Kent 820

In 1965 Paul McCartney acquired a 1962 Epiphone Casino hollow-bodied electric guitar to use in the recording studio. He did a fair amount of lead-guitar work on later Beatles recordings, and the Casino was his main ax for that purpose.

In 1966 George Harrison and John Lennon jumped on the bandwagon and the Casino became Lennon's main guitar for the rest of his life.

The Casino is a true hollow body guitar. In contrast, the Gibson ES-335 has a solid wood block running through it with hollow "wings" attached to either side. The solid block helps reduce feedback and improves sustain.

Epiphone has been part of Gibson since 1957. The Gibson ES-330 is very similar to the Casino.

The Casino was equipped with single coil P-90 pickups and had a bolted-on neck.

In 1966 Fender came out with a line of hollow-body electric guitars with the model name Coronado. There were five models: Coronado I with one pickup, Coronado II with two pickups, and the Coronado XII with twelve pickups... okay, not really. It was a twelve-string with two pickups. There were also two bass versions. Later Fender also released a Wildwood version of the Coronado II made with wood that had been injected with colored dyes while growing.

The Coronado was also a true hollow-body with bolt-on neck. The pickups were single coil units made by DeArmond, the manufacturer of pickups for many Gretsch guitars.

The design and timing of the Coronado would suggest that it was an attempt by Fender to get in on the popularity of the Epiphone Casino and capture part of the guitar frenzy brought about by the appearance of the Beatles.

Around the same time, the Kent Americana guitar began to appear in the U.S.. It, too, was a hollow-bodied bolt-on neck guitar equipped with single coil pickups.

In 1966 or 1967 the solid-bodied Kent 700 and hollow-bodied 800-series guitars came to the U.S. Among them was the model 820 which appeared to be aimed at the same market as the Casino and Coronado.

Epiphone CasinoFender CoronadoKent AmericanaKent 820
coronado americana 820

820 Stats

TypeScalePick upsNeck Width at Nut Thickness at NutNeck Width at 12th fretNeck TypeWidth at Lower BoutWidth at Upper Bout Body Length

Body ThicknessTotal Length

Hollow

body

25.25

Inches

2 Single coil

1.6 in

41mm

.75 in

2 in

50mm

Bolt-on

16

inches

11.5

Inches

19.25*

Inches

1.6 in

41mm

40.75

Inches

* Includes bottom strap button

Please note that specifications shown here apply to the guitars that I have. Parts can be changed during a manufacturing run so you can't take my figures as the final word.

Layout

This guitar is a little different from most of the Kent 820s I've seen so far. I'll try and point out the differences although I won't be able to give good descriptions of features my guitar doesn't have.

layout

All guitar controls are below the strings with volume and tone controls mounted directly to the body toward the bottom end of the guitar. Being that they are mounted directly to the body, they will be a little harder to access if any work needs to be done on them.

The three-way pickup selector switch and the Hi/Lo slide switch are mounted to the pickguard. The pickguard is a thin piece of faux tortoise shell glued to metal, providing a little bit of RF shielding. There are two thick felt pads underneath, held on with wood screws, to prevent the piece from rattling or buzzing on the vibrating body of the guitar. (There's a photo of the bottom of the control plate below.) The shielding and padding are very nice touches.

It has a non-vibrato wrap-around tailpiece and a tune-o-matic style bridge made by Gotoh. This type of bridge/tailpiece setup seems to be pretty rare. Most Kents come equipped with the same standard vibrato tailpiece. There are no signs that the bridge and tailpiece have been changed, such as empty screw holes, so I think this is how the guitar came originally. The bridge is made of chromed steel and is a very good copy of the Gibson Tune-o-matic.

The tailpiece appears to be the same one used on the model 821 12-string. It has 12 slots for strings. If you look closely at the photo below you will see little black marks I made to remind me where I want to put each string. You will also see a design feature that can make restringing this guitar a PITA.

Notice that the strings are placed in slots in the tailpiece. There is a channel running along the lower side the width of the crossbar that holds the strings. So with the slots facing downward one has to maintain tension on the string or it will fall out of it's slot. You can also push the ball-end of the string into the channel from the back and sometimes it will stick there. And you have to do that while putting the other end of the string on the tuning posts and guiding it into the proper slot in the nut and the bridge and winding tension onto the string. I'm thinking I could place a little wad of paper or even make a precisely measured piece of wood to wedge the end of the string in place. There is a similar issue with the Kent 833 bass tailpiece. It has turned out to be not such a big deal.

