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Thread: kalamazoo mandolin

  1. #1
    Registered User mandosonthemarsh's Avatar
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    Default kalamazoo mandolin.....Gibson?

    Does anyone out there know what the quality of these mandolins are? Are they truely gibson or not as good? Thanks, Bruce.
    Last edited by mandosonthemarsh; Feb-08-2009 at 10:01am. Reason: Clarification

  2. #2
    Registered User MandoSquirrel's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    They are lower end Gibson's, made with Gibson quality. Some are Better playing and/or sounding than some with the Gibson name. Same goes for Cromwell.
    Elrod
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    guitars:
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  3. #3
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Kalamazoo was a Gibson second line. There are several others listed in the Gruhn book. The second line instruments did not have truss rods. That was the biggest difference. Most of the second lines appeared to be made up of a variety of Gibson parts. For example, I once bought a second line archtop guitar that was built around 1936, had the body of another Gibson model, the neck and headstock off another and a bridge that had been standard on a guitar they built in the mid twenties. It was like they were cleaning house. Witht hat said I had Kalamazoo KM-11 that I sold in the classifieds here that was wonderful. I'd still have it if I hadn't succumbed to MAS.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    In the past, had owned a KM-11. It was an okay mandolin. But for a flat top/flat back, it didn't project as well as the Flatiron reissue.

    Never owned a KM-21, but did have an early Gibson A-50 (which was basically the same but with a truss rod). Again, it's a decent instrument, but I could never get a great volume or tone out of mine. The couple I've seen were pressed top, flat back mandolins. But have heard there were other versions made.

    For the record, my playing is mediocre at best and I'm more a guitarist than a mando player. And my preferred music is old-time. So that's what I'm basing my observations on.

    Oh, and the tuners were never worth a plugged nickel on the KM-11. Really hard to turn and wouldn't hold the tuning well.

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    After the Harmony that was my first mandolin, I got an old KM11 as a step up, I wish I had never sold that, It was a pleasant instrument, not earthshattering by any means but, it played well and sounded decent.
    Timothy F. Lewis
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    I believe these mandolins originated during the depression (the other one) as a way to manufacture a less expensive line of instruments and not mess with the Gibson pricing or reputation. I had one once and I thought it was a really nice mandolin and they are on my short list of really good starter mandolins for someone on a budget that wants a mandolin with a soul. They are made by Gibson but they aren't a Gibson much the way a Bugati is made by VW . You wouldn't call a Jetta a Bugati.

  7. #7
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Yes, but if you had a Beetle that was made in a VW plant in Italy would you call that a Buggati?

    The first thing that Gibson did in the early years of the depression was to create a line of wooden toys, probably made from scraps of wood. This lead to the Kel Kroydon line of instruments. That lead to the Kalamazoo and the other second lines that were manufactured for other companies. Here is a partial list of Gibson second line brand names. I say Partial because it seems that these have a way of popping up now and again. Many of these brands were built by Harmony and Kay as well.

    Ambassador
    Capital
    Carson Robison
    Coast Wholesale
    Cromwell
    Fascinator
    Francis Day & HUnter
    Grinnell
    Haydon
    Kalamazoo
    Kel Kroydon
    Liberty
    Martelle
    Mason
    Mastertone
    Mitchell Brothers
    Old Kraftsman
    Oriole
    Paynes
    Recording King
    Reznick Radio
    Spiegel
    S.S. Stewart
    Tex Star
    Trujo
    Ward
    Washburn
    Werlein Leader

    The Old Kraftsmen was a Spiegel brand name. They were built by a bunch of folks. The same with the Washburns and the Recording Kings. Of these brands the only ones built exclusively by Gibson that I recognize (as long as it isn't an instrument being built now using one of the old names) are Kalamazoo, Kel Kroydon, and Oriole. The rest were or could have been built by others. When you see a Gibson second line instrument you still recognize it as a Gibson.

