The Kramer Overview and Story

Kramer started out making aluminum neck guitars back in the 1970's. Realizing that the market was getting fairly large for "rocker" guitars, the company introduced the Pacer in the very early 80's. The Pacer started out as a two humbucker, strat headstock, vintage bridge type of guitar. Kramer had originally approached Eddie Van Halen about using a new tremolo, called the Rockinger (also referred to as the Edward Van Halen tremolo, but didn't work out). Eddie had many problems with the Rockinger, and worked with Kramer and Floyd Rose to use the Floyd Rose tremolo on Kramer Guitars. What evolved from those conversations was what would become the Kramer Baretta, Edward's first true signature instrument. Kramer then worked with other artists developed new and improved guitars based on newer designs from Edward Van Halen's involvement. Many famous luthiers and guitar designers had a hand in assisting many Kramer's design, most notably, Tom Anderson, Steve Ripley, Spector, Buddy Blaze, Seymour Duncan, Schaller, and many others. The full story can be read further down within this page.

How to Determine Overseas vs. American Made Kramers
Just because the neckplate says Neptune, NJ doesn't mean its an American Made Kramer. Also, the term "American Made Kramer" must be used rather loosely. Most parts were made overseas on all Kramers, and then were asembled here in the U.S. For example, ESP provided Kramer with necks on all their guitars around 1986. Additionally, some Kramers were even called "American Series" (notice the post 1986 plates never say "Made in USA" only Neptune, NJ) and assembled overseas in Japan (some later model Stagemasters).

Additionally, there were also Japanese exclusive market Kramers that never saw the light of day in America. Many of those models look just like their American counterparts with different model labels.

Just keep one thing in mind, just because it says "Neptune, NJ" on the neckplate, that does not mean "MADE IN USA."

American Made (or assembled) Kramer Models
Baretta, Pacer, Stagemaster, Vanguard, Voyager, Classic, ProAx, NightSwan, Ripley, Spector, Paul Dean, Richie Sambora, TriAx, Enterprize, Elliot Easton, Sustainer, Liberty, and Condor Series.

Overseas Made Kramers
Striker, Focus, Number in the name (ex ZX10), XL, Aerostar, Showster, Gorky Park, and Ferrington.

Small Listing of Prior Endorsees

Eddie Van Halen
Sammy Hagar
Elliott Easton (Cars)
Paul Dean (Lover Boy)
Steve Stevens (Billy Idol)
George Lynch
Dave Menneketi (Y&T)
Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi)
Mick Mars (Motley Crue)
John Bon Jovi
Gene Simmons (KISS)
Dweezil Zappa
Vivian Campbell
Rick Neilson
Scotty Hill (Skid Row)
Howard Leese (Heart)
Nancy Wilson (Heart)

The Almost-an-Endorsee George Lynch Story (from George Lynch himself)

"Kramer invited Matt Masciandaro, (my tech at the time, now president of ESP), to come to the factory on a day off while we were in NY playing a show. They we're going to send a limo for us and take us out to lunch. We ended up partying a little to much and ended up falling asleep parked in the center of the turnpike and being woken up by the cops. We finally showed up at Kramer. They let us use their limo to fall asleep in,( it was parked in the woodshop), and fed us cold pizza when we woke up. They didn't offer me much of a deal so we ended up going with ESP
eventually, hope this clears things up!"

Terry Boling's and Vintage Guitar Magazine - Kramer Story

Text from Terry Boling's Krazy Kramer site. Items from this text might not be based of fact, however, the bulk of this story is true. Story will be updated from time to time as news develops. A very special thanks goes to Terry for the basis of the story and the hard work he has done to research any and all Kramer information.

June 3, 2003 - Updates made about Walker Guitars
September 1, 2003 - Updates about Michael Jackson Involvement
April 1, 2003 - More updates about Henry Vacarro Sr. and the Jackson Family Collection

NOTE by Terry Boling: The following is a story of Kramer that I have put together from my research through out the year of 1997. The information contained here is in no way 100% accurate, but is as close as possible with what I had to work with. It may also be of interest to note that this is in no way as comprehensive as the story to be run in Vintage Guitar Magazine by Michael Wright, nor will all of the information be the exact same as that in the published version. Happy reading.

