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Kramer Aluminum Neck Guitars

The early Kramer Aluminum Neck guitars.

Front and back of a Kramer guitar. Note the difference between the Travis Bean headstock and the Kramer head stock.

Gary Kramer left Travis Bean in 1974 after what must have been a high level of frustration and difference of opinion in how a production guitar company should be operated. with a strong brief in the technology and marketability of aluminum neck guitars, he met up with two other interested parties, Dennis Berardi, Peter LaPlaca, and Henry Vaccaro Sr. who agreed help Kramer finance and build a new guitar company. In October 1975, they opened a factory in New Jersey making Kramer basses and guitars. The guitars were of high quality. The necks, rather than being milled from an aluminum block like the Travis Bean's, were a cast aluminum "T" shaped design with two wood strips inserted along the back of the neck. This was probably to conserve weight, and to give the guitar a more natural feel. Unlike Travis Beans, the neck did not extend down to the bridge, rather it bolted to the wooden body like a Fender (The image below is an example of the neck/body mount of an early Kramer guitar).

Kramer's approach to manufacturing was similar to what he helped set in motion at Travis Bean. Kramer Guitars was not a custom shop. A consistent product line was established consisting of several guitar and bass models. Marketing to both the consumer and to the retail guitar shops reflected this approach. Kramer guitars first went into production in 1976. The most popular early Kramer was the 450G. This guitar was very similar to a Travis Bean Standard with it's two humbucking pickups, two volume knobs, and two tone knobs. Also offered was the 350G, which was identical to the 450G except it carried two single coil pickups. Early aluminum neck Kramers were very much like the Travis Bean in many respects. The general shape of the body and the use of clear finishes on premium woods made the Kramer guitars look more like Travis Beans than any other popluar guitars of the time (Gibson's, Fender's, B.C.Rich's, etc). Besides the use of aluminum necks, the pickups on the Kramer guitars were very similar to Travis Beans. Both were designed in house, had similar bobbin arrangements and used Alnico 5 magnets. Also, both Travis Bean and Kramer pickups are mounted from the rear of the guitar.

In its second year, Kramer added two models to the 450G / 350G line up: an entry level 250G, and a premium 650G. The 250G was nearly identical to the 350G, but it was not offered in clear finish wood grain, only opaque color finishes, and a front pick guard was also incorporated into the design. The premium 650G, also known as "The Artist", was similar to the 450G except higher premium figured woods were used and the outer edge of the guitar was shaped.

For 1979, Kramer added a DMZ series of guitars to the line up that used DiMarzio pickups. The guitars were similar to the existing product line, which were now known as "The New Generation" product line. The DMZ models carried different model names to identify them as being part of the DMZ line. The DMZ1000 and DMZ2000 were similar to the 450G guitar. Both had the same configuration of two humbuckers, two volume plus two tone controls in addition to have the same basic body design as the 450G. The DMZ1000 was a solid wood body whereas the DMZ2000 had a walnut and maple premium body. DMZ2000 also added coil tap switches to the controls and was advertised as hanig "dual sound" pickups whereas the DMZ1000 was equipped with "super distortion" pickups. Unlike the 450G, the DMZ1000 and DMZ2000 came with Gibson style tune-o-matic bridges, whereas the DMZ3000 and the "new generation" series continued to use a Fender style bridge.

The DMZ6000G was similar to the 650G and differed from the DMZ2000 the same way the 650G had differed form the 450G. Unlike the other "New Generation" models, the 250G was actually replaced by a very similar DMZ3000. With its large plastic pickguard and three single coils, the DMZ3000 closely mirrored the 250G, and was now available with natural solid wood bodies. Customers paid a premium of $100 or so for the DMZ model over the similarly outfitted "New Generation" guitars (For 1980, only the 450G and 650G were offered, the 250G and 350G were discontinued, or rather, replaced by the DMZ single coil DMZ3000 guitar).

For 1981, the "new generation" model line was discontinued in favor of two new product lines, the XL and the XK. Whereas the 1976-1980 Kramer guitars used traditional guitar shapes that were perhaps derived from Gibson's ES-335 symmeterical double cut away bodies, The XL and XK lines focused on emerging popular trends in guitar design. The XL's added guitars that were shaped similarly to the Mockingbird and Eagle guitars of B.C.Rich. The XK series added "flying V" style shaped to the lineup. The XL line had been offered in 1980 begining with a bass guitar (XL-9), and for 1981 a full product line was offered. The XL's came in at even higher price than the existing DMZ lineup. The XK model line was a low end economy line with single pickups.

Along with the newer body shapes, other modern guitar trends appeared in the Kramer lineup. Active pickups and dual output pickups were offered in premium models. Non-tradiational colors and stripped bodies began to replace natural wood finish guitars as well. For a few years, variations of these model and lineups continued to come from Kramer. But more importantly for the fate of aluminum neck guitars, Kramer was now also selling bolt-on wood neck guitars and lots of them.

The Swan song for aluminum neck Kramers was Eddie Van Halen's endorsment of the wood neck Kramers. Whereas premium 1980 DMZ guitars sold for nearly $1000, the popular Striker and Pacer series guitars sold for $300-400. Wood neck guitars were cheaper and appealed to a growing metal audience. Somewhere in the mid-eighties Kramer dropped the Aluminum neck design in favor of a wooden neck design, and were met with much better sales. Unfortunately, the pioneering efforts of Travis Bean, Gary Kramer, and Mark McElwee vanished from production guitars. Interestingly enough, Gary Kramer left the company within the first year of production, the name stayed with the company though. The early Kramer Aluminum guitars were good quality, I've seen Kramers from the early 80's where quality seemed to be lower than that of the late 70's Aluminum Kramers.

These guitars haven't become as hard to find as Travis Beans, though demand is steadily growing. At a 1997 guitar show, I saw a very nice early Kramer 650 guitar for $485, at the same show I saw a Travis Bean Artist for over $1200 (the Artist should have been closer to half of that, in the shape it was in). A Veleno was also for sale for $4000.

2007 Update

This article was first written and included in the Travis Bean article around 1996 or 1997. What follows are some recent updates and information that was not available ten years ago.

Production figures seem to have been lost. Basses far out sold guitars. 450Gs were the most popular 1976-1980 Kramer guitar, production might have been around 1800. The 350G production was under 1000, the 250G production was probably between 600 and 1000, and the 650G production was probably between 400 and 600 units. The DMZ models, the 1000, 2000, and 3000 were all probably well under 1000 each and the 6000 was very limited with maybe a few hundred.

 Model     Production     Serial Range     Highest Registered*     
 250G     1977-1978     50000-59999     541     
 350G     1976-1978     30000-39999     751     earliest 30043, 30723 
 450G     1976-1980     10000-19999     1623     
 650G     1977-1980     70000-79999     432     70110 70432 
 DMZ1000     1979-1980     01000-01999     286     
 DMZ2000     1979-1980     02001-02999     966     
 DMZ3000     1979-1980     04001-04999     456     04235 04285 
 DMZ6000     1979-1980     07000-07999     120     
(*) These highest registered numbers come from vintagekramer.com'sregistry OR were verified by the author.

Last modified (Nov 3, 1998; Aug 12, 2007)