Kalamazoo KHG-11

To celebrate the New Year I chose a new instrumenet that paid homage to the past, the Republic Mini Duolian, however for the February Attack of the Month I returned to my collecting roots with a beautiful 1939 Kalamazoo KHG-11. 

Kalmazoo labeled instruments have been a constant in my collection however to date, none have been earmarked for the long term. Most became "sacrificial lambs" for increasing attacks of G.A.S. but many were memorable and I'll undoubtedly regret selling at some point. The attraction to this particular instrument was the original hawaiian setup (flush frets/raised nut) the stunning finish and of course, the rarity of the instrument. The intensity of its orange burst is such a nice change from the classic prewar Gibson. The fire striped pickguard is another great cosmetic touch as well. Another trait of the Gibson budget brands is the use of black tuner buttons. 

Produced between 1936-40, the body is slightly (1 3/4") smaller than the Gibson L-0 model with only 12 frets clear of the body. With its signature "roof top" peghead and white stenciled logo the guitar lacks a truss rod like most of their other budget brand models but a non-issue. I've noted recent interest and the increase in prices of flat top Kalamazoo models as a resonable alternative to their Gibson brethren. A prewar Gibson L-0 is this condition would easily exceed $3000 in today's market whereas the Kalamazoo version of the model can be had for well less than $ least right now! Many notable blues artists from the Delta cut their teeth on Gibson budget brand instruments due to their availability and of course, price. They tend to have a big open voice that is great for traditional blues and slide playing.

Hawaiian  versions were produced for just about every flat top model however just like Martins of the era many faced conversion to spanish style at some point in their lives. As the hawaiian craze subsided it was cheaper to either just lower the nut and saddle or in the case of this model, install frets since the necks were the same. Finding clean non-converted examples has become more difficult which I believe is in part due to the resurgent interest in hawaiian or lap style playing.

The guitar came with its original chipboard case and I must say that it was good to be back to the "vintage smell" upon opening! As you can see by the photos the guitar is an exceptionally clean example with just a few belt buckle scratches on the back. Overall it was well-cared for and even came with a new set of strings already installed so I was playing right out of the box.

I've been playing my 1940 Martin 0-15H almost exclusively since being a G.A.S. Attack of the Month so the Kalamazoo was already at a disadvantage. I have several Gibson hawaiian models (see Acoustic G.A.S. Gallery
) in my collection, including the highly appointed Century L/C, but this would be my first Kalamazoo labeled hawaiian.

So what about Bob? My good friend Bob is the man I turn to with "ears of gold". After spending 30 years behind a recording console he has lots of instruments in his head for comparision although he leans towards Martin and Taylor in the acoustic world. Bob is another hawaiian or lap style convert and has also built a respectable collection of these instruments as well. Since I now use my Martin 0-15H as the benchmark for my hawaiians we played the two opposite each other for about an hour with our ZOOM H2 recorders going as always. I've learned that little gems often come out within the first few times you play a new instrument so I always keep a recorder rolling anymore.

  l though I had already made my determination, Bob confirmed that the KHG-11 sounded quite good but it just didn't have the volume and extended low end of the Martin. Still, it is a very sweet guitar and the intonation is dead on but in the end it just doesn't move me like the Martin. In fairness, I should mention its wonderful harmonics as the guitar's voice truly is still impressive especially for a budget instrument. Its easy to see why the "other" Gibsons have started to gain popularity. Most are prewar and can be purchased for 50-75% less than the comparable Gibson labeled model making the "tone to dollar" ratio quite good!

The Kalamazoo label was  Gibson's only in-house brand although they also manufactured instruments under various names for Montgomery Ward (Recording King), music schools, wholesalers, etc. The majority of house brand production ended with WWII but the Kalmazoo name reappeared again briefly in 1965-70 when Gibson released a solidbody guitar, bass and a flat top model plus a few small tube amps under the name.

The absence of a truss rod and other minor cosmetic differences allowed Gibson to streamline manufacturing, reduce cost and compete in the low end market by offering quality affordable instruments. So when you see names like Kalamazoo, C
romwell, Recording King, Ambassador, Capital, Carson Robinson, Kel Kroydon, etc. make sure to give them a second look!

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