The Kalamazoo KB bass
The Kalamazoo bass, or KB (sometimes referred to as KB1), arrived in 1966, as a companion model to two Kalamazoo KG guitars that had been launched a year earlier.
The vintage Kalamazoo-brand bass guitars are perhaps not that well known outside the United States, due to their short production time (just a few years in the mid 1960s) and the lack of endorsement by well known musicians; however being made by Gibson, in the USA, out of genuine Gibson parts meant that they were better instruments than many in the same price range. Good condition examples can change hands for reasonable sums amongst vintage guitar enthusiasts, and players alike.
|Modern styling in solid-body 4-string bass that offers full, true bass tones in a sleek, rugged economically priced instrument. With one pickup of extremely powerful design and full volume and tone control, the Kalamazoo Bass creates the full driving bass sound that sells a combo.|
There were two body shapes - later models are SG shaped (have a closer look at a 1967 KB bass), but the majority are more like a Fender Mustang (see a 1966 KB bass). They have a bolt-on maple neck; something that Gibson (up until this point) didn't do, rosewood fingerboard, and were short scale. There were two subtley different headstock shapes, the first again suggests Fender, though a bit rounded off - the second has the characteristic 'beak' and is almost identical to that of the non-reverse Thunderbird (see images below). The Kalamazoo logo is engraved on the headstock. This bass used some standard Gibson components; a typical EB series humbucker right up at the neck, as used in the EB0, EB2, EB3, Melody Maker bass and Epiphone Newport This pickup in this position, has more affect on the sound than anything else. This bass does sound quite a lot like an EB0. Tuning keys are the japanese-made closed keys that were also used on the Melody Maker bass and a few EB0s. The bar bridge had been in use on all bass models, but around 1966/67 this was replaced by the two-point intonatable bridge. From this point, the KB bass was the only one using these bridges - likewise the only one using the old-style (and position) chrome handrest. The scratchplate is almost identical (except some minor screw hole differences) to the Melody Maker bass, but the fingerrest is not rosewood as on all Gibsons, but actually plastic. The body material is not specified in Kalamazoo literature, but is supposedly a wood-laminate of one or more unspecified species, produced by a toilet-seat manufacturer in Wisconsin. There were three colours: Flame Red, Glacier White, and Las Vegas Blue. These were not the expensive nitrocellulose finishes applied to Gibsons, but again catalogue descriptions are not specific, perhaps some form of polyurethane?
Gibson, Epiphone and Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo, rather than Epiphone was Gibsons Budget brand. A common misconception about Epiphone is that its 1960s guitars and basses were cheaper imitations of the Gibson lines. This is simply not true. From the late 1950s until 1969 Gibson and Epiphone instruments were made side by side at the Kalamazoo factory in Michigan, using the same woods, techniques and components. The purpose of the Epiphone range was to continue to provide Epiphones high-end instruments; those that had been Gibsons competition, and to circumvent certain supply agreements (Gibsons protective territorial policy).
There was actually a waiting list to become a Gibson dealer, and to avoid upsetting existing dealers, Gibson was able to offer its (almost identical) Epiphone models to newcomers.
|Dianne Bowens, of Tony Bowens and the Soul-Choppers with a Kalamazoo KB bass. Have a listen to Dianne getting down with her KB bass on the track Boilin' Water from the album The World's Rarest Funk 45s on Jazzman records. The deep mellow bass tone is perfect for this kind of early seventies funk - doesn't it sound great?|
There were a lot of younger musicians, requiring cheaper guitars. Between 1965 and 1969, Gibson revived an older brand, Kalamazoo. Gibson had produced cheaper instruments with this name on the headstock during the depression of the 1930s and post war 1940s, but it had not previously been used on a solid-body guitar. Sales were initially good, and during 1966-67 this was by far the best selling bass made in Kalamazoo. See the compiled Kalamazoo bass shipping figures here. Unlike the Epiphone instruments, the Kalamazoo basses were not produced side-by-side with Gibsons; they were produced at Gibsons second Kalamazoo factory (plant II, 416E Ransom street) which had been opened in 1962 to produce pickups and electronics.
|Two Kalamazoo bass headstocks: above, the more angular Thunderbird-style, below the smoother Fender-style|
This was a useful way to use up obsolete Gibson parts, and provide an affordable, American-made instrument, with many characteristic Gibson features. However, with the sale of Gibson from CMI to Norlin in late 1969 the business was once again restructured. The Kalamazoo brand was discontinued, and the new Japanese-made Epiphone range became Gibsons budget brand, a position it still holds today.
The two Kalamazoo bass body styles are shown here, with the Mustang shape top and the SG shape below.
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