From 1933 to 1942, Gibson used the "Kalamazoo" name to sell a line of low-cost, no-frills department-store instruments. The KGN-12 Oriole appeared in 1940 and was made just until America's entry into World War II. It's a fairly rare model, and it's instantly recognizable by the Oriole decal on the peghead.
The Oriole body shape is based on the L-00, but it has two key differences: 1) ladder bracing under the hood, and 2) Maple back and sides. While most Kalamazoo guitars were given a plain model number, it's not clear why Gibson chose to give the KGN-12 the "Oriole" name. Regardless, the decal and natural finish/tortoise dining combo only add to the vibe and mystique of a prewar Kalamazoo.
Like many of these old department store axes, this 1940 Oriole has been through a lot over the years. Nevertheless, thanks to a recent overhaul by Schoenberg Guitars, it plays nicely and sounds fantastic. According the story, the original owner brought this guitar to Guadalcanal where he worked as a merchant marine during World War II. When he returned to upstate New York, the top split and bellied in the drier, colder environment. That required a new bridge and reinforced bridge plate. The neck was also badly bowed, so the fingerboard was removed to adjust the truss rod. In so doing, there was a small cosmetic chip on the edge of the headstock—it's not a headstock break, just a small piece of neck that came up with the fingerboard.
While at Schoenberg, the neck was reset, and the guitar was outfitted with a new bone nut, new bone saddle, and engraved Golden Era Restoration tuners. Because of that, it has a great setup, and it tunes nicely. Relative to earlier Kalamazoos, this Oriole has a more manageable C-shape neck.
As for sound, this Oriole produces a dry, balanced sound. It has the authentic old-time jangle of a prewar instrument. While it's tone profile is unmistakably Gibson,the Maple back and sides give it a brighter, more straightforward flavor that's a step away from an L-00. . A natural fit for blues or slide, the ladder bracing growls when you push it.
This 1940 Kalamazoo KGN-12 Oriole includes a new hardshell case.