|Author - Dr. John Thomas|
Dr. John Thomas, a Connecticut law professor and music journalist, wrote a book called “Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women and Gibson’s Banner Guitars of World War Two”. This book was published in 2013.. This publication got less than a cherry reception from the Gibson Guitar Corporation before and after it was released.
|The Kalamazoo Gals|
It may be difficult for some younger folks to fathom the huge effort undertaken by United States citizens during the 1940’s war years. Able bodied men enlisted in the military.
Those that did not were drafted. The fact that we were fighting against fellow human beings was not met with the empathy that the media presents to us these days. The enemy was evil and the United States and Allies were out to defeat them from usurping our freedom.
|Manufacturing Industry During WWII Years|
All United States manufacturers converted their machinery to build equipment for the military, which was considered essential production. And this included Gibson Guitars.
|Rosie the Riviter|
Due to the shortage of men, Gibson management recruited women. This was not an uncommon practice for factories during these war years. Rosie the Riveter was a public relations painting that encouraged women to leave their lives as house keepers and enter the job market.
|Women Workers at Gibson 1942--1945|
The other part was uncertainty over whether consumers would buy guitars made by women. So between 1942 to 1945 although Gibson was building guitars, they denied this fact.
Instead they established the rumor that these guitars produced during this three year period were made by “seasoned craftsmen” who were too old for war and were stockpiled until after the war was over to be sold as "new old stock".
Understand during the war years manufacturers and the general public were under strict government restriction on the use of metal, wood and other products, such as fuel, oil and rubber. These items were to be used only for military needs.
|The Kalamazoo Gals|
The guitars these ladies produced were Gibson “Banner” guitars; the ones with the scrolled decal that said “Only a Gibson is Good Enough”. Thomas was also able to search at least one-thousand pages of wartime documents that mentioned Gibson Guitars. He also talked his way into getting access to shipping records and discovered that 24,000 Gibson guitars were shipped during WWII and at least 9,000 Gibson guitars were made during the war years of 1942 to 1945.
However the Gibson company public records show the company had shifted to producing goods for the war effort and not musical instruments, and that most of the men who made those Gibson guitars at the Kalamazoo headquarters were off fighting the war during the years 1942 to 1945.
It is a fact that the “Banner” Gibson guitar is considered one of the finest acoustic guitars ever made. The Banner decal went on the guitars headstock in 1942 and was removed in 1945.
|Gibson during WWII years|
To test the quality of these Gibson guitars made during the war years and after, Dr. Thomas enlisted the help of friends and was able to x-ray different Gibson guitars made before, during and after the war.
He discovered that the guitars made by the women were more refined and sanded thinner, smoother, and were better braced than those done after the war. This is no doubt the reason that they sound better.
|Kalamazoo Gals Irene & Valura|
The neighbor told her that Gibson was hiring and they would train her. This lady went on to say that it (working for Gibson) was a crummy job. She was making strings. But continued that Gibson was paying 20 to 25 cents an hour, which was fairly good wages in 1942. She states that she had a goofy job, sitting there making (guitar) strings.
|Dr. John Thomas|
There he asked Gibson representatives to comment on his book. Gibson management demanded to know who gave him access to shipping records, Dr. Thomas declined to comment. Gibson threatened to sue him. (Perhaps they were not aware that he is a law professor.)
|Packaging strings at Gibosn|
None-the-less, the Kalamazoo Gals played in integral part in Gibson history.
Fortunately there are other guitar companies that depended upon and appreciated their women workers. One of these was Fender.
|Leo Fender 1959 - check out that guitar|
Sensing that he could improve upon the industry standard, Western Electric amplifier schematics, he partnered with Doc “Clayton Orr” Kauffman to build electric musical instruments (lap steel guitars) and amplifiers under the K & F manufacturing name.
|Woman worker at Fender - 1959|
|Woman at Fender sanding a lapsteel|
|Abigail Ybarra winding pickups 1959|
Ybarra began working for The Fender Electric Instrument Company in 1956 and stayed on through the CBS years.
Ybarra remained with the Fender Musical Instrument Company when William Schultz and his partners purchased the organization. Ybarra retired in 2013, but even after being with this company for 57 years, her legend lives on.
There are guitarists that swear by her hand-wound pickups. Some players that have enjoyed her pickups include Buddy Holly, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
During her years with the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation Abigail’s value was recognized and she became a part of Fender’s Custom Shop.
|Abigail Ybarra 2013|
The wires are not placed as closely to one another as they would be with standard machine winding. This results in more air space in the coil and the lowered capacitance allows more high frequencies.
|Josefina Campos and Abigail Ybarra|
Although Martin Guitars, in an effort to protect privacy, does not acknowledge last names, it is quite apparent that the C.F Martin company is very dependent on its female staff in its luthery department and places great value upon them.
|Martin Factory - fitting the neck|
|Martin Factory - trimming binding|
It involves a long process of carefully carving off excess wood, fitting, refitting, and sheer strength to ensure that the fit is absolutely flawless. Otherwise, a guitar can wind up with tuning issues and problems with the action.
"It requires physical strength, but also mental agility" says Diane, "because each and every neck is different." This means no two sets of problems to solve are alike, just as no two Martins are alike. Diane has been doing this job with Martin for the past ten years.
|Martin Factory - installing end pieces|
|Martin Factory - sanding the body|
This task requires the utmost precision. So why not use something like a laser-guided to cutting machine for these parts? "I worked with a machine once," says Diane, "but I could cut them by hand faster than the machine could, so they got rid of it!"
|Martin Factory - slots for tuning pegs|
|Martin Factory - stringing and tuning|
The Unique Guitar Blog salutes all these ladies!
Here is a link to the Dr John Thomas book, Kalamazoo Gals. Get a copy. It is a great read.
As a reminder, links below the pictures lead to sources. Links in the text take you to other interesting facts.