Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.

Buy New
  • List Price: $21.95
  • Save: $4.66 (21%)
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
Kalamazoo Gals: A Story o... has been added to your Cart
Sell yours for a Gift Card
We'll buy it for $2.25
Learn More
Trade in now
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 3 images

Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII Paperback – January 26, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

See all 2 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
New from Used from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
$13.29 $13.42

Best Books of the Month
See the Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.
$17.29 FREE Shipping on orders over $35. In Stock. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

Frequently Bought Together

  • Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII
  • +
  • C.F. Martin & Co. (Images of America)
Total price: $32.19
Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews


"[R]ecommended reading for a range of collections, from women's history and music to World War II and American history. ...[A] powerful saga that is packed with historical links and rare glimpses of a guitar maker and a war, and a group of women whose jobs changed lives." Midwest Book Review/California Bookwatch

"John Thomas' personal quest to find the lost Kalamazoo gals is endearingly told in Kalamazoo Gals: A story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII. This is not just one story but many; finally giving these women their voice, to talk about the guitars they made for a manufacturer that denied they ever existed." Feminist Times

"[A]n enchanting story of brittle and eccentric company founder Orville Gibson, these very special guitars and the testimonies of the surviving Kalamazoo Gals." Mojo Magazine

"[A] warm and engaging book that reconstructs the lost story of how [the Kalamazoo Gals] built some of the greatest flat-top acoustic guitars ever manufactured - and then, after the war, stepped quietly back into domestic home life. ... Thomas has written a book that communicates on many different levels; as a work of social history, this has a far broader appeal than just guitar lovers." Songlines Magazine

"I've always believed that behind every great guitar is a great story. The so-called Banner Era Gibsons made in Kalamazoo around World War II are among the greatest flattop acoustic guitars ever made, and the story behind them--and the women who built them--might be even better. John Thomas has given the guitar world a gift by telling this great, and largely unknown tale."  -Allen St. John, author of Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument.

Kalamazoo Gals reveals the fascinating and previously untold story of Gibson s guitar production during World War II when wartime rationing, governmental regulation of manufacturing and lack of draft age men in the workforce dramatically altered life in America. John Thomas chronicles the stories of the women who took over the workforce, producing superb instruments in spite of no previous manufacturing experience, and later stepped back into domestic home life when the men returned home from the war. These Kalamazoo Gals are finally receiving the recognition they richly deserve. --George Gruhn, author of Gruhn s Guide to Vintage Guitars, proprietor of Gruhn's Guitars in Nashville, and recognized expert on vintage stringed instruments

Kalamazoo Gals is that rare combination of history and detective story that unveils something new and fascinating at every turn. John Thomas has written a book that will excite fans of the guitar as well as armchair historians. There are very few books that weave the history of the guitar into the history of America as engagingly. --HP Newquist, founder of The National GUITAR Museum and author of The Way They Play

True life adventures in the land of banner heads.John Thomas sets out to find everything there is to know about Gibson's famed wartime guitars, and he ends up with a fascinating cross-section of America's social history. Not just for guitar lovers. --Walter Carter, guitar historian, author of Gibson Guitars: 100 Years of an American Icon and proprietor of Carter Vintage Guitars

From the Back Cover

It's a haunting image. At least it was for author John Thomas.  Some seventy women sit in four rows in front of the Gibson Guitar factory in the mid-1940s. Conventional wisdom and company lore had it that Gibson had ceased guitar production during WWII, with only "seasoned craftsmen" too old for battle doing repairs and completing the few instruments already in progress. What were these women doing there? The image so bedeviled Thomas that he eventually set out to find at least one of the women in the photograph. He found a dozen. Along the way he would discover that despite denials that endured into the 1990s, Gibson employed a nearly all female workforce to build thousands of wartime guitars and marked each with a small, golden "banner" pronouncing that "Only a Gibson is Good Enough." The banner appeared on the guitars at the moment those women entered the factory in January 1942, which fate choreographed to coincide with the precise instant when Glenn Miller's "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" reached the pinnacle of the pop charts. The banner disappeared at the end of 1945 when the war ended, the soldiers returned, and most of the Kalamazoo Gals ceded their guitar making jobs back to their male predecessors.
On his personal journey, Thomas tracks Orville Gibson from his birth in upstate New York to the founding of his namesake company in Michigan and to his return to his birthplace and death in a mental hospital.  He takes us to meet these women in Kalamazoo and to travel with them through the Great Depression and into WWII. He wanders the hallways of the abandoned Gibson factory in search of the ghost of its founder, Orville Gibson, steps into the imaging clinic to seek radiographic evidence of sublime quality of the Gals' craft, and tracks the "Banner" Gibsons from Kalamazoo into the hands of their first owners. Ultimately, he leads us straight into the hearts of the Kalamazoo Gals.

Looking for the Audiobook Edition?
Tell us that you'd like this title to be produced as an audiobook, and we'll alert our colleagues at Audible.com. If you are the author or rights holder, let Audible help you produce the audiobook: Learn more at ACX.com.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: American History Press (January 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983082782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983082781
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a law professor, freelance writer, and guitarist still striving for mediocrity. My articles range in topic from music and musical instruments to politics, health policy, bioethics, and autism. My writings have been published in law reviews, medical journals, music magazines, national newspapers, and the Oxford Dictionary of Music. My X-ray project that demonstrated why the "Banner" Gibsons built by the Kalamazoo Gals are superior to those built by their male predecessors and successors has morphed into an art show that is traveling to museums throughout the US through 2016 with the National Guitar Museum.

