Tom Morello’s Kay K-20T SG Copy

This is the first electric guitar that Tom ever bought. The story behind it is that the guitar was on sale at the local music shop as sort of a starter pack (guitar and amp as a combo), and Tom paid one-half of the price – which was $50, while his mother paid for the rest.

My first guitar. A $50 Kay. SG knockoff. Lotta knobs. Didn’t stay in tune. Perfect. Got it at Rigoni Music in Libertyville, Illinois. Took two lessons which I hated and then it sat in a closet for 4 years untouched.”

Then at 17 I bought a Sex Pistols cassette and formed a band within 24 hrs, culling beginner musicians from the Libertyville High School Drama Club. Wielded this guitar in that band, The Electric Sheep. First ever shows and recordings. When I got a better guitar this one went back in the closet. For about 30 years.

Tom Morello, Instagram
Tom with his Kay guitar. Photo source:
Tom with his Kay guitar. Photo source:

According to Tom, he sort of got mocked by the salesman who sold him the guitar, telling him that the guitar had super high action, but it didn’t matter because he’ll probably not gonna play anything serious on it.

Tom took it to heart, and decades later remembered the story and decided to give the guitar to his guitar tech who did a proper setup on it, and basically made the guitar perfectly playable. To prove the point that the salesman was wrong and that you don’t need expensive equipment to do serious work, Tom used this exact guitar on his 2018 solo album The Atlas Underground.

I had bad experience when I bought my first 50 kay. The sales rep was mocking me, saying the action was ridiculously high – but I guess you’re not gonna play very extensive leads anyway, aryou? I Had more than one chip on my shoulder bu that stuck with me.

That Kay was my main guitar until I got a Gibson Explorer. Then it sat for 30 years at my mom’s house in Illinois, until one day I sat bold-up righ in bed, went back to Illinois, got that Kay, gave it to my tech and said – Let’s see what we got here. I actually used it on The Atlas Underground. Cheap guitars can be great.

Tom Morello, Guitarist Magazine

Kay guitars were manufactured in Japan and sold in the US for a very affordable price. Tom’s Kay SG replica featured a cherry red finish, plywood body, Bigsby-style tremolo, and two blade pickups.


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