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Gibson's Kalamazoo KG-11

Monday, August 20, 2012

Many guitar players are discovering new sounds and inspiration from vintage instruments.  One of the more curious examples is the Kalamazoo KG11, made by Gibson's economy line.  Gibson discovered that they could sell more guitars, with a much cheaper line, hence the Kalamazoo line.  The different name helped protect the Gibson brand, keeping Gibson customers buying Gibsons, while new lower income customers added to the Kalamazoo sales.  The Kalamazoo line were offered in catalogs often under $10. 

The KG11 is odd for several reasons.  First, there was never a Gibson equivalent, like for the KG14, which essentially was an L-00.  More importantly, the KG11 suffers from an unorthodox proportion, with its squatty upper bout, oversized hole, and squarish shoulders. It almost favors a small dreadnaught, but the sound  hole and bridge placement kill the effect.   The reason for the less-than-attractive outline, is because of an arbitrary change to make it a 14 fret guitar.  Its really an L00, with the upper bout squashed to reveal 14 frets, plus an additional loss of upper bout, to shift the entire scale length down.  This forced the fingerboard extension into the soundhole, and also pushed the bridge lower on the belly. 

These changes created an odd, frumpy presentation, but they also provided a unique tonal characteristic for this ladderbraced guitar.  Refraining from trying to describe tonal charateristics, the tone is best described as similar to most ladderbraced guitars, but with a distinguished nature.  It also is much louder than it should be, and speaks well to the pickers ear, even in loud settings.  Its voice is versatile, functioning convincingly as an early flattop delta blues guitar, a great chunky old-time string band instrument, and works very well for early jazz, similar to a Selmer ala Django Reinhardt. 

At first, its shorter Gibson scale might tempt the owner to rely on medium or medium heavy guage strings to compensate for its size, but experimentation may reveal a louder, more responsive voice by using light guage strings, .011's for instance.  Also, Monel or Nickel strings may also flatter the KG11.

The bridge on KG11s is unfitted, meaning its a block or blank.  Gibson skipped the thinning and fitting step on many Kalamazoos.  So, the KG11 can benefit greatly with some shaving of the bridge blank, to the typical Gibson dimensions.  Also, replacement of the Ebony nut, and horn pins might suit the owner.  Lastly, the tuners supplied are of Gibson quality, but may still profit from replacement, as the nature of ladder braced guitars makes them difficult to tune already, and precision tuners can help a lot on these instruments.

The size and weight of these guitars make them amazing barking cannons in a compact size.  The tonality makes them as versatile as a guitar can be, with its weakest setting being a full up bluegrass sound, which it does not do so well.  The bracing is wispy thin, as are the rims and tops.  Finding one of these in good shape after 80 years, provides confidence that its ultra light build will survive.  In addition to my avatar, Here's a few photos of  KG11s played by famous guitarists.



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Playing Since: 1974
Experience Level: Purty Good


Gender: Male
My Instruments:
I like old flattops and archtops. My avatar is an early 30's Kalmazoo KG-11, ladder braced, one piece Mahogany back, and labelled by Montgomery Ward as a "Carson J. Robison". I was told by Mike Seeger that these came with Robison's song book for $9.95. I like my 1950's Gibson LG2, Early D16H, 1940's Orpheum 17" Archtop, my Hays custom 000, 1935 Gibson L50T round hole archtop, and all my others.

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
The ones I grew up with, festival goers, and a lot of recording artists from past and present.

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Created 8/17/2008
Last Visit 6/3/2022

Dad was an excellent flatpick - wielding guitar picker, learning in the 40's, but he played banjo also. He and Granddaddy (fiddle) had lots of neat tunes too. I really like old, interesting tunes on fiddle, old-time banjo, and guitar, and I like playing with others.

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