    Gruhn lists the Nouveau and the Orville as second lines. As these are modern instruments I don't put them in the same boat. The second lines were never stamped Gibson. They never had a truss rod (except some post-war Kalamazoo guitars (and I guess the modern Kalamzoo instruments from the 60's), anmd all second line archtop instruments had a slightly smaller bridge and shorter F holes (according to Mr. Gruhn).
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Mike, you could arguably add "Epiphone" to that list after Gibson acquired the company -- though I'm not sure you could call the Kalamazoo Epi's "second line." Some seemed to be just alternative finishing and labeling of Gibson models: e.g. the Epiphone Texan was a Gibson J-50 with a different colored top and headstock decal.
    Allen Hopkins
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    The Epi's came way late as well.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    [QUOTE=MikeEdgerton;629882]Yes, but if you had a Beetle that was made in a VW plant in Italy would you call that a Buggati?

    Yes, I certainly would!

    So, you would consider a Kalamazoo a Gibson? As in say a classified or e-bay context of "Gibson for Sale?"

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Mike,

    An interesting sidelight. Years ago found a Kalamazoo KG-11 at an antique store. Nothing too special about it. Except the back of the headstock did have a hot stamp which read "Made by Gibson, Kalamazoo, Michigan".

    Always assumed the guitar was an export model. Otherwise why the stamp?

    But it does show it's possible for Gibson to mark a secondary brand with their name.

  12. #12
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Many eBay auctions have been for Kalamazoo by Gibson instruments.

    As for the Made by Gibson label, it might have been an export and Mr. Gruhn is never wrong is he? I wish we had a picture of that mandolin and the label.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    S. S. Stewart was a stand-alone company during the late 1800s and made banjos. Not too sure of the Gibson connection to this brand, but am interested. . .

    f-d
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    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    I don't have the book here but I'm guessing in the 30's Gibson made a limited number of instruments for them. That's generally the story with most of the known non-Gibson brand names.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by fatt-dad View Post
    S. S. Stewart was a stand-alone company during the late 1800s and made banjos. Not too sure of the Gibson connection to this brand, but am interested. . .
    Here's an interesting link to Mike Holmes' info on S S Stewart instruments. After Samuel Stewart's death in 1898, the brand was carried on by Stewart's sons and his partner George Bauer. I guess it was acquired by the big NY City distributor Buegeleisen & Jacobson (the ubiquitous B&J) around 1915. Martin made ukuleles labeled "S S Stewart" for B&J in the '20's. I once owned a "Fred Stewart" (Fred was one of Samuel Stewart's sons) tenor banjo that was pretty clearly made by Epiphone. Lange, Slingerland, and Gibson all made banjos for B&J that got labeled "S S Stewart."

    Stewart was a highly visible promoter of the banjo in the late 19th century, and his newsletter/magazine The Banjo advertised banjos in general and his banjos in particular. There seems to be a consensus that the quality of "S S Stewart" banjos tended to decline after his death, when manufacture was contracted out to other firms. That Fred Stewart tenor was nothing special -- hence, I no longer have it in my accumulation.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
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    Full Grown and Cussin' brunello97's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    I am up to my neck with a repair on a KM-11 with a badly sunken top. I have the back off now and am looking to rebrace the top. Inside, the Kalamazoo is nice and tidy with generally good materials and craft. Certainly well glued (!) and not a lot of mess. The bracing is interesting as their are two short braces to either side of the soundhole. No give there. But the zone between the two lateral braces is quite wide with the top sinkage not coming as a big surprise.

    I have an Old Kraftsman lap steel that I enjoy playing (the pickup is nutty.) I haven't seen too many mandolins, though would be interested in seeing more-particular ones that might have come out of Kalamazoo. This one looks rather nice.