An ingenious young man by the name of Dennis Berardi, a musical instrument retailer and drummer, was operating his own music store and was intrigued by the idea of aluminum as a manufacturing material for guitars due to his experience with selling Travis Bean guitars. Gary Kramer was working with Travis Bean guitars as a sales rep in Dennis' region, and through various discussions, was able to sell Gary on many ideas and improvements to the Travis Bean ideas. Dennis convinced Gary to leave Travis Bean because he was determined that they could make fine quality instruments on their own. These guitars were to use many of the Travis Bean features, especially the aluminum neck, but the idea was to produce a more affordable guitar utilizing the aluminum neck idea, yet still have the "feel" of a traditional guitar. Gary left Travis Bean Guitars in October of 1975, and teamed up with Dennis Berardi for this venture. In early 1976, Peter Laplaca joined Kramer and Berardi. Laplaca was the former Vice President of Norlin, the parent company for the guitar manufacturer Gibson. With the financial backing of these two investors and large contractor businessman, Henry Vacarro Sr., Kramer Guitars became a guitar manufacturing company. Their parent company was BKL International Distributing, Ltd located in New Jersey (Henry Vacarro wanted to stay somewhat separated from the business). The first designs were the creations of Kramer, Berardi, and luthier Phil Petillo. The company was established in June of 1976, and the first guitars rolled out of the doors and into the public's hands in November of 1976. Despite the initial expectations of this union of experiences, Gary Kramer left the company, within a year after its conception. Rumors say that he left because of differences in how the company should be managed, and Dennis Berardi and Peter Laplaca continued on with the Kramer name.

The woods of choice for these first guitars were fancy woods along the lines of burled walnut, maple, and koa with optional tropical woods of shedua, bubinga, afrormosia, and swetenia. The original guitars and basses were much like the Travis Beans, but had many differences with the main one being the construction of the neck and body. The aluminum necks were bolt-ons, had a different headstock design shaped like a tuning fork, and had wood inserts in the back of the necks, whereas the bodies were solid chunks of wood and lacked the Bean's receiver of aluminum tying the pickups and bridge together with the neck in one piece. The necks also sported a zero fret to help eliminate intonation problems in the open position. The wood inserts in the rear of the neck were to lower the overall weight of the guitar, give it better balance, and give it the "feel" of a traditional, wood neck guitar. The fretboard had an interesting item to note, and this is that the fretboard was not wood. It was made of Ebonol, a patented bowling ball material that was guaranteed not to chip, crack, warp, or have any of the other problems associated with standard wood necks. The first guitars and basses had near symmetrical bodies finished in clear-coated natural wood finishes and some of the later aluminum necks were painted solid colors. The very first models were the 350 G&B (G=guitar, B=bass) and the 450 G&B. The 350s had twin single coil pickups and the 450s had humbuckers. These Kramer pickups had chrome covers with the word "Kramer" etched into them and were adjustable from the rear of the guitar. They retailed in the neighborhood of $425-$595 with the cases extra. These cases were either a light or dark brown color and the logo was actually a plate that was glued onto the case.

The guitars offered by Kramer in 1977 were basically unchanged from the 1976 models, but by 1978, several new models were added to the pre-existing 350 and 450s. The newest models were the 250G&B, the 650G&B, and a whole new line of guitars called the "DMZ Series". The 350 was basically unchanged in this year, but the 450 became a multi-laminated body of alternating walnut and maple instead of the solid, single-type woods. The new 250 was a lower priced model and had a solid maple body and front loaded electronics that consisted of two "Kramer" single coils a stratish black pickguard. The new "Artist" 650's came with a laminated body of curly birds-eye maple and burled walnut, in most cases, which was a much fancier grade of wood than the 450s and a scallop on the outer edge of the rounded portion of the body. The 650 also featured mother-of-pearl fingerboard position markers in the shape of a "crown". All of these models came with Kramer humbucker or single coil pickups with the chrome covers on them with "Kramer" etched onto them.

These guitars were referred to as the (New Generation Guitars¦. Kramer's introduction of the DMZ series guitars was a welcome change for the changing music scene toward (heavier¦ sounds, such as (Heavy Metal¦. These new guitars came from the factory with (hot¦, high-output, twin Dimarzio humbucking pickups or three single coils and a pickguard and had a more offset double cut-away body. The guitars were the DMZ-1000, 2000, and 3000, with the basses signified by DMZ-4000, 4001, and 5000 monikers.

By the middle of 1979, the 250 and 350 guitars were dropped, and the new DMZ-6000G & 6000B were offered. These (6000¦s¦ looked similar to the 650¦s in body laminations and had active electronics in them to (meet the demands made by today¦s artist¦, but the bodies had a double cut in the outer perimeter below the bridge and were also missing the perimeter (scallop¦ on the lower portion of the 650¦s body. In this year, the (tension roller nut¦ came on all of the DMZ guitars. This was a nut designed as ten roller (barrels¦ that the strings were strung between. This was to decrease string hangups and tuning problems when a string bend was released. The early hard-shell guitar cases were of a traditional tan or brown textured covering and had the aluminum neck (tuning-fork) logo in silver or no logo at all (1978-1982 cases).

