Gibson Kalamazoo acoustics were actually made right alongside their higher profile cousins, except they were marketed as the budget range and sold to non-Gibson dealers in the 1930s. They were Gibson’s range of cheaper models that ended up being pretty damn good. The iconic guitar from this range is the KG-14 model that was allegedly played by Robert Johnson. He is pictured in one of the only two known photographs playing one, and in the other he is playing a Gibson 1928 sunburst L1. There are all sorts of opinions as to whether Johnson actually owned the guitars he was pictured with or even if the photos were indeed of him. If they were of the great man, then there is also the consideration to bear in mind that many photographic studios at the time would carry several guitars and even suits as props for photographic sessions. My feeling is that if he did play one of the two aforementioned guitars, it would have been the KG-14 because it was the more affordable of the two and many early blues artists were not exactly flushed with greenbacks! The KG-14 is the one that is sought after in the main by collectors and players, but there is another in the range that is also worth taking into consideration and that is the KG-11. It has a unique shaped body and Gibson never replicated this in any other models. It is a little stubbier in shape than the KG-14 which is similar to the Gibson L00s. The KG-11 is ladder braced and light in weight but like all these early Gibson-made acoustics, they have a strong sound projection and are easy to play. They don’t quite have the bass response that L00s have but are very punchy and produce a strong clear tone when fingerpicked. The tops are usually spruce with mahogany back and sides and the fingerboard is Brazilian rosewood.
The neck has a comfortable V-shape and no internal truss rod which was omitted from this brand in order to save money, so you have to check the neck if you spot one to be on the safe side, otherwise you’ll need a neck reset. Over the years they have risen in demand but are nowhere near the value of Gibson L1s, L0s, L00s and L-Century. It’s true to say that these legendary Gibson models are the most popular and most expensive, but the cheaper Kalamazoos can still hold their own against many of the more expensive brands that were produced during that period. Like all vintage guitars, they have a historical value as well as a playing value as their sounds are virtually impossible to recreate. They can still be found in good condition and are affordable to the average collector but they are rare and will increase in value steadily rather than speedily.
I collect vintage instruments for all sorts of reasons and some aren’t guitars. I am on a mammoth mission this year to record and film as much of my collection as I can possibly manage and then launch them on the internet so that my years of collecting will be accessible for all to enjoy. I have been fortunate enough over the years to use my knowledge of vintage instruments to bring them to the attention of many people either through the articles I write, clips on the web or even the odd TV slot with shows like The Antiques Roadshow and Flog It. This year will see a new collaboration with Vintage Guitars on another model, which, if it turns out as I hope, will be a great addition to the family and at a very affordable price. It is due to be launched in June at the John Hornby Skewes annual event so keep your eyes peeled for a prototype before then.