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Kustom Amplification or Kustom Electronics is a manufacturer of guitar and bass amplifiers and PA equipment and accessories based in Hebron, Kentucky. It is part of the Hanser Music Group as of 1999, which also includes B.C. Rich Guitars, and Traben Bass.
"Kustom" was a brand and trademark of Ross, Inc., a company founded in 1964 by Charles "Bud" A. Ross. The main selling point of Kustom amplifiers hugely relied on their appearance: Ross, Inc. was the first to mass-produce amplifiers covered in "Tuck-And-Roll" naugahyde, similar to some automobile upholstery at the time. The amplifiers featured solid-state circuitry instead of vacuum tube-based designs so common in the 1960s.
Ross, Inc. operated in a factory in Chanute, Kansas. The company produced several models of guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, organ amplifiers, Guitars, Basses, and keyboards and P.A. systems. There was also a line of guitars with DeArmond pickups in a variety of colors, including the infamous Pink to Green sunburst that fans have affectionately named "Watermelon Burst." In an original promotion Kustom gave away "Kustom Kats" with the purchase of an amplifier. The Kustom (Nauga) Kats were from the Naugahyde that Kustom used to cover their products, this naugahyde was made by the Uniroyal company. The original Kustom Amps came in a variety of colors, including Red Sparkle, Blue Sparkle, Gold Sparkle, Teal (which was called Cascade Sparkle), Grey (which was called Charcoal Sparkle), White (which was called Silver Sparkle), and Flat Black (which contained no glitter). Eventually the company even branched out to produce organs, drums, microphones and guitars.
Charles "Bud" Ross started and produced the first Kustom amp (which has been found and seen) (The original kustom amp is two fifteens laying down horizontal in a white sparkle cabinet and a non-Frankenstein head) It is featured in the collection/museum of Rainbow Recording Studios in Omaha, Nebraska ... It is on display in Omaha at rainbow recording studios ... It was built for a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame ... in 1964 the company was owned by Bud until June of 1972 when he sold it to Baldwin Pianos just prior to the Summer NAMM show where the metal/slant face Kustom amps were introduced. Later Bud Ross established a fairly lucrative business of manufacturing police handheld radars. During the following years the factory in Kansas and the associated trademarks would pass their ownership numerous times. The most notable merger happened with Gretsch, which at the time was owned by Baldwin.
Aside the Kustom brand, Kustom Electronics also began to manufacture an amplifier line titled Kasino. The brand was established in the mid to late 70s. These were basilly the same as Kustom amplifiers internally, but carried the traditional Tolex covering of Fender style amplifiers. They were used by performers mainly in the country music industry, who felt the Tuck-And-Roll Naugahyde models were too flashy. Another reason for establishing a parallel brand was simply gaining more foothold on the markets: One distributor could sell the Kustom brand and one could sell Kasino, neither would therefore drift into competition with each other and both would remain happy. Waylon Jennings was an early supporter of the line. Kasino line was discontinued in 1975 when Kustom Electronics once again changed its owner.
Other parallel brands of Kustom Electronics were Klassic and Camco. Klassic was a brief venture that reputedly fell into trademark disputes with Peavey Electronics (who happened to own Classic trademark). Camco was a brand used for drums.
Some affiliated companies and trademarks were Woodson and Legend. Woodson Electronics, Inc. from Bolivar, Missouri was an independent business entity founded by Thomas Woodson in the early 1970s (around the same time when Kustom was acquired by Gretsch). The exact affiliation to Kustom Electronics is yet unknown but most likely the Kansas-based factory and company was either a contract or OEM manufacturer of Woodson amplifiers. Legend hybrid amplifiers of Legend Musical Instruments, Inc from Syracuse, New York, were also manufactured by Kustom factory on contract. Reputedly these were engineered by Richard Newman (an employee of Bonne music shop) and some former employee of Woodson Electronics.
Kustom abandoned the tuck-n-roll cosmetics in the late 1970s. Around these times it also changed its logo to a bigger letter "K". Mark series amplifiers from Mesa/Boogie rushed to the markets in the late 1970s generating a huge impact. Everyone wanted to clone the popular design, including Kustom Electronics. Kustom's competitor was a hybrid amplifier series titled "K-Studio". It practically ended up as being the last traditional Kustom product, as the following companies acquiring the trademark no longer had any affilition with the old Kansas-based company.
Today, Kustom amplifiers are considered fairly collectible and preferred by vintage enthusiasts for their solid-state tone. Rockabilly and Motown musicians originally used these amps. Other artists known for using the Kustom brand for live applications are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Altamonts, Dusty Murphy, 3 and Sheryl Crow. Some of the most famous Kustom P.A. users include Creedence Clearwater Revival, Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Jackson 5, Carl Perkins,Alun Tan Lan(Y Niwl) and The Carpenters. CCR toured from mid-1969 - 1972 using their own massive Kustom 400 PA system to maintain quality control of their live sound due to lack of quality backline venue PA systems in those days. As a result, CCR concerts were superior in live sound to most acts of the day, but the cost to the band to transport all the equipment made touring a money losing deal for them.
Hanser Re-issues Hanser Holdings, Inc. from Cincinnati, Ohio bought the bankrupted Kustom in the late 1980s and made the company one of its divisions. In 1994, Hanser Holdings produced small solid-state amplifiers that featured tuck-n-roll cosmetics and carried the Kustom trademark. The manufacturing of these units took place in China.
From 1999 to 2001 Hanser Holdings produced tuck-n-roll amplifiers. A full tube guitar amplifier with solid state reverb amps 100W and a 50W called TRT100 and TRT50, a 400W hybrid bass amplifier TRB400H, as well as 2x12", 4x12" and 2x15" speakers in tuck-n-roll look. List prices were in 2000: $999.95 (TRT100), $899.95 (TRT50), $899.95 (TRB400H) $399.95(2x12"), $599.95(4x12"), $749.95(2x15").
Krossroad Though since selling Ross, Inc. Bud Ross has had numerous ventures in MI industry (including Road Electronics and Ross Systems) his only "comeback" to something resembling traditional Kustom amplifiers has been limited to a brief venture with his son Andy Ross. The duo founded Krossroad Music, Corp. in the early 1990s and for a moment the company manufactured a series of solid-state bass amplifiers that featured the traditional tuck-n-roll cosmetic styling. The amplifiers were even marketed with the Kustom Kat mascot. The venture proved unsuccessful, and in a few years the company had ceased to exist.