Kalamazoo is the name for two different lines of instruments produced by Gibson. In both cases Kalamazoo was a budget brand. The first consisted of such instruments as flat top and lap steel guitars, banjos, and mandolins made between 1933 and 1942, and the second, from 1965 to 1970, had solid-body electric and bass guitars.
The first line of instruments included guitars with bodies between 14" and 16", which in 2009 were worth up to $1800.
The name was revived during the guitar boom of the late 1960s; at the time, guitar manufacturers "could sell just about anything they could make or lay their hands on". Gibson already had the Epiphone brand which it used to market more affordable guitars, but Epiphone was already a mid-level brand and Gibson desired something truly cheap. The Kalamazoo brand, whose guitars had bolt-on necks, filled that slot. "USA" was added to the name on the headstock to set it apart from cheaper, imported guitars.
While the bolt-neck design was already a money saver, Gibson sought cheaper materials as well and found them in MDF (also known as Masonite). Money was also saved on the pickguard (a single sheet of plastic, not laminated) and the (open-back) tuners.
The first design, made from 1965 to 1968, was really a copy of the Fender Mustang; the other, made from 1968 to the early 1970s, resembled the Gibson SG. Models were the KG-1 (with one single-coil pickup), KG-1A (single-coil pickup and tremolo arm), KG-2 (dual single-coil pickups), and KG-2A (dual single-coil pickups and tremolo). As of 2009[update], those guitars fetched between $275 and $375.
The Kalamazoo Bass was introduced in 1966 and like the guitar model had 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.
Simultaneously Gibson produced a line of Kalamazoo amplifiers, marketed primarily as budget model practice amps. 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). Both models had volume and tone controls, but Model 2 added a tremolo circuit tube. 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. The circuitry in the Kalamazoo Model Two is similar 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.
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.
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. It was usually made in a solid state form, although some specimens have been found to be equipped with tubes.
In its 1969 album Willy and the Poor Boys, the band Creedence Clearwater Revival's song "Down on the Corner" tells the story of a street corner band with hodge-podge instruments like a washboard, gut bass and kazoo. Also included is the line: "Poorboy twangs the rhythm out on his Kalamazoo" a reference to the budget line of guitars that Gibson produced. The song peaked at #3 on the Hot 100 on 20 December 1969.
- Greenwood, Alan; Hembree, Gil (2009). The Official Vintage Guitar Magazine Price Guide. Kalamazoo. Vintage Guitar. pp. 183–84. ISBN 9781884883217.
- Wright, Michael. "Kalamazoo KG-1". Vintage Guitar. Retrieved 26 January 2015.