Sunday, March 27, 2016

Kalamazoo Guitars and Amplifiers

"Rooster hits the washboard and people just got to smile,Blinky, thumps the gut bass and solos for a while .Poorboy twangs the rhythm out on his Kalamazoo. Willy goes into a dance and doubles on kazoo." ~ Down on the Corner by John Fogerty

1929 Brooklyn newspaper
The Great Depression hit the United States in 1929. Businesses failed, people were out of work and very few people had disposable income to spend on expensive musical instruments. It was sort of like today. (But I digress)

1918 Gibson Advertisement
The Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Manufacturing Company realized that if they were to sell musical instruments they needed to drop their pricing. But the dilemma was to do so without cutting their standards. The solution was to create a new budget brand and align it with Gibson.

1939 Kalamazoo Brochure
So in 1933 Gibson introduced the Kalamazoo brand of musical instruments which included guitars, Hawaiian guitars, banjos and mandolins. These instruments sold for less than half the price of similar Gibson branded instruments. To accomplish this, Gibson saved costs by eliminating the instruments adjustable truss rod and using less expensive hardware and materials. For instance, some of the Kalamazoo archtop guitars featured real carved tops and backs, but others featured what Gibson called the arco-arch, which was their term for a pressed top similar to the ones found on Kay and Harmony arched top guitars.

KG-22 and KG-12

From 1933 to 1940 the guitars, both arched and flat top, were made of solid wood for the tops, backs and sides. However Kalamazoo guitars made from 1940 through 1943 featured plywood bodies. All of the flat top guitars featured ladder bracing the instead of X-bracing found on more expensive Gibson models.

1938 Kalamazoo Sport Model

Despite this lack of features Kalamazoo guitars were a bargain with a starting price of only $12.50 USD for the Kalamazoo Sport Model aka the KG 3/4.

'38 KG Sport & Gibson L-00
The KG 3/4 was a 3/4 sized guitar that was similar in shape to the Gibson L-00. It came with a solid spruce top that was bound, mahogany back, sides and neck. This guitar was finished in two tone sunburst. The fretboard on this and other KG models was rosewood with dot inlays.

The headstock which had a flat shape had a Kalamazoo decal on its top and open gear tuners were on a metal strip of 3 per side and featured black plastic buttons on the back side. The case sold for $4.50 extra.

Late 1930's KG-11
The most popular Kalamazoo model was the KG-11. This guitar featured all the accouterments of its 3/4 size KG version, but came with a standard 24.75” scale. This guitars shape was different than a Gibson L-00 in that the lower bout was wider. The original 1933 price for this guitar was $12.75 USD and the case would set you back $5.00. The Hawaiian version came with the same features except the body joined the neck at the 12th fret. It was known as the KHG-11.


During this era, many tenor banjo players were doubling on the guitar, so 4 string tenor guitars were popular. Kalamazoo offered the KTG-11. This instruments body and accouterments were similar to the LG-11, but the neck was narrower and the headstock only had 4 tuning pegs.

1940 KG-12
By 1939 Kalamazoo came out with the KG-12 Flat top guitar. It’s body shape was narrower and its proportions were similar to a Gibson L-00. It had a solid spruce top, solid mahogany back, sides and neck and the neck had a rosewood fretboard with dot inlays. This gutars headstock had a slight point on its top that is known by collectors as a pointed dome peghead. It came with a mist-brown finish and sold for $12.75 in 1939.

KG-12 Advertisement

This style was available as the KHG-12 Hawaiian guitar with a wider neck that joined the body at the 12th fret.

1938 KGN-12 Oriole

A similar guitar was the KGN-12 “Oriole.” What made this guitar different was the natural finish on its solid spruce top and the back and sides were made of flamed maple veneer.

KGN-12 Oriole headstock
There was an Oriole logo on the headstock below the Kalamazoo logo. Both were decals. The headstock on this guitar was different as it was more like Gibson’s open-book headstock.

1938 KGN-12 Oriole
For those that preferred a neck that joined at the 12th fret Kalamazoo offered the KHGN-12. This guitar was available as the Hawaiian option with a raised nut and called the KHG-12.

1936 KG-14

In 1936 Kalamazoo  offered  the KG-14. This guitar looked spot-on like a Gibson L-00 and had a sunburst spruce top and dark brown mahogany back and sides. The bridge saddle and fretboard were made of rosewood and the neck had dot inlays. The headstock on this guitar was done in Gibson's "roof peak" shape and topped with a Kalamazoo decal. Once again the tuners were open gear models on strips of three tuners per side.

