From 1933 to 1942, Gibson used the "Kalamazoo" name to sell a line of low-cost, no-frills department-store instruments. With its flat top and round soundhole, the Kalamazoo KM-11 picked up on the design of the Gibson Army Navy Special which was manufactured from 1918-1922.In many respects, the KM-11 makes a clear departure from the carved-top mandolin designs Gibson refined in the '20s, but its resonant, folky tone better embodies the music of the depression era.
The KM-11 features a flat spruce top that is ladder-braced like a Kalamazoo guitar, and it has Mahogany back and sides instead of the more traditional Maple. Its sound is dry and crisp with quick projection. Trebles cut, but there's a sweet roundness to them. Relative to more conventional mandolin designs, the KM-11 resonates and sustains more like a guitar, and it bites when you dig in. It's a great fit for strumming along with the band, but it packs the necessary articulation for fiddle tunes and single-note melodies just the same. The KM-11 is a natural choice for old-time, folk music, or anyone who wants the authentic sound of a bygone era.
This 1934 Kalamazoo KM-11 has been beautifully preserved over the years. Its gorgeous sunburst finish shows the authentic patina and checking of a well-loved prewar instrument, but it is free of structural repairs or issues. Its tiger-stripe pickguard has shrunk slightly, but it hasn't caused the cracks that often come along with it. The original frets show some wear and tear, but every note rings clear and true. The original tailpiece, ebony nut, ebony bridge, and tuners get the job done in style. The tuners still hold tune, but they are a bit cumbersome, particularly on the A-strings which are a bit stiff. The tuner buttons have been replaced, but fortunately the gears still hold.
This 1934 Kalamazoo KM-11 is a collectible piece of Gibson ephemera, and it's also an authentic relic from depression-era Americana. But most importantly, it's a playable mandolin with rich, inspiring tone. It includes a genuine '30s Geib "Challenge" chipboard case that it is every bit as clean as the mandolin. The case completes an extremely cool prewar package. It's hard to imagine there are other examples as clean and playable as this old KM-11.