In the metal-crazy ‘80s, Kramer was the numero uno-selling guitar brand on earth. However, some ten years before the Van Halen stripes and leopard print finishes that blended with spandex, Kramer guitars looked like this 650G from 1977. One of only 400 made, it’s owned by The Music Zoo’s Rose Reina, who reports that a number of stoner-rock bands in her native Queens, New York, have been using these guitars lately.
The earliest Kramer guitars were distinguishable by their aluminum and wood necks with “tuning fork” headstocks. Gary Kramer began his guitar-building career in partnership with Travis Bean, making the eponymous guitars that became popular partly due to their aluminum necks with “T” cutout headstocks. Why aluminum? Kramer and Bean felt they offered stability and sustain far beyond wood necks. Aluminum is undoubtedly more solid than wood. As for sustainability, that’s a matter of debate although the original Travis Bean guitar—the TB 1000—is a beautiful instrument that’s highly collectible. And very, very heavy.
Eventually, Kramer left his association with Bean partly over patent issues and partly because Travis wanted to concentrate on being a drummer dude. With partners in New York, he formed the company that bears his name and the 650G was among his the first guitars he marketed. It, too, was very, very heavy and likely the reason you don’t come across many of the old “V” headstock Kramers. Because of Travis Bean owning the patent on the aluminum neck, Gary Kramer skirted the issue by creating an aluminum neck with wood inserts (using walnut) to create a profile and also add some warmth. One of the criticisms of early Beans was their cold necks. Brrrr.
Along with the tuning fork headstock and aluminum, a familiar characteristic of the early Kramers are the clear finishes of the guitars’ wood bodies. The 650G is the most expensive of the aluminum-neck Kramers and it features three-piece laminated walnut wings between a birds-eye maple body. The laminated approach with the walnut was likely for some woodsy ornamentation. Other details include a 25-inch scale length, Schaller tuners, and a zero fret. Pickups are low-output humbuckers—some say Bill Lawrence custom-wounds made for Kramer—with metal covers engraved with the Kramer logo, and they attach to a metal plate on the guitar’s back. The pickup surrounds are actually walnut and they contrast nicely with the lightness of the maple. Amusingly, the fretboard, fitted with pearloid crown inlays, looks like ebony but it ain’t. It’s actually a polymer called Ebanol which also made its way into bowling balls. Tonally, it’s resonant with plenty of sustain courtesy of the aluminum. There’s plenty of midrange girth, too, although the pickups are somewhat anemic, barely driving the ‘70s Marshall JMP combo that we keep here at the Zoo.
Speaking of bowling balls, the 650G and other aluminum-necked Kramers were like the guitar equivalent to bowling balls at least in terms of weight. Rose’s guitar is 10.6 pounds, and the weight factor along with changing guitar styles rang the death knell for the first chapter of Kramer guitars. Guitars this heavy are a tough sell, even if they sound good. What else can we say? It’s heavy, built like a tank, sounds fantastic, and looks like something from 1977. Rock with it!
Written By Mike Bieber
Photographs By Walter Bryant