1937 KG-14
The Hawaiian version of this guitar was the KHG-14 which came with a raised nut. The neck on this instrument was slightly wider and joined at the 12 fret.

KTG-14 Cromwell G2
The KTG-14 was the tenor version of this Kalamazoo flat top guitar. The appointments were similar, but for the 23" scale.

By 1935 Gibson was offering the first Kalamazoo archtop guitar. This wa the KG-21 and was very similar to a Gibson model L-30. This guitar had a solid spruce top that was pressed instead of carved. Gibson called the pressing process “arco-arch.” The back and sides were made of mahogany as was the neck. The rosewood fretboard had white position markers. The upper part of the headstock had the roof peak shape. The bridge was made of rosewood and the strings attached to a budget model trapeze tailpiece.

A tenor version of this guitar was also marketed and called the KTG-21. The body was the same, but the neck was narrower and only had four strings.


Only 15 Hawaiian style KHG-21’s were made. The necks on these guitars attached at the 12 fret instead of the 14th fret.


An upscale version of this same guitar was called the KG-22. It came with a bound neck that featured a non adjustable steel rod and a nicer trapeze tailpiece and in 1935 sold for $21.50 for the guitar and $5.50 for the case.

1936 KG 31
In 1935 Kalamazoo also offered a nicer archtop model called the KG-31. This guitar looked similar to a Gibson L-50. Once again the solid spruce top was pressed or arco-arched instead of carved. The back, sides and neck were made of mahogany. The fretboard and bridge were made of rosewood. The neck was bound with white position markers and the headstock had the roof peak on its top end.

Gibson also produced some models of the KG-31 that had maple back and sides.

The KG-31 was available with a tenor neck and called the KTG-31.

1940 KG-16

By 1939 Gibson set out to make a more affordable archtop and called it the KG-16. This came with the arco-arched solid spruce top and mahogany back and sides. The body shape was similar to the KG-21. It too had the roof peak headstock and sold for only $18.25.

1940 KG-32
That same year, 1939, Gibson offered the KG-32 archtop guitar. The body shape was similar to the KG-31. The key differences between this guitar an the KG-31 were the checkered binding on the top of the body instead of white binding and a non-adjustable steel rod in the neck.

KG-32 Oriole
In 1940 Gibson launched the KG-32 Kalamazoo Oriole Archtop guitar. This guitar came with flamed maple sides and flamed maple veneer on the back. The pressed top was laminated spruce and had a natural finish instead of the usual sunburst finish found on all the previous models.

Some KG-32 Oriole guitars were sold with the roof peak headstock design and others had the Gibson open book headstock design. The headstock was topped with the Kalamazoo logo decal and below it was an orange Oriole bird decal.

1941 KES

In 1939 Gibson modified their Kalamazoo KG-21 archtop with the addition of a single coil pickup above the bridge saddle, It was known as the model KES (Kalamazoo Electric Spanish.) A single volume control was added below the pickguard and a jack was put on the guitars lower side. This guitar sold for $100.


By 1940 Gibson modified their Kalamazoo KG-12 model with the addition of a single coil pickup that was mounted over the sound hole. A single volume control was added to the guitar and a jack on the lower side for the cord. This model was called the KES-R.

KEA Amplifier

The amplifiers for these instruments were the KEA and the KEA-R. The KEA had 8" speakers and 5 tubes with an output of aproximately 10 watts. The KEA-R was similar, but had a 10" Rola speaker.

Gibson made Kalamazoo guitars through 1943 when WWII interrupted production.

1953 KG-1
By 1949 Gibson resumed prodution and offered one more Kalamazoo flat top guitar. This was the KG-1. It was a very similar instrument to the Gibson LG-0. but the Kalamazoo model had no truss rod in the neck. This was an all mahogany instrument and had a black finish. The interior bracing was ladder style. The tuners were Kluson budget models that were three on a strip. It had a tortoise shell celluloid pickguard. The headstock had the roof peak design. It was made until 1953.

1949 KES
During that same year Gibson made one more Kalamazoo electric archtop guitar. This was the model KES (Kalamazoo Electric Spanish) guitar. It was the same body style as the KG-22, but sported a single P-90 style pickup in the neck position, which had no exposed pole-pieces,  as well as a volume and tone control on the lower bout. This was a slightly different version of the KES from 1939. The neck was unbound.

