Saturday, October 9, 2010

Kustom Amplifiers and Kustom Guitars

In the late 1950’s Bud Ross was playing in a band. Mr. Ross was familiar with electronics and somewhat of an entrepreneur.

His first attempt at making an amplifier was to save money for his band. Due to word of mouth there was a demand for his amplifiers. He went on to make and sell more. Within five years he had established his own company which he named Kustom Amps.

This was the era when transistorized electronics was new. I can recall Dad bringing home this amazing small transistor radio.

Interior of a Kustom Amp

All of Ross’s amplifiers used only transistors instead of tubes. In the mid 1960's we didn't care if the amp had tubes or transistors. We wanted big, clean and loud.

Fender Solid State Twin Reverb
Fender came to the transistor market in the mid-1960’s and failed miserably, due to their amplifier line which seemed to have acquired a bad reputation for not being dependable. But in 1966 Bud Ross hit the jackpot. His amps and speaker cabs were incredibly well constructed and many of his early products are still in use today despite being forty to fifty years old and having little or no maintenance.

The Kustom amplifier chassis was made of steel. The cabinets used wooden frames. All were covered in a vinyl material known as naugahyde that was applied using a tuck and roll covering design. Naugahyde is a trademark of the Uniroyal company which was Kustom’s supplier. Beneath the vinyl was a poly-foam sheet. This was similar to what was being used in automobiles from that era.

These amplifiers/cabinets were works of art. The naugahyde came in red sparkle, blue sparkle, gold sparkle, teal (which was called cascade sparkle), grey (which was called charcoal sparkle), white (which was called silver sparkle), and flat black.

Not only did Ross build amplifiers, but he also built public address systems using the same design. Ross did all of this from a small factory in the small town of Chanute, Kansas.

There was nothing similar to a Kustom amplifier. It was unlike anything Fender or Gibson made. Although Vox and Marshall would be on the scene in a few years, Kustom was to be popular until the company folded, because they were different. They sounded great and that’s all we cared about. Besides that, these were huge impressive amplifiers.

Many came with three or four 12” Altec Lansing speakers. At the time Altec Lansing and JB Lansing or JBL were THE top of the line speakers providing distortion free sound.

The success of his amplifiers allowed Ross to diversify into manufacturing radar and car monitors that were used by law enforcement.

Many artists of the day used Kustoms since they created a beautiful looking back line.

John Forgarty of out of Creedence Clearwater Revival is still using a Kustom K200 A-4 (100 watt) amplifier. This 1968 model had the usual reverb and tremolo/vibrato and also harmonic clipper and boost controls. Kustom amps came with anywhere from 50 to 100 watts.

The oldest ones came with a black plexiglass front plate with the logo in the center and also a power/polarity three was toggle switch on the back and two arms to wrap the power cord around while transporting the amplifier. The control knobs were in two rows.

Other users included Motown bass player James Jameson, Sheryl Crow, Waylon Jennings, Leon Russell, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Jackson 5, Carl Perkins, and The Carpenters. The original Kustom amplifiers will say Kustom by Ross.

Bud Ross with Kustom Kat

In an original promotion Kustom gave away "Kustom Kats" with the purchase of an amplifier. I had one of these and gave it away to my girlfriend.

Although I have never seen any amps other than guitar and bass amplifiers, I’ve read that Ross also made amps for classic guitar.

Before synthesizers became affordable and plentiful, we had combo organs. Kustom made two versions of organs.

Unfortunately Bud Ross was a compulsive gambler and gambled away his company in a poker game. The company was picked up by a conglomerate and changed hands a few times.

Kustom PA

The company was eventually sold to the Baldwin Piano Company of Cincinnati Ohio. At the time Baldwin was venturing into the guitar business by purchasing Burns Guitars and its inventory. Could Kustom amp schematics be the basis of Baldwins amplifiers? I don't know. Baldwin failed in the guitar market and sold off much of its stock.

At that time an employee named Bob Monday purchased the naming rights and inventory of Kustom. Bob would travel around to guitar shows and sell off inventory piece by piece.

In 1924 a musical instrument and supply manufacture known as Davitt and Hanser started up in the musical instrument business. They eventually moved to a warehouse in the Delhi Township in the western section of Cincinnati. By the late 1980’s they had purchased the Kustom name and began importing solid state amplifiers with the Kustom name.

1990 Kustom Amplifier
These amps looked nothing like the ones Bud Ross made. There was some interest in their products. In 2005 Davitt and Hanser got serious about Kustom amps and started experimenting with different models.

One of their most popular was a small 15 watt solid state practice amp with a sparkle tuck and roll covering.

Davitt and Hanser also came out with a large model tuck and roll model tube amp and P.A System. The amplifier looked and sounded great, but wasn’t a success, perhaps because it was made in China at a time that Chinese products were deemed inferior. Within just a few years, most major musical instrument manufacturers all sell Chinese manufactured products with their logo. In my opinion Kustom put this product out a few years too early.

Recently Kustom revamped their line-up of electric tube and solid state amps and acoustic amplifiers. The amps are excellent, especially the Coupe models that have somewhat of a design reminiscent of tuck and roll on the amps topside.

Altec Lansing no longer manufactures guitar speakers. These new version amplifiers use Eminence speaker which are made in Eminence Kentucky about 100 miles south of Cincinnati Ohio.

Let's get back to the Ross Kustom line.

In the 1970’s Kustom came out with a product line under the Kasino name that produced guitar/bass amplifiers and P.A. systems.

Shortly after losing the Kustom Company, Ross moved to Los Angeles and started Road Electronics which manufactured Road Amplifiers. These are fairly obscure, but they were definitely made by Bud Ross.

For a brief while Kustom produced a line of it’s own guitars that were also made in Chanute Kansas.

