Gibson and Fender have produced such iconic (and different) instruments in the Les Paul and the Stratocaster that it’s sometimes easy to forget that they sometimes produced models in direct competition with each other, not only on budget but stylistically as well.

In the 1960’s Fender had the Mustang which was at the time a relatively cheap introduction to Fender’s line offering a slightly different take on the traditional Fender sounds. The Mustang went on to be a firm favourite among those looking for a cheap injection of retro cool together with a distinctive sound.

In competition to this Gibson introduced the Kalamazoo range (although visibly this wasn’t branded Gibson, “Kalamazoo made in the USA” logo adorned the headstock). The name Kalamazoo has been associated a fair bit with Gibson over the years and acoustics, amplifiers and electrics have all been in receipt of the name at one stage or another. The late ‘60’s saw the Kalamazoo undergo a couple of incarnations – the first release saw a body shape similar to the Fender Mustang with the second release more reminiscent of the Gibson SG.

The first release of the Kalamazoo came in two configurations – the KG1 and the KG2. The early KG-2 was a two pickup model featuring a compressed chipboard (MDF) body, Double cutaway design – with the pickguard and tailpiece quite high up the body. With it’s Fender-ish headstock ( six tuners on the top of the headstock – unlike the traditional Gibson three aside) on a maple bolt on neck featuring a 22 fret rosewood fingerboard. As a budget model the hardware was understandably fairly low end but did feature the classic vibrola style tremolo system and open tuners.

Sound wise the Kalamazoo produced a very clean, surfy tone – something quite unlike the typical Gibson tone. The pickups – sometimes referred to as “melody maker” pickups were single coil – the KG2 featured a pickup selector switch and separate tone/volume controls for each pickup providing an element of versatility to the guitar. The pickups could get noisy and so weren’t suitable to too much overdrive – however the tone was distinctive and gave the guitar a unique character.

What’s striking with the Kalamazoo is how similar it is to the Fender models of the time – this is interesting because today – Gibson and Fender have such unique styles that there are not many designs which are familiar between the two manufacturers.

The Kalazmazoo was discontinued by Gibson in the early 70′s, good examples of the Kalamazoo show up on auction sites from time to time. For a 30+ year old instrument there are the obvious things to look out for, the tremolo system is often incomplete, the pickguard can have cracks and like any vintage guitar the neck should be checked for any warp.

While the Kalamazoo may never have the appeal of some of Gibson’s more prestigious lines, for enthusiasts the Kalamazoo marks an interesting time for in Gibson’s history – there aren’t too many guitars like this in Gibson’s stable and while examples may never see huge prices – it remains an alluring piece.

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