CHAMP ELECTRONICS -" THE VINTAGE VALVE AMP HOSPITAL"

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND

 

RESTORATION OF A c1964 GIBSON "KALAMAZOO" SKYLARK 5 watt COMBO AMPLIFIER

 

 

 

 

Hi! There seems to be a big trend, nowadays with guitarists, to go for combo amplifiers of around 5 watts which are very portable. This is a particular tendency for both amateur and semi-pro guitarists, who do a lot of "bedroom playing" and small local gigs. Most of these small amps seem to be WEM Clubman's, Fender Champ's, Gibson Skylark's and a few other similar 4 - 5 watter's. The choice of which one seems to be very "personal", and as I have always found most guitarists "finicky", that doesn't surprise me in the least! Nevertheless, such a small amp can sound really cool at low volume, and when overdriven also sound great; especially for studio work or "miked-up" situations through a big PA rig.

About 3 months ago I received a phone call from a fairly regular customer of mine (Karl - Gosh....he'll think he's famous now that I've mentioned his name!!) asking about having an amp, won again on EBay, sent to me straight from the the big USA for me to check and sort out. This has occurred a  few times before with other customers and I don't have a problem with this. In-fact it makes a lot of sense to do so with gear of 30 or more years old!

Although this was a Gibson Skylark (a model that I have come across before - please check out this article), this time it was the Kalamazoo version. Now, the story goes that Gibson, at some point back there in the sixties, farmed-out some of their work to Kalamazoo. It is also suggested that this was basically Gibson's "budget range", but, what I can tell you is this: having done a couple of Gibson Skylarks in the past and now this so called "budget version", I can not see any difference whatsoever! All the components are of the same quality and from the same manufacturers; all the workmanship quality was identical; and even the wooden cases were the same, complete with dovetail jointed too (please see photo below). You don't find this nowadays on guitar combos! In my eyes, they are as good as each other and I certainly wouldn't use the term "budget!!" (See bottom of this page also for further information recently received on this subject.) 

 



One of the main reasons for Karl to have the amp sent straight to me was the fact that these early sixties USA versions were only equipped for 120 volts use (American mains supply voltage). I have done a good few modifications on this score, and whilst the power transformer would almost certainly have been operating correctly at 120v, I had to remove it and rewind to our British 240 volts.

When Karl first won the amp, he was already aware that there was no back panel and that the speaker was missing too. However, on arrival three of the tubes were smashed, not having been very well packed. Replacing the tubes was no problem as I have all these in stock.


Once I had rewound and fitted the power transformer, plus installing a new set of tubes, the old amp came back to life absolutely perfectly! Someone had already changed or added the main smoothing capacitors, and this had been carried out  fine. There were hardly any other component changes needed and in-fact I had to remove just one component. As these early amps had no earth (two core cable), it was always a trend to fit a capacitor from the +AC mains to ground (sometimes two capacitors, one from the -AC too) This/these would then reflect as a "virtual ground". Not a "done-thing" nowadays, so this cap was removed and a proper three core power cord has been provided to ensure a "real ground (earth)".

 

 



I remembered that a while ago I had done a "V-fronted" stereo Gibson amp (please check out HERE) and this too required no component changes! Not a bad testimony for old Gibson amps!!

Finally, it was time to deal with the missing speaker. I left this to an old friend of mine who always "comes up trumps" when I'm stuck, and hey,  just look at what he came up with! This 8 ohm, 10" unit was perfect for the job, not only in looks but sound too! We don't really know if it is a Jenson, JBL, or what the hell it is really but, what the heck, it looks the part and sounds really good too!

 



The other good thing about this Kalamazoo Skylark is the fact that it uses a pair of output tubes (rather than being single-ended like most of its competitors) and this AB1, with out a feedback type of circuit (rather like a Vox AC30, but at only about 6 watts or so) always sounds better than SE (single-ended) Class A!!

 



This amp ended up sounding superb all round. In-fact, I'll let Karl's testimonial e-mail below tell the rest!

Thanks for your interest, John.

 

 

 

Hi John,

Just to say how pleased I am with the work you have done rescuing the Kalamazoo Skylark. It did look as though there was a great amp waiting to emerge from what arrived from the USA, incomplete as it was. The work you have done exceeds all my expectations particularly as the amp has not been modified or changed in any way other than for safety. The amp looks great and sounds stunning I imagine just as it did when it was bought in 1964, if not better? Why these amps haven't got the kudos and collectability of Fender Champs is a mystery and lets keep it that way. Cheers again for your painstaking work. 

Karl 

 

 


 

 

 

FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE SKYLARK, RECEIVED RECENTLY FROM PETER SIMPSON:

Thank you Peter for the following valuable information:
 
"Hi, I just wanted to say I greatly enjoy your website, and to offer a tit-bit of information---
 
You show 2 Gibson Skylarks that you have repaired, and one of them is described as being from the 'Kalamazoo' budget line.  This isn't strictly correct, although the amp was made in Kalamazoo Michigan.  In the same factory Gibson made Gibson, Kalamazoo, and Epiphone amplifiers. Many of the models are quite similar (with many near-identical Gibson and Epiphone equivalents), and Kalamazoo is indeed the budget line. However, the amp that you show is actually a Gibson, not a Kalamazoo.  It is missing its Gibson logo but you can see the mounting holes in the top right area of the grillcloth. It is what is called a "Crestline" Gibson, which just refers to the cabinet style, which was used in the period about 1962-1965. The other Skylark you show is a slightly earlier "tweed" model.  There is a later "white panel" style (about 65-67), and after that...  accountants took over and Gibson amp quality declined drastically...!
 

Incidentally another curious point about Gibson amps is that they rarely match published schematics. The Skylark is probably the exception, but on the larger amps it seems that they were constantly experimenting.
 
You can probably tell I share your enthusiasm for old amps...
 
Best regards, Peter Simpson ."


 

Return to CHAMP ELECTRONICS - GIBSON AMP WORK

Return to CHAMP ELECTRONICS - WORK UNDERTAKEN PAGE