KEA 10 amplifier

Gibson offered a 10 watt Kalamazoo amplifer with a 10 inch speaker to go along with the guitar. Sometime in 1953 Gibson shut down production of Kalamazoo instruments.

It would not be until 1965 that Gibson would revive the Kalamazoo brand name. This time it would be on budget instruments that would include one acoustic guitar, four models of electric guitars and an electric bass guitar.

The bodies of the electric guitars and bass started out to be somewhat similar in appearance to a Gibson model SG, however the headstocks were Fender-like and had six budget tuners all in a row.

1966 Kalamazoo Ad
To reduce cost and perhaps to conserve on materials Gibson made the instruments bodies out of particle board; essentially sawdust, wood shavings and glue. Even more interesting is that the bodies supposedly were made by a toilet seat manufacturer in Wisconsin.

The Kalamazoo guitar line-up included the KG-1; one covered single coil pickup in the bridge position, the KG-1A; one single coil pickup and a Maestro vibrato.

1967 KG-2
The KG-2; two single coil pickups with a slider switch on the upper bout by the neck pickup, and the KG-2A, which came with two pickups and a Maestro vibrato.

All models came with a bolt-on neck topped with a rosewood fret board and dot position markers.

1966 KB Bass

The Kalamazoo bass was known as the KB. The original body shape was similar. It came with one large single coil pickup in the neck position and a palm rest. The strings attached to a compensated metal bridge/saddle.

1967 KG-2A and KB
Around 1967 the body shape changed on Kalamazoo guitars and basse changed and now looked more like a Fender Mustang. All the other parts remained the same.

Despite the particle board construction, it was a pretty nice instrument that was much better than the Asian budget models that were flooding the market during that era.

1966 Kalamazoo Amplifier Advertisement
To go along with the guitars, Gibson produced seven models of amplifiers. These were all 7-markedted to be student models.

1966 Model 1

The model #1 came with an Alnico 10" speaker. It was a single-ended circuit with 6X4 rectifier, 6BQ5 output tube, 12AX7 input tube. It featured a single volume and tone control.

1966 Model 2
The Model #2 came with 2 12AX7 tubes, one was for the preamp and the other was used as a tremolo oscillator. The rectifier was a 6X4 and the power tube was a 6BQ5. It came with a 10” CTS alnico speaker and the output was 5-8 watts. The controls featured volume, tone and tremolo.

1966 Kalamazoo Bass Amp
The Kalamazoo bass amp came in either 30 or 50 watt versions. The 30 watt version featured two 10” Jensen C10P speakers. The controls were for “loudness”, treble and bass and these were housed in a drawer at the rear of the amplifier that dropped down.

1966 Kalamazoo bass amp (rear)
The player pushed the control panel back when the amp was not in use. The rectifier for the Bass 30 was solid state. Two 7591 tubes were utilized for the power section and the preamp sported 2 6EU7’s.

Although Kalamazoo made a 50 watt bass amp, I cannot find any information.

Kalamazoo Model 3

The Kalamazoo models 3 and 4 are both solid state amplifiers with 10” speakers. The model 3 controls featured tone/off/on and a volume control. The model 4 came with tremolo.

Kalamazoo Model 4
The look of these amps was interesting since the electronics were housed in the top section which was slightly smaller than the bottom section that housed the speaker, so it resembled a piggy-back amp and speaker cabinet, however it was a one piece unit.

1965 Kalamazoo KG-10
Gibson offered one final acoustic Kalamazoo model starting in 1965. This was the KG-10. It resembled the Gibson B-15 The KG-10 was an all mahogany instrument, but the headstock was very narrow and the Kalamazoo logo was embossed into the wood. It featured three-on-a-side budget tuners and this model did come with an adjustable truss rod.
©UniqueGuitar Publishing (text only)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Murph Guitars

Murph 12 string Squire Guitar and Amplifier
The 1960’s were boom years for the guitar. Guitar manufacturers, music stores and even pawn shops all enjoyed a time of plenty all because of  “Baby Boomers” who, after seeing British Invasion bands, wanted to become rock stars or at the very least impress the ladies, as well as their friends.

Aside from the large manufacturers such as Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and Rickenbacker, many medium and smaller manufacturers, such as Mosrite, Carvin, Harvey Thomas and Hollman-Woodell of Wisconsin saw there was profit to be made and went into the guitar business in hopes of getting a slice of that financial pie.

