Circa 30s-40s Kalamazoo original five string banjo (KRB.)
During the Great Depression Gibson produced a number of lower-priced instruments in order to stay afloat. One of those brands was “Kalamazoo”, named after the town in which the famed Gibson factory was located. Produced between 1933-42 most examples had no serial or factory order number. According to Gibson shipping ledgers only 474 of these models were ever shipped.
The K-RB (Kalamazoo-Regular Banjo) was Gibson’s attempt to produce a functional banjo at the lowest possible price point. Cost cutting measures included no flange, no truss rod, friction tuners, mandolin-banjo tailpiece, thinner rim (although some examples are seen with full thickness rims), and single binding on the resonator.
Save for the bridge, this example is all original. This example also includes the rare double binding as opposed to single binding.
The “flat back” resonator tends to produce a nice punchy tone. Having owned around a dozen of these over the years I must say that the original hide head produces the best tone. By virtue of the pre-war rim, resonator, and original five string neck, many individuals are tempted to turn these into “bluegrass machines” with the addition of a flange and tone ring. I advise against this and suggest that they are best left as they are.
These banjos tend to be surprisingly powerful. They have a great old-time plunky tone suitable for clawhammer, two-fingered style, or even bluegrass. Kalamazoos have been some of my favorite banjos over the years and they are a blast to pull old tunes out of.