Kramer Daze - by Steve Z

Thanks again go out to Steve for his contribution to Vintage Kramer!

February, 2004 Column

The Day after I stayed late to help Ed Van Halen build his first custom Kramer, I was tired and a little hungover but I figured work would be business as usual. It was anything but. From the moment I arrived there was an atmosphere of excitement at the factory and everyone wanted to hear details about the night before and everyone was wondering why the factory was littered with empty beer bottles and cigarette buts. I went in to the fret room to get some work done. I was hardly a workaholic or dedicated employee but keeping busy made the day go by faster. I heard a commotion at the assembly area and I peaked out to see that Ed had returned with Mike Anthony, the bass player from VH. everyone was instructed to keep working but I knew we weren't going to be building a lot of guitars that day. Most of the Latino employees in the buffing and sanding rooms went about their jobs since they weren't big Van Halen fans. One employee was sent out to fill a non-prescription for the visiting artists, another ran home for a decent amp, etc. Production was instantly brought to a stand-still. Normally management would have been angry that we weren't making instruments but that day they all wore big smiles.

There were all sorts of strangers walking around trying to get Ed to play through a new effects unit or other guitar related inventions. After trying one little overdrive unit, Ed exclaimed, "Where the hell was this when I started playing?" It really did sound great and I wanted one but the owner said it was a prototype and not for sale yet. I thought it was funny that one guy had a guitar he wanted Ed to try with pickups that could be swapped in and out through the back on little wood block modules. Why would they let someone show him a non-Kramer guitar? Ed thought it was funny too since he preferred one pickup bolted right to the body.

I went back to the fret room but I peaked out from time to time to see what was happening. The crowd had moved down to the repair and paint room end of the factory and Tom, the painter, was having a blast spraying cheap spray can paint with Ed and Mike, They painted their shoes and walked on guitar bodies and other weird experiments. Tom was a Viet Nam vet and liked to wear military themed T-shirts. That day he had one with a skull and crossed bombs and the words "Seek and Destroy" which Mike really liked. They painted it on the body of an aluminum neck Bass for him. Dennis asked Ed if Michael was going to play Kramers and if he liked the bass. Ed said it didn't matter what he played. He would set his amp so that it sounded the same. Later Mikey tried to smash the "Seek and Destroy" bass at a Madison Square Garden show we went to. I though Tom was going to leap on stage and kill him but Mike probably regretted slamming an aluminum necked instrument on to the stage. It wouldn't break and he ended up jumping up and down on it as a finale.

At lunch our usual group went out to the parking lot to smoke pot. Ed joined us and no one complained as we passed a joint around the circle. Someone said they didn't know Ed partied and he said "What are you kidding me? I wrote and recorded that song Cathedral while tripping on mushrooms" It was a little surreal to have him making confessions in the parking lot while sitting on the hood of my junker car. I still had a camera with me but I didn't think he would appreciate a snapshot.

After lunch the guitar was dry enough for final assembly and a test run. I think every one in the factory and a few people from across the parking lot came to hear him play once he cranked up the amp. To this day that is about the finest guitar playing I have ever heard, from him or anyone else. I went out that night and bought Diver Down so I could hear a song called Cathedral for the first time.

September, 2003 Column

I grabbed some pizza on the way and went back to work. When I got there a handful of people were there already including Andy, Dennis, and Liz from the front office. Ed's famous striped guitar was on the bench in a case and I got someone to take a picture of me playing it. I was amazed at what a piece of crap his guitar was.

Then I went over to the tuning bench and started setting up a few instruments to kill time. When Ed came in everyone was fussing over him so I ignored him while I continued to work. After a few minutes he walked over and asked if I was going to help him build a guitar. I replied that he probably didn't require my help but to let me know when he needed something and I went back to tuning guitars. I wasn't trying to be aloof I was just very tired and I knew it was going to be a long night. Andy sent me out for Pizza, a case of Heineken, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and some cigarettes. After everyone had a bite to eat we went to work on Ed's guitar. Ed looked at all of the unfinished bodies we had available and didn't like any of them. He wanted a maple "Strat" style body to look similar to his other one. Andy sent me up in the loft to try to find and old "Walker Pacer" body that would work. When I gave it to Ed he was happy because it was just what he wanted and JAN26 was stamped in the neck pocket by 'Sports' when it was made. It was his birthday and he was apparently superstitious about his guitars. Then we needed a neck. Ed brought a new Floyd Rose with fine tuners and it was only the second Floyd I ever saw. The first one was on a replica of his (Women & Children First) Destroyer we made a few months earlier. He returned that one so it was sitting in the rack collecting dust. I had no idea how to set up this new tremolo system and no one had any experience routing a neck to accommodate the locking nut. Ed suggested that we just use the neck from the Destroyer copy since it was already set up and routed. I thought he meant temporarily until we could configure a regular beak neck the next day. I thought a strat body with that big banana headstock looked ridiculous and I said so but Ed thought it looked cool. Whatever........Ed and I went in to the fret room to work on the neck. I didn't get it since the neck was already perfect. He said he wanted to get the finish off of the fretboard so I showed him how to scrape it from between the frets with a razor blade. He asked me if I was sure that I wanted to be there since I wasn't very enthusiastic. I told him I was just tired and I was there as long as he needed me to be. Ed said he thought he might have something to perk me up but that's a whole other story. I dressed the frets and then watched in horror as Ed used sand paper followed by steel wool to finish the fret job. The wood was bare and now gray with dirt. Perfect! he said. Whatever.......

