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Kalamazoo Amps

"I had craved one of these old girls for a long time while searching for something to give me the sound I wanted. Greg provided the means of getting a good 'Zoo that he made safe to use by modern standards. I'll never part with it! Thanks Greg!" - Hawkeye Kane, Springfield, IL

"I spent an hour messing with it today, played harp through it ana a Harmony 400A and a tube swapped blues jr,. and I think the Zoo sounds better than all of them! Nice sound, excellent condition, Thanks!" --- Rick B, Indianapolis, IN.

"The Kalamazoo is the PERFECT amp for me. At least gives me (maybe approaching intermediate player) a shot at getting that elusive "sound/tone", while I improve my amplified playing. And, I did not have to spend $600 or $1,200, or whatever. " Mike M, Westminster, MA


Check out Japanese harp wonder Koei Tanaka's performance at SPAH 2009. Winslow Yerxa asked if they could borrow my Kalamazoo Model 2 for that show - Mr. Tanaka had fun with it. That was a big room and the amp was unmic'd - shows what this amp can do when the band controls their volume. Although it will be drowned out at an uncontrolled jam, it is louder than most people expect, and louder than most amps of this size. Go ahead - start it and listen while you read on about these marvelous little amps......
I normally gig through one of the most coveted harp amps there is, a Sonny Jr. Avenger. But I wanted a smaller practice amp. I'm pretty handy with tools and a soldering iron, so I considered building a Fender Tweed Champ from a kit. It was going to set me back about $500 plus a lot of time, so I decided first to check with Sonny Jr. himself - the guy knows more about amps for harp than anyone else I've ever met. He said "Save your money and get yourself a Kalamazoo Model 2 off of eBay. Best little harp amp I ever heard."

So I took his advice, and bought the amp you see pictured to the right. It has a typical Kalamazoo "patina". Fixed it up and you know what? Sonny Jr. was right! That was 10 years ago.


Here's a sound sample, with some accompaniment. That's a Jamie Abersold CD on my stereo, and me blowin' to it off the top of my head, in my living room, unrehearsed. (In other words, go easy on me!) I used my Edirol R-09 and recorded straight to MP3. No effects. My goal with what I played was to showcase the amp through a range of playing styles, not to play something cohesive. You'll hear single-note, chords and octaves, played both open and tightly cupped through a Shure Controlled Magnetic element in one of my wood mic shells.

This amp is sold but I may have more like it. Check with me!

This amp is sold but I may have more like it. Check with me!

More about the amps...

Kalamazoo amps were made by the Chicago Musical Instruments, or CMI (Gibson's parent company during the 60s) from 1965 to 1967. They were marketed as inexpensive guitar practice amps. I can tell you, they're not very exciting with a guitar plugged into them. But as harp amps, they ROCK! They break up easily in response to just about any good harp mic and have a wonderful, dirty, gritty -- but not harsh -- tone.

And they have a really cool tremelo effect. Place one of these on each side of the stage and set the tremelos to different frequencies and you get a magical "Leslie" effect that throws the sound all over the place! But I digress.....

The last of the Model 2's received a face lift and look like the one shown at left. I refer to these as the "brown face" amps. The circuit is the same as the earlier amps, though - they sound just as good.

For much more information about Kalamazoo amps, see Miles O'Neal's fine web page.

Buyer Beware

I have now rebuilt over 400 'Zoo's I bought on eBay. I'm sure that gives me more experience than anyone else on the planet, but I can't prove it, so I won't claim it as gospel. My customers are 100% satisifed, and that I can prove.

Of course, the eBay sellers always say it sounds just fine, but when I get them, there are almost always problems. I have had amps with bad tubes, blown speakers, blown transformers, bad capacitors, shorted resistors, bad switches and pots, cabinets being held together by only a few strings of tolex, broken baffle boards, you name it. Some of them actually did make some noise when I first turned them on, but not a single one was "right."

I have identified a design weakness that leads to an expensive failure, and a correction for it. The two input jacks are connected to the same solder lug on the preamp tube socket by resistors, wired directly from the jacks to the lug. When you plug your cable into the amp, the face of the chassis flexes, putting stress on this lug. (Resistors have relatively stiff wires.) Ultimately the lug will break leaving you with nothing but hum. Replacing a tube socket is a relatively expensive repair - it takes me well over an hour to do, and then there's parts and shipping.... The amp you buy on eBay may be ready to fail and may well do so in shipping.

All amps I work on receive a mod to secure the chassis face to the cabinet, eliminating this common cause of failure.

The lesson here is that unless you know what one is supposed to sound like, and/or are willing to do the work to make a bad one good, you're at the risk of getting screwed if you try to buy one yourself.

Avoid the model shown above at all costs! For a short while before ceasing production, CMI produced this "Kalamazoo Model 2". It is 100% Solid State! No tubes. No Good. The pic above shows an amp missing its middle knob - it was laid out exactly like the "real" Model 2, but with the silver face plate.

This amp has been sold.

What can you expect?

I had to build an entirely new cabinet for the one you see at left. I covered it with lizard skin and a rainbow-sequined grill cloth. I call it my "Lounge Lizard" amplifier.

Building a new cabinet from scratch is a lot of work - so I generally try to avoid it as it is difficult to justify the labor in terms of a resale price. Ordinarily I just try to make them structurally sound, but more importantly I make them electrically safe, mechanically sound and functionally correct.

I always convert the original 2-wire plug into a properly grounded 3-wire circuit to reduce the risk of electric shock. And I always add a screw to secure the face of the chassis to the cabinet (see "Buyer beware" above.) Then I replace components as needed - every amp is a little different. But they have one thing in common - they all sound great!

How Much?

Prices range from about $329 (for a beat up Model 1) to $750 (for a really clean Model 2.) Remember, even the "beat up" ones are mechanically sound and work fine - they just have more "character" or "patina" than the cleaner ones..... Shipping in the continental U.S. runs about $45.

How Do I Get One?

Iím afraid I donít have any amps available. I sold every Kalamazoo I could get my hands on for years ó about 400 of themó so I always kept a waiting list. But the price of the amps has skyrocketed, and I am downsizing - and Iím just not getting them any more. So I am not accepting any new names to my waiting list. I DO still rebuild them for customers who find their own amps. The best places to look are garage sales - where people often don't know the value. However theey do come up for sale frequently on sites like eBay, Craigslist and Reverb.  

Line Out Option

Kalamazoos have great tone, and amazing volume for their size, but no 8W amp is going to win volume wars at a loud jam. The line-out is a high impedance signal accesible via a 1/4" jack, and the output is equivalent to that of a good microphone, so you can connect the amp to the house sound system (via high-Z input or DI Box) or another amp. This is no sterile-sounding pre-amp line-out. The signal is derived from the speaker side of the output transformer, so all the great Kalamazoo tone gets amplified. It really works! The Kalamazoo becomes an on-stage monitor but can be heard by hundreds, even thousands. A line-out is the optimal way to connect one amp to another. Using a "Y cable, "A/B/Y Box" or other cable splitter will cut the input impedance in half, doubling the load on your mic and altering its tone. The line out does not lower the input impedance at all. Cool, eh? (Thanks to Gary Onofrio, aka Sonny Jr. for his assistance in developing this circuit.)

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