Michael Kelly Guitar Co., one of the newest companies to appear in the guitar market, has a unique approach to its guitar making. It might remind guitar enthusiasts of Schecter during Schecter's early years in the late '70s when it was a boutique custom guitar shop before it went into mass production. Unlike other companies, Michael Kelly has stayed fiercely committed to the boutique concept.
The Michael Kelly Guitar Story
In the late '90s, Tracy Hoeft founded Michael Kelly Guitar Co. and named it after his two children, Michael and Kelly, because he didn't think his name would make a good brand for a guitar. In the company's story, he also explains naming the company after his children would motivate him to always make superb products that would make his family proud.
In that spirit, the company has striven to stay true to its original boutique shop roots. It has avoided high volume mass-production and has focused instead on crafting affordable high quality instruments with a custom feel.
- 1999: The Michael Kelly Guitar Co. launches by making acoustic basses and mandolins. Their affordable instruments with a high quality feel become popular, especially among mandolin enthusiasts who feel overlooked and under serviced by the big conglomerate guitar companies.
- 2001: Michael Kelly creates its first acoustic and electric guitars.
- 2002-present: Michael Kelly's guitars evolve in design and become popular enough to be sold globally and attract high-profile endorsers, such as Blake Shelton, Thirty Seconds To Mars, and guitarist Randall Bramblett.
Michael Kelly, though a young company in contrast to others, has become known especially for the unprecedented level of access enjoyed by its customers. The company promises that it will "treat each player like a Michael Kelly endorser." All customers, not just big-name endorsers, have VIP access to the individuals who make and sell the guitars.
The 1950s Line
Michael Kelly draws from the '50s era guitar designs and incorporates them into each guitar but with modern technology and production methods.
This line has around 20+ guitars, ranges from about $400 to $1300, each with a Telecaster-style body and other features such as:
- Exotic retro-style wood tops
- Three-way pickup selector, coil taps, master volume, and tone controls
- Seven and eight-string options and lefty versions
Besides the 1953 model shown in the video above, some of the models include:
- 1954 Model: With a Rockfield SWC Humbucker pickup and a black satin finish, this is the "black sheep" of the 1950s line, according to Michael Kelly.
- 1955 Custom Collection: Michael Kelly strives for one-of-a-kind with this model. It features a hard-to-find ebony wood stop, and it uses a unique cut of wood with its own wood pattern with every guitar, so every model has a different look. It has two Rockfield pickups, the Mini Humbucker, and the SWC Humbucker.
The 1960s Line
The next logical step from the Telecaster-inspired 1950s guitar is, of course, the Stratocaster-inspired 1960s guitar. With this line of '60s-style axes, Michael Kelly does not disappoint. It captures the revolutionary Strat sound as you can hear in the video. Besides the classic Strat look and sound, it includes modernized features such as:
- Custom pickups
- High-tech electronic modifications
- Beautiful exotic wood that gives it a boutique custom feel
This line ranges from about $399 to $899. Besides the 1967 model shown in the video above, some of the models include:
- The 1963 model: The first model in the 1960s series has the classic Start-like pick guard, chrome hardware and MK Classic pickups.
- The Mod Shop Fralin 65: This model comes from Michael Kelly's "mod shop," which means it's a modified super version of another model, in this case the 1965. This mod version comes with hand-wound pickups and the Epic 11 Boutique Mod, which uses a mini-toggle to give you twenty different pickup combinations to vary tone.
The Patriot line, which ranges from about $399 to $899, is critically-acclaimed, and rightly so. It takes a classic Gibson-style guitar design and adds its own unique touch with wonderful little nuances, such as:
- An elegant cutaway to make it easier to reach the high notes
- Rounded off fret ends, which is a luxury usually not seen on guitars in this price range
- Through-body strings, which allow space behind the bridge to plink gorgeous overtones and plucking effects (if you're into that kind of thing)
- Great 8 electronics mod that allows many tone combinations with pickups
Some of the models include:
- Patriot Custom: Sporting a Flame Maple and Maple Cap top and a mahogany wood body, this custom-styled guitar comes with Michael Kelly's famous Great 8 electronic mod, which uses the pickups and push/pull knobs to create a wide variety of tone combinations with the pickups.