One such small guitar manufacturer was Pat Murphy who created and manufactured Murph Guitars of San Fernando California starting in 1965.

Pat Murphy Pulsebeat Guitars
Pat was a Detroit Michigan native and had served as a Naval Air Force mechanic and pilot. He had been stationed in the Philippines during WWII. After leaving the service he started seeking employment with several companies trying to find the best paying jobs to take care of his growing family. Like many others of that era he traveled to California for the prospect of work.

By the early 1960’s Pat and his wife had five children and all the kids were quite talented.

The kids acted in television shows, commercials, and plays in the Los Angeles area. The eldest sons learned to play guitar.  The boys teacher knew of Pat’s skill as a craftsman and suggested that he try his hand at building electric guitars.

Murphy Family Band

Around this time his sons had put together a band with their two sisters and a collection of friends. Now this was the era when The Osmonds, The Cowsills and The Jackson Five were very popular.  Well known guitar companies were providing instruments for gratis to these acts just so their guitars and amplifiers would get exposure.

Pat took up the suggestion of the boy's teacher to begin manufacturing gutiars and in 1965 he leased a 1200 square foot building. He named the company Murphy Music Industries. 

The leased building was modified to include an office, a woodworking shop, a sanding area and paint booth and an assembly and shipping room.

An engineer named Rick Geiger was hired to run the facility.

Pat and Rick set off to purchase equipment.  Much of the machinery was acquired at auctions, while some of the other necessary machinery, such as a pickup coil winder was purchased outright.

All the wood materials for the bodies came from a nearby lumber company, while the more specialized lumber and parts such as bridges, fret boards, tailpieces and vibratos came from a German distributor. The guitar cases were manufactured by the Victoria Luggage Company, which was located nearby in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately before production began there was a rift that developed between Pat Murphy and Rick Geiger causing Geiger to resign.

Pat Murphy had wanted his guitar brand to be called York Guitars, but another instrument maker was already using that name, so Pat decided to call his guitars Murph guitars.

By the end of 1965 the company had begun making not just guitars, but had contracted with another company to build amplifiers under the Murph logo.

In the spring of 1966 the company went to the Chicago NAMM convention to seek out distributors and music stores to sell their products.

By then Murph guitars had come up with an acoustic guitar, a semi-hollow-body guitar, a heart-shaped guitar and a build-your-own- guitar kit. They even had a portable 6 volt guitar amplifier.

Murph built Silvertone
An agreement emerged from this show with the Sears Company to have Murph guitars market their instruments under the Silvertone brand name. The first order was small, only 25 guitars, but there were hopes that larger orders would follow.

Can you tell the difference?

Like many small companies Murphy Musical Instruments biggest problem was its tight budget. Other problems were to follow. Soon after the NAMM convention the company received a legal notice from Fender Guitars alleging possible patent infringement. Apparently the guitar giant thought that Murph guitar's Squire model looked too much like the Jazzmaster/Jaguar body.

Murph Squire
Both guitars had an offset body style and an accentuated upper bout horn. However the Murph guitar featured a slimmer body shape. The Murph Squire guitar came with either one or two single coil pickups that looked more like P-90's than the larger Fender's Jazzmaster pickups. And while the Murph instrument did feature a long vibrato arm, the unit was not as nearly elaborately engineered as the one on that came on either the Jaguar or the Jazzmaster. The Murph Squire guitar, like the Fender guitars did come with a bridge cover.

Finally, the Murph guitar headstock featured three-on-a-side Kluson tuners. Unfortunately when it comes to lawsuits, the company with the deepest pockets usually wins. Pat Murphy was in no financial shape to contest this notice.

Ironically in 1982, long after the demise of Murph Guitars, the Fender Corporation began offering "Squier" guitars as an Asian-built alternative to the much higher priced USA made products.

Murph Squire MK-2
The Murph Squire was an exceptional guitar for its day. It was a much superior instrument to many of the student grade guitars coming from some of the well known manufacturers and a much better guitar than the Asian products that flooded the market in the 1960's.

Squire Bass

The solid body Murph Squire guitars were available as six or 12 string and bass models.

Murph 12 String Squire
The 12 string Squire came with a Rickenbacker-style tuning key arrangement; that is three-on-a-side Kluson tuners facing outward and three-on-a-side tuners facing downward. The pickups used on this model were excellent. The maple neck is said to be thin and quite playable.

The Murph Squire guitar came with either one or two single coil pickups. The pickup switch was a slider model. It was available as a hard tail model or with a vibrato tailpiece.