For information about the art show, visit http://www.vintagesteelguitarart.com/.

For some of that mediocre guitar playing and to check out some of my other projects, visit http://www.johnthomasguitar.com/.

For more information about "Kalamazoo Gals" visit http://www.kalamazoogals.com/.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you are a Professor of Law, a guitarist, an editor of the Fretboard Journal, obviously a guitar aficionado, and you come across clear evidence that contradicts important statements about your major interest, what do you do? If you are John Thomas, you start a major investigation into the facts of the case. Then, after clarifying the case as much as is possible, you publish a book about it titled "Kalamazoo Gals". That title doesn't sound much like a legal tome, and it is not. What it describes is a journey through American social history, as he followed the trail wherever the the verified facts led him. The facts concerned his favorite guitars, World War II era Banner Gibsons. The guitar, which has been called "the dominant instrument of American popular music", is used as a vehicle that carries a fascinating story of mid 20th century America. The items that so puzzled Thomas were three. First, the official statement that, during World War II, the Gibson company produced fewer guitars than Thomas found that they actually made. Second, Gibson's contention that, of the workforce during that era, there were 10% of the skilled male guitar craftsmen left to make those guitars. And (drum roll, please) third, a picture Thomas got of the entire Gibson workforce showed it to be almost entirely made up of women. So, who made how many of what? It has been said that "the historian is the detective for mankind" and lawyers have been described as a kind of historian, so Thomas fits the bill for answering those questions rather well. In addition, those who know his writing style, from reading his guitar articles, know they are in for a treat.

We are led through a number of mysterious stories. All of the stories are illuminated by images from the era. First, who was Orville Gibson, really?
Read more ›
Comment 10 of 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was very important read for me as I am from Kalamazoo, Mi. So, I grew up knowing about the Gibson Company. I had an uncle who was a prominent salesman for the company and who is mentioned in the book. I would recommend the book to anyone who loves history and making of the famous Gibson Guitars. It was especially important to see the role of women during the war years and how, with their skill, they kept the company going. It is a shame it has taken so very long to give them the recognition they deserved.
Comment 7 of 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
When America went to war in late 1941, small manufacturing companies like Gibson Guitar, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, joined the war effort by putting aside their peacetime production to make the bits and pieces that fed the vast industrial machine that helped bring victory to the allies. Gibson, like many small companies, saw most of their male production workers go to war, leaving empty places throughout the factory.

Into their places stepped many of the young women of Kalamazoo, who despite extreme limits on materials and no experience in the art of guitar building--and despite the fact that officially, Gibson made no guitars at all during this period of austerity--managed to help the few remaining male workers cobble together some of the finest acoustic guitars ever made in America.

When the war ended, the men came back to the workbenches, and most of the women went back to their pre-war lives, their contribution to American musical instrument history all but forgotten.

John Thomas brings the story of these women to life with a remarkable combination of oral history and deep sleuthing. "Kalamazoo Gals" is a wonderful tale, beautifully told. It will appeal to anyone who loves guitars and the history of the American workplace during those difficult years. It's an inspiring read about how ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things.

Today, the guitars made by Gibson during the war are recognized as both unique and superb, in no little part due to the efforts of these "Kalamazoo Gals". In John Thomas, they got the perfect combination of scholar and guitar enthusiast to tell their remarkable story.
Comment 5 of 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
You don't have to be a guitar geek to enjoy this book, although there is plenty in here for geeks. But it brings history to life... I know it sounds cliche, but "I laughed... I cried" at many of the warmly related stories in this book. It's fascinating the way an antique object can bring history to life. The more you think about and research the object, the more it brings real characters swimming up out of the past into your thoughts and dreams. This is especially true about old musical instruments. John Thomas goes back to WWII America and takes us with him, to talk about the war, Pearl Harbor, rationing, women stepping in to fill out the labor force, Woodie Guthrie, and of course vintage guitars. He tracks down and interviews a number of the women who worked at Gibson Guitar Co. during this period, and in the process makes them his friends. I own two guitars built in Kalamazoo just slightly before the war era covered by this book, and I will never look at them the same again. Thanks to Mr Thomas firing my imagination, they are now inhabited by the spirits of those who made and played them in the intervening years.
Comment 3 of 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I love Gibson and have owned/played a bunch, so my initial draw to your book was that. However, Kalamazoo Gals made me think about the times, also. World War II was staggering in its immensity, both abroad and at home. The "Gals", whom I feel like I know because of your descriptions, are heroes to me along with all Americans that preserved our freedom. My favorite parts of the book ended up being your interactions with the Gals themselves, visits to their homes and the teas. The guitar sections, which drew me in the first place, became secondary (although still interesting - -). I think you've done remarkable work with your research and writing -
Comment 3 of 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews

Set up an Amazon Giveaway

Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more
Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII
This item: Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII
Price: $17.29
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com

Want to discover more products? Check out these pages to see more: biography books, emily dickinson biography, women in history