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Kalamazoo KB Bass Guitar

Short scale solid-body bass, made by Gibson

Kalamazoo KB1 Bass | Pricing and Shipping totals | 1966 Kalamazoo Catalogue

The Kalamazoo KB bass

Kalamazoo KB Bass Guitar
Kalamazoo KB Bass Guitar

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Kalamazoo KB bass
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Kalamazoo Restoration KB bass
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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.

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.
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.

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 - the same three colours of the Fender Mustang of this period. These were not the expensive nitrocellulose finishes applied to Gibsons, but again catalogue descriptions are not specific, presumably polyurethane.

Gibson, Epiphone and Kalamazoo

Dianne Bowens of the Soul-Choppers.jpg
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?

Kalamazoo, rather than Epiphone was Gibson's 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.

Kalamazoo KB Bass headstocks
Two Kalamazoo bass headstocks: above, the more angular Thunderbird-style, below the smoother Fender-style

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.

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.

Two Kalamazoo KB Bass Guitars, a 1966 Mustang-style and a 1968 SG-style

The two Kalamazoo bass body styles are shown here, with the Mustang shape top and the SG shape below.

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Kalamazoo bass guitars for sale

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There are 3 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
anonymous Comment left 14th August 2012 10:10:28
Did they get to a 2 pickup Kalamazoo KB2 (or would it be KB3 - like EB3?)
Richard brooks Comment left 18th December 2014 06:06:11
Very nice guitars I really enjoyed reading about these guitars history Gibson and epiphone side by side I own a epiphone dot studio (worn cherry) pleased with construction and feel of this guitar and it holds up to alvin Lee licks (going home) 1969 I also own a sunrise bass guitar not sure about it haven't seen any pics on here to bring the bass identification to article fender shape bass percussion I believe walnut/oak materials very good condition label still shows the name (sunrise) I could send photos if you'd like just write me back hope to hear from you soon have a god day and thanks for the articles of Gibson and epiphone the history.
Sue Walden Comment left 18th January 2018 21:09:38
My husband has a Gibson Kalamazoo Bass guitar, 1966 (I think) and he is needing the ring piece, tuner Bushings I think its called. Don't need the tuner keys, only those small bushing rings. Where might I find these? Thank you.

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