When it entered the music-instrument market in 1976, Kramer Guitars made a big splash with an aggressive marketing campaign, big-name endorsers, and – most importantly – an improved approach to the then-fresh concept of aluminum necks.
In terms of stability, the aluminum neck was seen as an improvement over wood. And while Kramer Guitars followed in the footsteps of builder Travis Bean, who used machined aluminum to make guitar necks starting in ’74, Kramer’s bolt-on necks felt more like a traditional instrument; consisting of an aluminum bar with wood inserts on each side, Kramer’s approach reduced the much-maligned weight of Bean’s neck-through instruments and provided a more-natural (wood) feel. Kramer fretboards were made of Ebonol, a substance similar to that of a bowling ball, and its headstock design – in the shape of a tuning fork – also set it apart.
Kramer’s initial line consisted of two guitars and two basses. The fancier bass, dubbed the 450B, had two pickups, a scale of 333/4″ and Schaller M-4 tuners. Its neck was 15/8″ wide at the (aluminum) nut, and the fretboard had 20 frets, joining the body at the 17th on the bass side, 19th on the treble. The 450B’s block-shaped markers started at the first fret.
The company’s catalog noted the “tropical imported body woods,” including Shedua, Bubinga, Afrormosia, and Swetenia, and that the 450B weighed approximately 10 pounds. Controls were guitar-like, with separate Volume and Tone for each pickup, and a three-way pickup selector toggle.
The following year, the 450 guitar and bass were given a dedicated Deluxe Series brochure, as Kramer added new models in other series (Special, Standard, and Artist). The 450B was displayed with what appeared to be a walnut body with a maple-and-walnut center stripe (though the brochure made no mention of body woods), and the fretboard had aluminum dot markers.
In the ’78 catalog, the bodies and pickup rings of the 450 Deluxe were identified as “select American black walnut and maple.” For the first time, its text noted the pickups were single-coil. That annum also heralded the introduction of Kramer’s DMZ series, with pickups made especially for it by DiMarzio. “Conceived and designed by Kramer with the input from selected top recording artists, these models deliver exactly what the artist needs when performing today’s style of music, both live and in the recording studio,” it trumpeted.
The DMZ 4000 had a DiMarzio offset pickup (a la Fender’s Precision Bass) with active circuitry. Its two mini-switches controlled “Power” and tone. The neck was the same as on the 450B and other models, and the catalog touted three finishes – maple with walnut stripes, walnut with maple stripes, and black.
In ’79, the company introduced the DMZ 4001, a passive version of the 4000. “It offers the bassist all the innovative features Kramer is known for at a modest price…” Finishes were listed as maple, walnut, or black, and gone were references to wood “stripes,” though the 4001 seen here does have inlaid walnut striping.
The black pickups on the DMZ 4000 and the DMX 4001 were typically surrounded by a black plate shaped like an elongated hexagon, while cream-colored pickups weren’t given a surround.
In the early ’80s, Kramer began a shift to wooden necks; the last series of Kramer basses with aluminum was the headless Duke (VG, August ’04). After enjoying great success in the decade – including status as the best-selling brand of ’85 and ’86 – in the ensuing years, the company encountered financial issues, and the brand was ultimately acquired by Gibson.
This article originally appeared in Vintage Guitar magazine January 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.