Aside from the standard Squire model, Murph Guitars made some other very unique guitars, which included a semi-solid Squire model that came with two F-holes.

Murph Gemini

This was the Murph Gemini, a double cutaway semi-hollow body guitar, that more or less resembled a Gibson ES-335, however the cutaway horns were shapped slightly different. The Gemini was available as a six string, a 12 string or a bass.

Murph Westerner

The Murph Westerner resembled the Squire and was unique since its body was upholstered in Naugahyde. What happened was when a Murph Squires paint job was found to have flaws or defects, instead of trashing the body, it was covered with a glittery Naugahyde fabric and then dubbed a "Westerner". Pat Murphy grew up during the Depression era when nothing was wasted.

Murph Satellite

The Murph Satellite guitar is said to be created a result of the legal notice from Fender. Pat Murphy's wife is credited with the design of this heart-shaped semi-hollow body guitar. The Satellite was sold as a six or 12 string model as well as a bass guitar.

Aside from the extremely unique body shape, the joint between the neck and the headstock features a triangular section on the instruments front and back side that pairs the wood. Due to the unique body shape, this instrument would not fit in the Hamilton guitar stands of the day, so it came with its own unusual stand that notified the world, this was a Murph. This is the rarest Murph guitar and very few were made.

Murph Baby Satellite
Murph guitars also built the Baby Satellite guitar. The Baby Satellite was a 3/4 sized version of the Satellite, and was intended to sell as a toy. However it was a functioning small single pickup guitar. It came with its own case and the plan was to sell it with a battery powered amplifier for $99.00 USD.

Capitol Records asked Murphy Musical Instruments to build 10,000 of these guitars, however Pat Murphy could not put together enough capital to fulfill this order or even continue to build this guitar. Interestingly that same year Vox introduced a similar instrument called The Vox Mando Guitar that sold for over twice as much.

Murph Tempo I & II
The Tempo I or Tempo II was Murph's do-it-yourself electric guitar kit. This kit included an unfinished body, neck with headstock and parts were supplied with all the necessary instructions. The Tempo I was the one pickup model and the Tempo II, you guessed already, was the twin pickup version. The headstock was not branded so the builder could put their own brand name on it or leave it blank.

Continental IV
Very few Murph Continental IV guitars were ever made. This was a Les Paul shaped guitar with a single pickup. The guitar included an archtop guitar-type bridge saddle that sat unsecured on the guitars body. The string were attached to a trapeze tailpiece. This guitar was only available in white.

Murph Califone 12 string
In 1965, the Rheem corporation, which primarily is known for heating, air conditioning and water heating products, saw the potential of money to be made in the musical instrument business. The company had inquired of a Japanese firm if they could build tape recorders and record players.

When they discovered this to be a viable plan Rheem purchased a company which manufactured record players and audio-visual equipment for use in schools including small public address systems. This company was called Califone. Rheem noted that these public address equipment could potentially useful, if modified to be used as guitar amplifiers. After production of guitar amplifiers began the company struck a deal with the Japanese firm to build combo organs under the Rheem brand name.

All this is leading up to a deal that Rheem struck with Murphy Musical Instruments to build guitars using the Califone brand name. This line was to include six string, twelve string and bass guitars. All of them used the Squire body design, but the headstocks were slightly different and the pickups were usually slanted. Unfortunately after about 25 prototypes were made, Rheem/Califone called the deal off.

Murph Silvertone 12 string

Sears negotiated with Murph to build guitars. However after 25 or so guitars were produced Sears called this deal off.

Murph bass amplifier

As stated Murph Guitars also produced a line of amplifiers. The amps were all combo units that were manufactured by an electronics company in Phoenix, Arizona. The chasis had the Murph name embossed on it’s front. Murph offered 10 different versions of their amplifiers. The first models were tube amplifiers, but they were shortly updated to solid-state amplifiers. This was in the early days of transistors and unfortunately the company building the amps used inexpensive transistors that were prone to fail.

Murph Guitars 1965-1967
By 1967 the pressures of running a musical instrument business became too much and Murphy filed bankruptcy in the spring of that year. However for two wonderful years he was a building of quality American made guitars. Mr. Pat Murphy passed away in 2009 but left behind a legacy of few great guitars and a lot of wonderful memories.

For further reading on Murphy Musical Industries check out Dan from Sydney Austrailia's wonderful tribute webpage -