It is my understanding Semie Moseley had a hand in the Kustom guitar design. Moseley is credited in a Vintage guitar interview as having worked for or consulted several guitar manufacturers.

I have covered Wurlitzer guitars in a prior post. The Wurlitzer Company was also a Cincinnati based piano and organ company.

Wurlitzer subcontracted it’s line of guitars through a Kansas manufacturer named Holman-Woodell.

One of their designers was a shop-teacher/woodworker named Doyle Reading. Reading was a finger picking style guitar player.

In 1967 he was offered a job with Bud Ross and his company and left Holman-Woodell.

Reading went to work building a guitar which was a much different looking shape than the Wurlitzer.

It was a semi-hollow body instrument with a cats-eye sound hole on the upper bout and controls on the lower bout, which gave the appearance of a Rickenbacker style guitar.

The guitar came with dual single coil DeArmond pickups, a more or less Gretsch style adjustable bridge and a control panel on the guitars scratch plate that included individual volume and tone controls for each pickup a Gibson style toggle switch and a front mounted input jack and of course the Bigsby. The bolt-on neck was topped with a rosewood fretboard inlaid with four dots for each position marker below the 12th fret. The 12th fret had 3 position marker and subsequently there were 2 markers at the high G and high A fret, then one each at the B fret and C sharp fret. The neck was bound and had a steel nut.

The headstock shape is somewhat similar to the Moseley design, with it’s curved opposing sides.

The guitars came in several different coulors including natural, white, blue, wineburst aka watermelon burst, cherry-orange suburst, natural ash, black ash and white ash.

The guitars were also produced with or without the Bigsby. The non-Bigsby models bore a trapeze tailpiece.

Kustom is now currently owned by HHI Hanser Holdings Incorporated.

I must give the company credit. Hanser has been continuously innovative in maintaining Kustoms reputation and putting out excellent products.

Visit Kustom's web page
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Scotty Anderson uses this Kustom Amplifier on all of his gigs.$$$$


Car Amplifiers said...

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jerry said...

I agree 100% with "car amplifiers" comments...excellent information.

I have been researching the Kustom 200 guitar. Most web sites state these were built for two years, from 1968-1970.

I purchased a K200 cherry/orange sunburst with Bigsby tremolo new in 1967 (don't remember the month), but a small envelope mailed from Ross Inc. to the music store is dated June 14, 1967; so this must be one of the very first K200's to be manufactured.

Does anybody have hard facts on how many of these guitars were built? And market prices for an original guitar with original case? I'm considering selling mine.

Tyre Repair said...

If you want to mount a car amplifier to the back of an enclosure, add a rubber gasket wherever you put a screw in. This will reduce vibrations that travel to the amplifier, potentially causing damage.

Anonymous said...

The flagship K200A (Bigsby model) had "anti-hum" pickups, unlike the B & C models, which used single coil pickups.

MJJ said...

I have a Kustom Stratocaster made in 1997. Where was it built and is it any good. I love it as I did not pay much for it and after I cleaned it up it plays very well. I just would like to know anything about its history.

David Storm said...

The info is Great..Period! Their are not much real info about Kustom on the web,and finding out info about some models can be next to impossible! I own a Kustom KLA 80 Mosfet Lead(1989-1990)it states on the back..from Cincinnati,Ohio.
I can Not find a Owners Manual nor Schematic for this model! Any/All info will be helpful! Thank You. David

BTCat said...

Thanks for all the effort and research you put into this entry. My jam buddy/songwriting partner has a black K200 with two 15" JBL's which he bought new back in the day.He says he's leaving it to me in his will. Trouble is we're the same age, so I guess I'll have to murder him to get it :-).

Also if you have an unquenchable hankering for a Kustom K200 guitar, Mike Robinson at Eastwood Guitars Custom Shop is doing a limited run of reproductions. Mike's instruments are manufactured in China, but I have a couple and the quality is very good. Check out the site here
Bill in B.C.

Kustom Amps said...

Within five years he had established his own company which he named Kustom Amps. This was the era when transistorized electronics was ...

Custom53 said...

I have a '66-'67 Kustom "Frankenstein" era Amp. With 3=15" Speakers. I have owned this amp for over 20 years and just took the back cover off and found "Realistic" Speakers. So I am assuming they have been changed sometime in the past. They still sound great but I don't believe they are original to the amp. I am trying to find a value for this amp. It is in great shape although the cabinet does have a few small tears in it.

Not sure how to post a picture..


Unknown guy that Andy owes money to. said...

I imagine if someone was tech-savvy enough and had an unanswerable question, Bud Ross is still alive and well living in Overland Park, Ks. Just a little history note, after he lost the company (Kustom Electronic inc), since he designed the Kustom radar gun, he went on to develop the radar detectors. Also his son lives in Tennessee, has his own archery line (Maximum Archery) and is also in a southern rock band which I don't know the name of. I do know he doesn't pay his debts if he can get away with it. His name is Andy Ross. He did spend $110k on a Corvette that Counts Kustoms built. A little too much if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

What a great article.Kustom amps were always cool and the first I recall seeing was the bass player for the Steve Miller Blues band in 1968.I have a Kuston K200 in wineburst.Definately a decent guitar

megan said...

Doyle Reading is my grandpa. He still plays beautifully and has some gorgeous guitars at his house.

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Unknown said...

I have a kustom k200A-4 amp by ross made in kansas serial number is 24297 was wondering if anyone knew anything about it!

BloggDiggity said...

Does Doyle have any Kustom guitars he might be willing to sell.

Unknown said...

Hi, I think there might be a mistake in the text. Wasn't it not the Baldwin group who was responsable to set up the Kasino amp line, in stead of Bud Ross, who had sold it in 1972 to the Baldwin Company ?