1940s Gibson-made Kalamazoo KG-12 Flattop Guitar

Update 2017: I had to replace the original bridge on this as it had split on the front edge (not surprising, it was pretty beat), so I've updated the pictures. I also used an ebony saddle instead of bone which has resulted in a slightly warmer tone and glued-up a tiny hairline crack on the bass side at the waist of the guitar. Other than that, it's as described in the original post information below.

The KG-12 is just an alternate, 1940s version of the 1930s Kalamazoo KG-14 model. The standard KG-12s seem to mostly have an "iced tea" sunburst finish while some were "natural top." The other change seems to be tortoise binding on the top edge and white around the soundhole as opposed to white all around (which suited the older, dark sunburst finish more). Internally and build-wise the guitars are the same, though the KG-12s I've encountered have had the rounder, 40s-style Gibson necks as opposed to the older, bigger, V-shaped necks.

This one has been waiting around for repair in my workshop for what seems like most of a year. Its owner picked it up on Friday and, I have to say, it was a very curious patient! It'd obviously been top-coated with some sort of ugly finish in the past and had a number of amateur repairs, though I could tell it had that extra something in it, somewhere. My own repairs included a neck reset, fret level/dress, crack repairs to the top and bracing, a new bone nut and saddle, and "freeing" a truss rod. What do you mean by that and -- a truss rod in a Kalamazoo?

During the neck reset (don't mind the cut extension -- there's a reason) I found that the neck had been obnoxiously shimmed and glued in place but I also found another extra surprise -- a hidden truss rod! Usually Kalamazoo products don't have truss rods and, frankly, I was wondering why the thin neck on this (it's about like a late-40s, early-50s Gibson) had remained straight.

This must've been an order that was rushed out the door with a neck spec'd out for a Gibson-branded guitar -- which once in a while one sees on higher-end Kalamazoo-branded instruments. They hid the rod in the pocket and said "eh, forget about it." I thought this was an excellent opportunity...

...so I drilled an access port for it in the neckblock so that it can be adjusted via the soundhole. That's one of my truss adjuster nuts in the port. The good news is that the truss actually works perfectly and that's a very useful application on this guitar because the owner wants to use it for slide and it's easy to add a bit of string clearance by loosening the rod.

Back to the guitar! Just like the KG-14s, these KG-12s are solid spruce over solid mahogany and have a mahogany neck and Brazilian rosewood board and bridge. The "firestripe" pickguard is original (and looks great) and the body is the same dimensions as an L-00 save that it's ladder-braced which imparts a direct, snappy, and zingy "bluesy" quality.

Otherwise it "plays" like an L-00 with 24 3/4" Gibson scale, 12" radius on the board, and a comfortable "fit" to the body.

The nut is 1 11/16" in width.

Pearl dots and side dots -- and medium-ish original frets. I have 52w, 40w, 30w, 22w, 16, 12 strings on it, currently.

The replacement bridge is a little oversized (taller/thicker) than the original Gibson bridge to keep it stable and happy with the higher string clearance off the top. The bridge pins are old black plastic ones from my parts-bins that ape the original-style Gibson pins and the new saddle is ebony as opposed to bone.

The original bridge (seen above) failed, eventually, due to a hairline crack in front of the saddle. My replacement shares the same footprint.

The tuners are 50s/60s units of the type I'm used to seeing on Harmony guitars. They work fine, though, with a lube and new tuner ferrules.

As you can see, despite an old, amateur, refinish -- the instrument has a bunch of grunge and "mojo" on full display.


Shane Johnson said...

Cool guitar, Jake. Actually, the Oriole, basically a KG-12 with the decal on the headstock, most of them had truss rods hidden like the one you discovered. I discovered this when I bumped the neck once and it got loose. It buzzed terribly, and my luthier popped out a fret, drilled a small hole, then shot some glue into there to keep it in place.

Jake Wildwood said...

That's wild -- I had no idea. We should all just drill out the neck blocks on those things and use 'em! :)