820 bridge

kent 820 pickguard

My Kent 820 is finished in black-to-red-to-gold sunburst. There are some long longitudinal cracks in the finish around the tailpiece, visible in the photo above, but otherwise the finish is very nice.

There are volume and tone knobs for each pickup. They are all white, standard knobs. This is the only 800-series Kent I have seen with these knobs, so they may be replacements. On the other hand, given that the bridge and tailpiece arrangement is very unusual, the possibility that this guitar was some kind of special-order custom job can't be ruled out.

Interestingly, I have seen photos of a guitar with the same body as the Kent 820 finished in a black-to-red sunburst. No doubt a cherry-red body was spray painted on the edges with black to create that effect. The headstock was the same shape as the Kent 700's and 800's and had the same little design in the center. But there was no name on the headstock at all. Likewise no name on the guitar body itself or the pickups. It had the same bridge and tailpiece as my 820.

Recently I have also come across a sunburst-finished NoName.

A pair of no-name 820s

On my 820 the neck seems to be the standard 22-fret neck found on the model 700s and 800s except that it does not have the zero fret. Most 820's have it. Truss rod adjustment is at the heel of the neck, like the other Kents in the series. The adjusting nut is lower than on my 834. It is below the top surface of the guitar body. There is a nice metal cup providing access to the truss rod nut with little risk of marring the surrounding finish, however there isn't enough room for the short end of most hex keys to fit in there. One solution is to find a key with a shorter short end, of course. Some hex wrenches have a ball-shaped end, allowing one to get enough purchase on the truss rod to turn it even if you can't get all the way in.

The adjusting nut on my 820 was firmly stuck and I needed to put a little relief, or bow, on the neck. It should have been easy because you loosen the truss rod to add relief and the strings would pull it into shape. Although I could get a pretty good grip on the adjustment nut with the ball-end of my hex key, the the ball-end is always on the long side of the wrench. The short side doesn't provide enough lever action to get any power on it. So it was necessary to remove the neck to make the adjustment, which is the proper way to do neck adjustments, anyway. The nut was firmly stuck but not firmly enough to worry about snapping the rod by applying too much muscle.

The neck strap buttons are placed pretty much the same as most other guitars of this type. Any normal strap can be attached, unlike on the violin-bodied models.

The guitar seemed to be set up well when I got it. A string change and probably a different climate seems to have caused the neck to lose some relief. The pickups have a nice sound and the tone controls work.

So far I've seen photos of 820s with four different tailpieces: the standard vibrato, Bigsby, a fake bigsby, and a non-vibrato wrap around tailpiece.

Kent 820 Tailpieces
Standard Bigsby Fake Bigsby Non-vibrato

ISSUES

One issue with the pickups that is fairly common is the loss of treble when lowering the volume control. There are a couple of simple modifications that include adding a small treble-bleed capacitor to retain the high frequencies as the volume is lowered. There is some trial and error with the values of the add-on parts to find what is right for a guitar. I'll detail the procedure here when I do it. Since working on the controls of this type of guitar is kind of a hassle, I won't be doing it soon.

The lead/rhythm slide switch doesn't seem to have much effect. There should be a very small capacitor on it to increase treble a bit when in the lead position. It may have died of old age.

The pickup selector three-way switch movement points front to back on the guitar, which is actually quite logical. Flip it toward the neck for the neck pickup, flip it toward the bridge for the bridge pickup. However, most guitars have that switch set for vertical movement. It is easier to switch pickups while playing when the switch is flipping vertically. I'll probably loosen it and turn it vertical.

It appears that the nut was replaced at one point. Since there is no zero fret on this guitar, the nut has to be fully-functional. This one seems to be crudely executed.

The neck is very slim, perhaps too thin for some players. For comparison, a Fender Standard Strat measures .85" thick at the nut compared to about .75" thick on the 820. The Fender width at the nut, at 1.65", is pretty close to my 820. Bear in mind that measurements can vary from guitar to guitar, even the same model.

There are some noise issues which are present on many guitars. The pickups are single-coil units and can pick up hum and buzz from exterior sources such as flourescent lights, amplifiers, "wall wart" power adapters, etc. Most Fender guitars are also single-coil and subject to the same issue. Most Gibson guitars are equipped with dual-coil pickups which tend to cancel out such noise. That's why they're called humbuckers. It's a little harder to deal with hum in hollow-bodied guitars because you can't isolate the pickups with copper foil shielding. There is one possible fix that consists of placing a coil of wire near the pickups and in the signal path, the same principle as humbucker pickups. I plan to try that soon.