Now that I got my second wind I was ready to make a guitar. I routed the body to accept his hand-wound and dipped in wax Seymour Duncan humbucker, opened up the neck pocket a little and cut off part of a plastic pickguard with tin snips. I was having a hard time with all of this type of crude guitar building but I was able to keep my mouth shut for a change. I think I already insulted Ed a few times including my fit of laughter when he told me he just came from recording some tracks for Michael Jackson's new album. "You mean little Michael from the Jackson Five?" OK, I'll shut up now. Was he joking? I wasn't sure.

I'm not entirely clear on the sequence but at one point Ed and I were alone in Paul's repair room and he gave me his original guitar to play while he accompanied me on a 'Duke' Bass. Needless to say I was a little nervous but I started to close my eyes and get into it a little when we were rudely interrupted by another employee, but that's a whole other story.

After a lot tweaking and adjusting we managed to bolt his guitar together and get it playable around 11:00. For some reason I was wide awake. Ed had gone through most of the beer, most of the Wild Turkey, and miscellaneous other intoxicants. He seemed to be completely unaffected. We agreed that it was getting late and we would finish the guitar in the morning. Ed stayed at Dennis' house that night and everyone else went home.

August, 2003 Archived:
This is a new addition to the site to allow Steve Ez, a former Kramer employee and friend of the site to share his stories from the old days at Kramer. Thanks Steve!!!

"Want to go to Atlanta for the NAMM show this weekend?" Said Ron. Ron, aka "Rockin' Ronnie" and I had become pretty good friends since he started at Kramer earlier that year. Everyone at the factory had been preparing for the June 1982 NAMM show for over a month and it was no secret that Edward Van Halen would probably be stopping by the Kramer booth since he was now officially an endorser.

"How can we go to Atlanta?" I said, "We weren't invited."
Ron explained that he had already talked to Andy, our boss, and we could attend the show if we paid our own way. Within two days we had our tickets and were on our way to Atlanta. We caught a cab at the airport, got settled in to our fleabag hotel, showered, and headed over to the convention center. They didn't have our name at the door so we had sent a message to the Kramer booth that Ron and Steve were here for the show. Surprised that we actually made it, Andy came up and arranged for visitor passes.

We spent most of the remainder of the day wandering around the show checking out the new instruments. We made sure to find out where all of the parties and hospitality suites were and we went back to our room to relax and get some dinner. Later that night we stopped at the Atlanta OMNI hotel where the rest of the Kramer folks were staying and we met for drinks in the lobby. Eddie Van Halen and his wife Valerie joined us! I tried my best to act nonchalant which meant drinking lots of beer. Ron, Ed, Val, and I posed for a picture and Valerie had to push my beer out of the way so her face would be in the picture. The whole time other hotel guests were walking through the lobby without a second glance.

That evening we set out to take advantage of the open bars. We wandered from hotel to hotel and got pretty drunk all the while making sure that our Kramer NAMM badges were prominently displayed. After we were ejected form a few hotels we decided we should get some sleep before the big day. We got to the booth early and I spotted a couch to lie on since I was very hungover and in no shape to help with the booth. Not that I was expected to since we weren't invited or on the payroll. I woke up with Valerie Bertinelli burying her head in my shoulder to escape the throngs of people that had gathered around to meet her and Ed. Eddie was busy signing autographs and Ron went to get drinks for them. Heineken for Ed and Gin and Tonic for Val. Ed and a bass player, I think his name was Alfonso, picked up a few of the display instruments and played a little for the fans. The guitar wasn't even set up at the factory since it was meant to be for show only but Ed made it sound great. Ronnie kicked over Valerie's drink and apologized profusely. Valerie graciously told Ron not to worry about it since she needed an ashtray anyway. My impression of her was that she is very sweet and down-to-earth. I spotted the guys from the Charvel booth, who were eyeing our Kramer badges earlier, out in the crowd craning their necks for a better view of Eddie playing a Kramer in public. Word was out, Kramer was no longer that metal neck guitar company.

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