Kalamazoo KG Electric Guitar

The Kalamazoo KG1 and KG2 guitar (1966-69)

Kalamazoo KG2a (blue) and KG1 (red) guitars, both built in 1966

A Kalmazoo KG2a (blue) and KG1 (red) guitars, both built in 1966

Kalamazoo was an American budget guitar brand, created by Gibson to market cheaper guitars than the fine instruments they were already making for professional musicians. This marque had been used by Gibson previously in the 1930s and 1940s, and was resurrected to cope with the massive demand for entry level guitars after the beat boom of 1964/1965. They were made in Kalamazoo, but not at the Parsons street facility (plant I), rather a newer building at 416 E. Ransom Street (plant II).

1966 Kalamazoo catalogue

The KG guitar was a simple solid-body electric, using Gibson parts on a fibre-board body made by a manufacturer in Wisconsin. The neck was reasonable good, solid maple with a rosewood fretboard; bolted on (rather than set as was Gibson's norm). Many of the components used also appeared on other lower-end Gibson solid-bodies: the pickups and scratchplate were straight from the Gibson Melody Maker, whilst the bridge and vibrola were used on the Melody Maker, Gibson SG Special and Gibson SG Junior. Likewise, electronically it was the same as many more expensive Gibsons. Few parts were unique to this guitar - really, just the tuning keys and curved truss rod cover.

Kalamazoo KG vs Gibson Melody Maker

Although the Kalamazoo KG shared much of it's hardware (and latterly body style) with the Gibson Melody Maker, the two instruments were quite different in terms of construction. The Melody Maker, with it's solid mahogany body, glued in mahogany neck and sunburst finish simply exuded Gibson tradition. It required some level of craftsmanship to produce, and was very much a product of the main facility in Kalamazoo (plant I - 225 Parsons street). It was a beautifully crafted guitar with simple electronics. In contrast, the use of a maple bolt-on neck, and new solid colours on the Kalamazoo KG was firmly following Fender's guitar building ethos, doing away with 'craftsmen' in favour of lower-paid assembly line workers. The Kalamazoo KG series were assembled at a second small facility, still in Kalamazoo, known as plant II. This was previously Gibson's electronics plant, that had made pickups and amplifiers, at 416 E. Ransom Street, Kalamazoo. The KG was a simply built guitar, though with the same simple electronics.

Kalamazoo guitars: Mustang style and SG style

The KG was aimed at younger players; primary colours and surf styling. Early models had a Fender Mustang body shape and were available in the same three colours of the Mustang, red, white and blue. This represents the bulk of production through 1965 and 1966. As the sixties wore on, this body style changed to the Gibson SG style, with more-or-less the same dimensions, and no change in hardware. The design had became more fashionable, and was perhaps more appropriate for a guitar named Kalamazoo. However production numbers of SG styled instruments dropped - possibly more due to over-production in 1966 than lower demand in 1967. In any case, SG-style Kalamazoo guitars are seen less often than the Mustang, and are somewhat more desirable, no doubt because they seem more 'Gibsony'.

Despite the fibre-board body, the good quality neck and relatively good components made for pretty decent guitar, all-round. With the Gibson association, components, and a fair price, it is not surprising these guitars sold well. A total of 23994 Kalamazoo KG guitars were shipped between 1965 and 1969, in three colours: Flame Red, Glacier White, Las Vegas Blue. See the Kalamazoo guitar shipping totals.

There were four guitar models: KG-1 (one pickup), KG-1A (one pickup with vibrola), KG-2 (two pickups) and KG-2A (two pickups with vibrola). There was also a Kalamazoo KB bass.

1967 Kalamazoo advert

The advert reproduced here was placed in a 1967 music trade magazine, and was aimed at music dealers, persuading them to stock Kalamazoo. Becoming a Kalamazoo dealer was somewhat easier than becoming a Gibson dealer.

Beginners won't outgrow Kalamazoo right away - which is the problem with most equipment a beginner buys. It doesn't cost much, so it doesn't do much. Pretty soon he can play a lot more than it can. And he feels he was rooked. Or worse, his parents do.
Kalamazoo makes a great save, because it answers everybody's problem.
Beginners get what they want. Brand new equipment with a big time sound.
Parents get what they want. A modest investment while they find out how far the youngster's interest and ability really go.
You get what you want, too. Another customer. Because a beginner will have to be a pretty big talent before he'll outgrow Kalamazoo very fast.

Kalamazoo KG soundclips

The following clips are of a 1966 Kalamazoo KG-2A played through an early seventies WEM Clubman. You can hear more soundclips of this guitar here

The amp is on a fairly clean setting: volume 5/10. Guitar: both pickups, volume 10, tone 10. Played with a pick.

Now with a cranked amp: volume 10/10. Guitar: neck pickup only, volume 10, tone 10. Again played with a pick.

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Cameljoe311 Comment left 15th December 2014 21:09:31 reply
Just snagged a kg-1a in glacier white. Sg body style. Got it at goodwill for $10. All original except 1 tuning peg. Am I right in thinking this is a 1968? One of 59 ( based off shipping numbers). Thanks
Vintage Guitar and Bass Comment left 30th December 2015 21:09:33 reply
It's hard to say precisely when the change from Mustang to SG style occurred, but I would say late 1966.. yours could easily have been produced earlier than 1968
brotherX Comment left 24th March 2013 21:09:49 reply
Kalamazoo restoration - I'm looking for a few parts for a vintage Kalamazoo restoration - primarily pickups, but also loom and scratchplate. I would use new pots if I can't find the originals. Can anyone give me a heads up. Also, is there a wiring diagram?
vintageguitarandbass Comment left 24th March 2013 21:09:32 reply
There's a close-up of the wiring (of a two pickup KG-2a) here - will try and get a schematic posted soon
Cory Saiz Comment left 1st February 2013 08:08:52 reply
Looking for a tremolo for a Kalamazoo guitar. Do you have any idea where I can find one or find one that will work. The holes are there but no tremolo. Thank You
tonyice Comment left 3rd March 2012 10:10:09 reply
Would a vintage (1960s) kzoo guitar sound more like a 60s SG junior or SG special than a newly made Gibson? - or what defines sound more, old pickups or same wood?

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