Another issue with hollow-bodied guitars is feedback. When the amplifier is cranked up loud, the body starts to vibrate from the sound striking it. The result is the same as if the sound from a microphone gets back into the same microphone. This is a much harder problem to solve. Some players stuff foam rubber into the body. Some cover the F-holes with tape. Sometimes an EQ pedal can be used to find the frequency that is resonant with the body and dial it down. But really, the only thing to do is get away from your amp and/or face away from it. Just kinda turn yourself from side to side until it quiets down. You can also reduce single-coil hum that way.

Going Nuts

The low E-string just doesn't sound right on this guitar and I suspect that the nut wasn't slotted properly. I don't think this is the original nut, but since this is the only non-zero fret Kent that I have, there is nothing to compare it with.

The nut that was on the guitar when I got it might be bone, but it is poorly shaped and poorly slotted. The nut slots should angle back toward the tuners. These are flat. The nut isn't very tall and the slots put the strings very close to the first fret. This makes for good action but leaves no room for atmospheric chages in the neck or for hard pickers. String bends may be hard to do cleanly.

The bottom of the nut is flat. It should be angled to match the tilt of the headstock.

It looks like whoever installed the nut was very generous with the glue. You should only use a drop or so to keep the nut in place when changing strings. But I think it was worse than that. I used a razor blade to cut through the glue between the nut and the end of the fingerboard and between the base of the nut and the top of the headstock. Then I carefully knocked the nut off. (That doesn't sound very careful, does it?) I rested a piece of wood on the fingerboard pressing against the nut. Then I knocked it with the palm of my hand.

You can see a thick white substance under the nut in the picture at left. It could have been some kind of shim to make up for the flat bottom on the nut or to raise it up enough to be useable. That part stayed on the headstock when I took the nut off. A glass-scraping blade peeled it right up like a piece of double-sided tape.

I get my tools and parts from Stewart-MacDonald . It may sound like I'm an old pro at this stuff. I'm not. Just about everything I have done lately is for the first time. There are a ton of places to get tools and parts. Many are cheaper than Stew-Mac. Stew-Mac sells a variety of nut materials. I prefer bone and you can get bleached or unbleached bone. Unbleached is more expensive, for some reason. You can get 'em completly blank, shaped, and shaped and slotted. They have some with angled bottoms. Their shaped nuts are aimed at Fender, Gibson, and Martin guitars. As long as you have accurate measurements, you should be able to find what you need among those. I recently replaced the bridge on my Kent 823. The replacement was made by Gotoh in Japan and was intended for Gibson guitars. It was a perfect fit for my Kent. So I went with a pre-shaped bleached Gibson bone nut. They're oversize so you can file or sand them down the way you want them. I didn't realize until I started shaping my nut that it needed to have an angled bottom. I just used the same technique that I used to sand the bottom down, but tilted it.

It's generally accepted that the depth of the slots should be about half the thickness of the string. Obviously this doesn't hold true for the thinner strings. Because the old nut slots were flat, The break-point of each string can't be determined and putting a new nut on required some intonation adjustments. My nut job isn't perfect and I may do it again later. It is slightly long side to side, but not as bad as it appears in the photo. The action is pretty high but it plays very nicely. I'll probablty just leave well-enough alone for now. I still have to clean up some excess glue from the old nut. I'll just leave it if I can't get it off without damaging the finish of the headstock. The guitar has much better clarity and sustain than it did before.

Of course, I'm not one to leave well-enough alone for very long. After a couple of weeks I decided to remove the nut and shave some more bone off the bottom. I can also put the proper slope on it. The first attempt resulted in what looked to be sloping the wrong way. So I sanded that down and got it sloping the other way. But, I had it right the first time, so I sanded it down again and got it right again. That put me at risk of having taken too much off, making a do-over necessary. Luckily, it was just right. I made sure the angles of the slots were right and raised the bridge a tiny bit. The neck is almost flat, so if I start getting fret buzz I will put some relief in it. The winter of 2015 is supposed to be extremely wet, so let's see what my Kents do then.

About the demo

link to 820 demoDemo

This demo consists of the rhythm guitar track being recorded using the neck pickup and the lead guitar track recorded using the bridge pickup. The amplifier was a vintage 1965 Fender Princeton Reverb-Amp with an Eminence Ragin' Cajun speaker installed. A little bit of reverb from the amp was used on the lead guitar track. The bass was my Kent 833. The background buzz was from the single-coil pickups picking up some noise from the computer monitors. The lead guitar was a little sloppy.

I have since changed the pickup heights and replaced the nut, so I will probably have to do it again.

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