- Patriot Enlightened: Featuring a gorgeous Dark Amber Sunburst and a Great 8 pickup mod, the real distinguishing factor is its light weight. Michael Kelly intentionally designed the Patriot Enlightened to weight less than most guitars to serve musicians who play long, tiring sets or who have back or posture problems and struggle under the weight of a normal electric guitar.
Rick Turner is a famous guitar luthier known for his Renaissance-style custom guitar work and for his legendary Model One guitar that Fleetwood Mac used in their Fleetwood Mac Rumour sessions. Turner has brought this one-of-a-kind guitar to the masses by using it as the template for his Rick Turner nylon and steel string guitar line (with electronics and plug-in capabilities) at Michael Kelly.
This guitar line retails new for about $699. Some of the Rick Turner models include:
- Rick Turner N6: The nylon classical string version of the Rick Turner guitar features Turner-designed electronics that give the guitar a dual use as an electric instrument with what Michael Kelly describes as almost a semi-hollow electric guitar feel.
- Rick Turner S6 Flame: The Flame Maple top and high-end glossy look adds to the ambience if this steel-string version of the Rick Turner guitar. It is ideal for a stage acoustic, thanks to its powerful presence and clarity in high volume settings.
The Hybrid, possible Michael Kelly's most innovative, amazing guitar model, does something truly unique: it combines an electric guitar (electric guitar pickups) with an acoustic guitar (acoustic guitar pickup and preamp electronics) in one astonishing hybrid instrument. The sound, particularly the way it can switch between or combine electric rock with steel-string acoustic, is truly something to behold.
The Hybrid ranges from about $699 to $769. Some of the models include:
- Hybrid 55: It features the capabilities above but places in the Michael Kelly 1955 retro Telecaster-style body.
- Hybrid Special: The beautiful natural wood of this Hybrid comes in Spalted Maple or Spalted Burst. It looks more like an artisan-crafted wood sculpture than a musical instrument, and it could easily function as a decoration in an upscale interior design scheme. Besides letting you play or combine its electric guitar and acoustic guitar pickups, it has a two-output feature that allows you to send the acoustic signal to an acoustic amp and the electric signal to a rocking electric amp.
Where to Buy
Michael Kelly does not distribute its guitars to many retailers. In truth, unless you'd really prefer a used model to save some money, Michael Kelly's exceptional customer service makes it more than worth it to purchase directly from them. The following sites are some of the best places to locate quality guitars from Michael Kelly online.
The Michael Kelly Official Store
Michael Kelly's official store offers the prices above (or likely close to it, depending on changes in the market), but it also offers one of the best things about playing Michael Kelly: its unbeatable customer service and VIP access to its guitar making experts. You can also join the Michael Kelly guitar community on the site and the company will treat you as if you were one of their endorsers. It's a truly unique approach to guitar customer service.
Guitar Center's selection of guitars from Michael Kelly is plentiful and usually more than half of its stock are used models. In many cases, you might be able to walk away with a used Michael Kelly guitar in good condition for about $100 or so less than its retail price.
Another popular musical instrument retail site, Musician's Friend offers both used and new guitars from Michael Kelly. Its selection tends to be smaller than Guitar Center, at least for Michael Kelly, but it offers used "open box" guitars with similar discounts as Guitar Center. It's a good place to check if you can't find the desired model at other stores.
Affordable Custom-Style Guitars
Michael Kelly's unique calling card in the crowded guitar market is simple: combine affordable but beautifully crafted guitars with the kind of personal white-glove customer service you don't see unless you check into a five-star luxury hotel. It's a clever selling point in a market crowded by legendary names such as Fender, Rickenbacker, Gibson, Ovation, and Schecter.