1940 Kalamazoo KMN-12 Oriole Mandolin
A while ago I wrote about a rare guitar that Gibson built under its budget Kalamazoo brand. Dubbed the KGN-12 Oriole, it had a spruce top with maple sides and back. (I’m not 100% sure but I suspect the model code translates to Kalamazoo Guitar Natural.) As I mentioned in that article, which you can read here, the Oriole series of instruments was quite rare. They were introduced in 1940, just before America entered World War II and they were discontinued around 1942. Today’s Catch is a very nice KMN-12 Oriole, the mandolin version of the KGN-12. Like it’s guitar counterpart, it sports a spruce top and maple sides and back with a natural finish. And also, like its big buddy, it is a fairly scarce instrument. At first glance it looks like it a blonde version of Gibson’s A-50, but unlike the more expensive mandolin, the Kalamazoo lacks an adjustable truss rod.
The back and sides of this instrument show some nice figure in the maple but the back is laminated and pressed into shape rather than carved. (If you peek through the soundhole in the last photo you can just make out the brace that is maintaining the arch, a feature you don’t see on a carved, solid mandolin back.) I’ve never actually played a Kalamazoo KMN-12 but I have played other Kalamazoo mandolins and I think the sound pretty good. They have a fairly bright tone without the depth and resonance of a carved instrument, but in the right hands they can work for blues or perhaps for raucous old-time string band music. This mandolin sold for around $15 when it was new in 1940, which was about half the price of a one of Gibson’s own Gibson brand mandolins. Consequently, this is just the sort of thing a non-recording blues singer or old-time musician would have played back then, making this good choice if you want to sound as authentic as possible. This particular Kalamazoo KMN-12 Oriole is listed on eBay with a Buy It Now price of $999.
Click here for the original listing.