Gibson Kalamazoo Electric Guitar

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A Gibson Kalamazoo KG-2 Electric Guitar.
The logo of a Kalamazoo, located on the headstock.

The Kalamazoo Electric Guitars were a series of electric and bass guitars produced by Gibson during the 1960s and 1970s under Gibson's parent company Chicago Musical Instruments. A budget model, it had a body that was made of Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF)[1] and inexpensive components. The Kalamazoo name was actually a revival of a line of acoustic and lap steel guitars manufactured by Gibson from 1933 to 1942.

The Kalamazoo[edit]

From 1965 to 1970, there were two prominent designs. The first, made from 1965 to 1968, was reminiscent of the Fender Mustang; the other, made from 1968 to the early 1970s, bore more resemblance to the Gibson SG. The headstock bore a "Kalamazoo USA" logo rather than Gibson's usual decal, and bore a resemblance in contour to that of a Fender Telecaster.[1] A variety of configurations and pickup options were available, including a vibrola tremolo system, and single coil "melody maker" pickups.[1] The initial run of the Kalamazoo featured the KG-1 single-coil pickup, KG-1A single-coil pickup and vibrola, KG-2 dual single-coil pickups, and KG-2A dual single-coil pickups and vibrola.[1]

Gibson was sold to a different parent company, Norlin. The deal called for further restructuring and the Kalamazoo name was dropped. The Epiphone name took its place as Gibson's budget line marquis, a place it holds to this day.

The Kalamazoo Bass[edit]

The Kalamazoo Bass was introduced in 1966 as a companion to the six string guitar. Like the KG, the KB was made with the two body styles resembling the Mustang and the SG. The earlier headstocks were, again, reminiscent of Fender models. Later headstocks bore a resemblance to that of the Gibson Thunderbird bass guitar. Several standard Gibson components were used in the KB, namely a typical EB series humbucker pickup used in many Epiphone basses. Sales were initially good, and during 1966-67 this was by far the best selling bass made at the Gibson plant. Production of the KB ceased in 1969.

Kalamazoo Amplifiers[edit]

At the same time Gibson introduced the Kalamazoo guitar, they also began production of a line of Kalamazoo amplifiers. They were marketed primarily as budget model practice amps to supplement the marquis. The first amp introduced, the Model One, began production in 1965 along with the guitars. It was followed in 1966 by the Model Two. Both used vacuum tubes for power, rectification, and output. Both had roughly a 5W output and a 10" Alnico speaker manufactured by Chicago Telephone Systems (CTS). The differences between the two were few, with one major exception. The Model 2 was equipped with a tremolo circuit tube to accompany the volume and tone controls shared with the Model 1. The Model 2 proved more popular with this extra feature. The last of Models One and Two produced were given a brown, wooden finished face in place of the usual black panel, and are sometimes referred to as "brownface Zoo's" by Kalamazoo enthusiasts, much in the same way Fender amplifiers are denoted by the color of their control faces.[2] The circuitry in the Kalamazoo Model Two is also very similar, if not identical, to the Gibson GA-5T Skylark amplifier of the same time period, as well as the Sano-ette made by Sano Amplifiers of New Jersey.

By present day standards, these models are not as desirable for use with guitars. However, they are fairly sought after by blues harmonica players for use in amplifying their sound with microphones due to their natural distortion and harmonics. But the relatively small output and the naturally higher frequencies of the EL84 power tubes usually lead the Model One and Model Two to be used for studio recording, practice or performance in a smaller setting.

In 2013, a modernized take on the Model Two was released by Boeman Electronics of Bakersfield, California. Called the Calimazoo 2 (a conjunction of "California" and "Kalamazoo"), the amp comes in a redesigned cabinet made from knotty pine, with the optional extra of other hardwoods. It differs from the original amp in that it uses a solid state rectifier and a 10" ceramic speaker. In addition, some popular contemporary features were added, including a standby switch, an adjustable line-level output jack for recording or slaving to another amp, and a speaker disconnect function that allows the amp to safely be used as a preamp without its onboard speaker producing any sound.[3]

Kalamazoo Model Two amplifier with a modified cabinet built from solid oak.

Around 1969, solid state versions of the Models One and Two were issued in very limited numbers. They were succeeded thereafter by the Model 3 and Model 4 respectively. All of these amps used semiconductors in place of the vacuum tubes. These models, while novel in their day, ultimately proved unpopular.

The Kalamazoo Reverb 12 was introduced as a larger, more powerful amplifier, boasting a 12W tube driven output through a 10" speaker. The Reverb 12 featured a tremolo circuit like the Model 2, but with depth control along with frequency. The tone was managed by individual bass and treble controls as opposed to the single tone control on earlier models, and boasted a spring reverb, a feature not offered on other Kalamazoo amps. It also differed from the previous Model One and Model Two in the respect that it used solid state diodes for rectification instead of a vacuum tube. The Reverb 12 has often been favorably compared to the Fender Princeton Reverb amplifier, despite the differences of solid state versus tube rectification, and using EL84 power tubes rather than 6V6 tubes.

Gibson also produced Kalamazoo bass amplifiers. The tube-driven Bass 30 and Bass 50 were both equipped with a pair of 10" Jensen speakers, a flip-out control panel that became flush with the back of the cabinet when not in use. The later models of the Bass 30 were configured in an upright cabinet as opposed to the typical horizontal cabinet, and the flip-out panel was dropped in favor of controls on the top face of the amp to better match the later Model One and Model Two appearances. The Kalamazoo Bass (with no number attached) was usually made in a solid state form, although some specimens have been found to be equipped with tubes.[4]

References in popular culture[edit]

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