At the beginning of the Great Depression, Gibson’s then president Guy Hart realised that Gibson would have to produce something cheaper in order to stay in business. In the early 1930s, Gibson started building children’s toys and other wooden items to keep their employees working.
But by early 1934, they were back to building instruments full time again. However, Hart also determined that a budget line of instruments was vital to survival. In 1934, Hart introduced the Kalamazoo brand of affordable instruments and named them after the city Gibson resided in.
Kalamazoo instruments came in a variety of configurations including acoustic flattops, acoustic archtops, electric Hawaiians, mandolins, and banjos. Although Kalamazoo instruments were built by Gibson, there are several factors that make them different from one another.
Kalamazoo instruments featured ladder bracing instead of Gibson’s X bracing, and less ornamentation than Gibson. Most notably, Kalamazoo lacked an adjustable truss rod that was becoming an important feature in guitar construction back then. Regardless of these features, Kalamazoo instruments were very well-built.
The Kalamazoo KG-11 was only made from 1933 to 1941. During those years there were only a handful of Kalamazoo flat-top acoustics and the small, square-shouldered body marks this one down as a KG-11.
We have approximated the age of this one around 1937. That would spec it as a solid spruce top with mahogany back and sides. But the budget giveaway is the fact that it’s a three-piece top with a wide-grained centre section and tighter-grained wings.
Other features are a round soundhole with white binding, white body binding, a mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard, a rosewood bridge, and a firestripe pickguard.
The neck profile is very much the V shape that was popular at the time, and has made its way onto many high end reissues in recent years. This is a fairly serious piece of wood – it needed to be if there was to be no truss rod. Remarkably, this neck is still straight and true with a comfortable action measuring 3/32” at the 12th fret. The nut appears to be original, but we think this one has had a pro refret at some point as there is very little fret wear showing.
This old KG-11 guitar is very resonant, with that definitive 1920’s /30’s Robert Johnson tone. The whole guitar is very light, akin to a violin. Most importantly, this guitar is great fun to play.
We can see that 2 minor cracks in the back have been professionally reglued and cleated internally. You’d be hard pressed to see them on the outside.
It has some marks, scratches & general player wear expected on an 80+ year old instrument, but nothing of concern structurally or cosmetically. The original tuners are still working well.
This KG-11’s tone has the dusty dryness of a pre-war Gibson, that’s capable of making even those with limited ability sound like an authentic blues player. Whether you’re picking, strumming or sliding, the KG-11 sounds somehow ‘real’, with a sweet snarl and barely a trace of boxiness.
This lovely elderly instrument is in great shape. It plays well in all positions with no neck issues or fret buzz. It sounds rich and projects well, with a tone that you can only find on old instruments handbuilt with care long ago. While it’s possible to make new electric guitars sound ‘vintage’ with the right pickups and hardware, there’s something about the tone of 80-year-old timber that you can’t replicate.
The Gibson KG-11 is acknowledged by both players and collectors (and Tommy Emmanuel, who owns one) as one of the best depression era finger picking guitars ever made. See Tommy’s video link below.
This one has been well looked after over the course of a long musical life, which deserves to be continued. We’d bet there’d be a few stories in this one, if only it could talk ….
Comes in a modern hard case in as new condition.
Video demo of same model - https://youtu.be/qdrt0KdBdK0
Tommy Emmanuel playing his KG-11 - https://youtu.be/9JAbNmtgBB8