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

4.5 out of 5 stars 88 ratings

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  • Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson's 'Banner' Guitars of WWII
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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.

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.

Product details

  • Item Weight : 13.8 ounces
  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0983082782
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0983082781
  • Product Dimensions : 6 x 0.61 x 9 inches
  • Publisher : American History Press; Illustrated Edition (January 26, 2013)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 88 ratings

Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5
88 global ratings
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Top reviews from other countries

Dafydd Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous read - dont miss ity
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 8, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars did their best to eradicate it from guitar making history
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 17, 2015
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Maggie Gee
5.0 out of 5 stars One good book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 5, 2018
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A. R. Perry
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm a sucker for history of 20th century guitars so ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 29, 2015
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T. J. B
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful step back in time
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 10, 2014
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