo, Rhythm Special, Master Cutaway, Style Master, Super Auditorium... all applied to the very family of guitars that are so frequently referred to as an 'Aristocrat.' It's quite an array of instruments, spread over the 1950s models of Kay guitars. These names weren't used in the Sears catalogs, only in Kay literature, and I rarely see them used in online auctions; it's always 'Aristocrat.'

So, where'd did this nickname come from?
How far can we trace it back? Using the web, I come up with only a half dozen or Google hits when I look for the exact term "Kay Aristocrat" (after eliminating duplicates, search engine seeds and Silvertone World references). When I widen the search to posts and webpages that have the words Kay, Aristocrat and guitar in them, it widens out considerably to over 600,000 hits. None of these are useful or 'official' in any way, mostly referring to Kay or Silvertone guitars for sale, or simply anything with Kay or Aristocrat or Guitar in any combination in the text. My searches led me to references about similarly-bodied "National Aristocrats" and a very 335ish-bodied actual named Aristocrat from VOX introduced in 1968, as well as a Guild Aristocrat dead end.




There were many different Sears models; the acoustic 674/676 and 678/680, the electric wavy-pickguarded  1354/1356 and 1365/1367/1368, the curlicue pickguarded 640 series, even the acoustic non-cutaway 670/672 and 712; they were never referred to by a Kay or Sears-applied nickname, just some of the usual exciting catalog language, and an accompanying set of model numbers. Many of them had a rather regal-looking multi-colored shield on the headstock logo laminate and sometimes the pickguard... maybe this 'blueblood' decorative appointment is where the 'Aristocrat' moniker first derived from.

So, let's take it on back around,
to what we said up there when we first started this nom de guitare discussion. Nicknames are used to put folks on the same page, give a point of reference, and I reckon that's what we've got in the Aristocrat. When you say "Kay Aristocrat," you know we're talking about one of those big, wide body, f-holed, arched top, models from the mid-late 50s that had that and various other characteristics that separated them one from another over the years and models and Kay "master"-ful names.

Hey, let's go check out some Aristocrats.... we've got the entire family online!

Acoustic ~ Electric

Rather than let it get in my craw
and 'harumph' the notion of this seemingly randomly associated nickname, I've decided to be pragmatic and take it at face value. Much like my previous thoughts on the Danelectro-built 1304 electric guitar, let's just agree to use this shorthand as a tool and a guide. When you hear 'Aristocrat,' you'll have some idea of what's being talked about without even seeing the guitar or knowing the model number.

Nicknames. There's a reason they're popular.


Back to
What's It Worth? ~ Pricing/Commentary Page

January 2011 Feature- "From A Dano Six"



2013 Addendum: Here's some interesting new info I came across in the Spring of 2013:


Confused... Sorta.
When I first glanced at this guitar, I was thinking that someone had cobbled it together from parts, and stuck a Silvertone 'Crest' medallion on it for fun. Then I looked a little harder, and remembered the very primitive nature of the first 'Spanish Electrics' that Sears offered; permanently attached cord... big, honkin' pickups... and then it hit me! We saw the companion amp to this extreeemely rare guitar last week, and now here's the 'Spanish Electric Guitar' that was sold with it in a package deal back in the early 40s. The guitar itself is unusual, with a thinner f-hole profile that we usually see in Kay- or Harmony- sourced Silvertones, and an unusual white-edged pickguard (that is itself of a completely unique-to-any-Silvertone design). That said, National (before they became Valco in 1942) built a lot of guitars, and the electronics in this are certainly of that lineage. Valcopages says
"The archtop bodies for National guitars were sourced from Regal and then from Kay, but the electronics were developed and manufactured by National-Dobro." So, we'll accept that and enjoy this very rare, unique Silvertone 'Crest' that sold the other day. For a song.

2327 National HBEG VG $380 Clean, light wear, light oxidation to metal, logo medallion clean, slight neck lift at heel, original cord attached, tuning keys deteriorated

A couple of vintage Sears catalog ads for the Crest  setup; the first from 1941, and the second with our lap steel-playing friend from 1943.

Something very interesting came to light while I was researching the origins of the 'Crest' above... the possible origin of the 'Aristocrat' name! As you probably know, the big-bodied, f-holed Kay-made Silvertone electrics and acoustics of the mid '50s are often referred to in auctions, guitar blogs and other webmedia as 'Aristocrats.' For years, I've tried to find the source of this nickname; it never appeared in in Sears or Kay literature, and I've been at a loss to figure where the name came from. Until now... look below, and you'll see a wide-bodied archtop from National, with a Kay-built body, fancy fret markers and tailpiece, nicely bound edges...
and the name...

From Valcopages:

And a 1953 CMI Retail Price List:

From The Official Vintage Guitar Magazine Price Guide 2010:

Also interesting are the touches that the 'Aristocrat' shares with the much earlier 'Crest:' the thin, elongated f-holes, the white-edged pickguard, and a very similar headstock shape. As I've said before, Silvertone World is a real world, with discoveries yet to be made, and it continues to reveal its secrets!