    Mick
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  17. #17
    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    That one's got Kay, or Stromberg-Voisinet, written all over it; Chicago rather than Kalamazoo roots, IMHO.
    Allen Hopkins
    Gibsn: '54 F5 3pt F2 A-N Custm K1 m'cello
    Natl Triolian Dobro mando
    Victoria b-back Merrill alumnm b-back
    H-O mandolinetto
    Stradolin Vega banjolin
    Sobell'dola Washburn b-back'dola
    Eastmn: 615'dola 805 m'cello
    Flatiron 3K OM

  18. #18
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    That is indeed a Kay.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Good info there, Allen

    Fatt-Dad, the only Gibson-made S.S Stewart instruments I've seen have been ukuleles ( & all of them bottom of the line Style 1's ), but according to the link Allen supplied there were banjos, too. Gibson did'nt get into ukes 'til 1927, so S.S Stewart was still in use as a tradename at least as late as that.

    Funnily enough, sitting to my right are a '66 Epiphone Casino, a late 30's Kalamazoo KG-11 & a '59 Gibson J-50 ( I know, I know, I'm a very lucky guy ). Three different names, all Gibson-made.
    The Kalamazoo has an inner label reading "MADE IN USA/BY GIBSON,INC/KALAMAZOO,MICH." It is also stamped Made in USA on the back of the headstock, which denotes an export instrument ( makes sense as I got it here in Australia!)

    Cheers,all
    Jeff

  20. #20
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Well, it would appear that the export models were stamped with Gibson's name. Who's going to tell George Gruhn?
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Mike,
    What does Gruhn have to say on the subject ?
    Aside from the one I own, I've seen several others here in Oz, and all have had the inner label & stamp as described above.
    I take it US Kalamazoos' dont have the label ?

  22. #22
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    What Gruhn says in Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars is that none of the second lines were ever tagged with the Gibson name. Now I know that the way to identify early Gibson models that were made for export is by the Made In USA label. They only added that to export instrument before a certain time (I'm thinking it was the 50's, I'm not sure). It would appear that the Kalamazoo's must have been tagged as Made In the USA and made by Gibson. You have one and another member mentions one he saw. That leads me to believe that they did indeed label those with the Gibson name. The USA Kalamazoo's didn't have an internal label.
    "bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them"

    --Jim Garber

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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Interesting, Mike, & I just remembered something pertinent to this.

    I've seen two "Mastertone" brand Hawaiian guitars here in Australia, & both also had the inner paper label described previously, identifying them as Gibson-made.
    They were both plain-jane Mahogany square-neck guitars, but the one I got to play actually sounded fantastic !

    So, there you go. Gibson labelled at least two of its 2nd line brands, but apparently only on instruments intended for export

  24. #24
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeEdgerton View Post
    What Gruhn says in Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars is that none of the second lines were ever tagged with the Gibson name. Now I know that the way to identify early Gibson models that were made for export is by the Made In USA label. They only added that to export instrument before a certain time (I'm thinking it was the 50's, I'm not sure). It would appear that the Kalamazoo's must have been tagged as Made In the USA and made by Gibson. You have one and another member mentions one he saw. That leads me to believe that they did indeed label those with the Gibson name. The USA Kalamazoo's didn't have an internal label.
    My KG-11 was the other one mentioned. Ended up selling it to a local store many years ago. However, I did mention it to George Gruhn about a decade ago. He had heard and seen others with the export stamp after the book came out.

    BTW, it was a hot stamp on the back of the headstock. Very similar to the Martin hot stamp used prior to WWII.

    Unfortunately, didn't take any photos of that at the time. Didn't think it was that unusual.

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    Default Re: kalamazoo mandolin

    That's pretty interesting, Eric,
    My KG-11 has a serial number ( FK-1119 ) with "MADE IN THE USA" below that, 'hot stamped' to the back of the headstock. There is also a factory order number of '781-( illegible letter ) stamped on the neckblock.

    The reference to it being Gibson-made is on the small paper inner label, not on the back of the headstock as it was on the one you had. Wonder why they marked export models two different ways ?

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