In 1980, Kramer¦s DMZ Series was the same, including the 6000¦s, and the (New Generation¦ 450 and 650 were dropped entirely. New for 1980, they came out with two series of guitars and a signature model. The first new series was the quite wildly shaped guitars called the (XL¦ Series which would have made Bernie Rico (BC Rich guitars) proud. They had exaggerated horns on the top portion of the guitar, and the bottom (where the bridge is located) had the left side bowed upward and the right was shaped more like a shark fin more than anything else. These were offered as guitars and basses, and the basses were also available in an 8-string version. What was done for the 8-strings, was that a hole was drilled in the headstock to run the strings through (backwards¦, and there was another set of tuning keys in a scalloped section behind the bridge in the outer perimeter of the body. There were two Limited Production XL¦s that had a more (traditional¦ shape for a Kramer, but with an interesting lamination in which the center part was more like a triangle or a wedge shape. The other new series was the (XK Series. The XKG-10 (XKB-10) was a wedge shaped guitar (bass) which was like a triangle, but with a little (step¦ behind the bridge in the perimeter of the body. The other two models of the (XK¦ Series was the XKG-20 (XKB-20). These were more symmetrically shaped, similar to a Hamer or many other guitars. The signature model that was offered in 1980 was the Gene Simmons (Axe¦. To describe it correctly, the name speaks for itself. The guitar/bass looked just like an axe where the body made up the blade/head portion of the axe and the neck would symbolize the handle. This was the only year that this signature guitar/bass was available.

1981 was a year to prove many changes for Kramer. Most of the series guitars, such as the (XL and (XK series had a quick appearance and were now gone, but in their place was the new Duke Series and the soon to be released wood neck guitars. The Duke is a small box of a guitar, similar to the Steinberger model, with an aluminum, headless neck. The tuning keys on the Duke were also in a scalloped section behind the bridge, just like the 8-string (XL basses. The guitars came with two humbucking pickups, and the basses came with a single (Precision pickup. Some of these models came with a small strip of rubber on the underside of the guitar to keep it from slipping when resting on a person¦s thigh (mostly later on the ¦83-¦84 Dukes). The aluminum neck guitars were now renamed the new (Stagemaster Series¦, and all of them had the body shapes of the DMZ-6000 guitars with the double scallop in the perimeter of the body. Another new series offered with the aluminum necks was the (Vanguard Series). These were (traditional¦ shaped (V (i.e.- Gibson) guitars and basses. To finish up here with the aluminum necks, the wood necks and their lower manufacturing costs combined with the growing heavy-metal/hard-rock boom helped to end the aluminum neck¦s usage.

In 1980-1981, Kramer had come up with an idea to introduce a wood necked guitar, but didn't want to take away from their existing market share of Aluminum necks, or didn't want to de-brand themselves from that image. LaPlaca and Berardi came up with the idea to start "Walker" guitars, which in essence was their first stab into the wood neck market. About 6 different prototype models were produced, and a catalog was designed to go with the new line. LaPlaca stated in a June 2003 interview that they hired a guy to manage the program, referred to them by Dimarzio. LaPlaca also stated that the whole Walker line only lasted 6-8 months, and it is not known whether or not any production models were ever produced. Later on, according to an ex-Kramer employee, the line was dropped because Kramer had a hard time mastering the wood neck creation process, and later went with outside vendors to produce wood necks for those models. The most interesting note to come out of the Walker line was the birth of the Pacer as seen here. Another interesting note is the the guitar featured in the "Its Simply the Best Guitar you can Buy Today" ad with Edward Van Halen was none other than a Walker "Pacer" body.

In 1982, Kramer offered a few more models that were only one year guitars with aluminum necks, such as the headless Voyager bass (star-shaped) and an inverted Voyager body guitar with a Rockinger tremolo system (more later on this) called the Challenger. With continued dropping sales of the aluminum neck guitars, Kramer withdrew production in late 1984 to concentrate on their better selling wood neck guitars.

The very first few wood neck guitars showed their heads around 1981 sometime, and they had (heads like a Fender Stratocaster ( Strat-copy Headstock ). The headstock was a copy of the famous Fender Stratocaster design of 20-some years earlier. The number of these models seems quite low. The first few models offered with a wood neck were the Pacer and Voyager Series. The Pacer Series was a (strat¦ shaped guitar body, but the pickups were rear-loaded, not requiring the use of a pickguard. It was only offered with a single or double humbucker, and either a brass standard-type tremolo or a (flicker¦-type tremolo. There were also two basses available with the wood necks in the (Pioneer Series¦. One other model available with a wood neck was the (Voyager Series¦, which is a star-shaped guitar as mentioned earlier, and this was available with either a single or double humbuckers. More changes were made shortly hereafter from a threatening situation.

It has been said that Kramer originally changed their headstock style from a Strat-copy headstock to the "Classic" because of a threat of a lawsuit for copyright infringement from Fender Guitars in the early/middle of 1982. Actually, the 1982 catalog, which was printed in June of 1982, had examples of both the new (classic¦ headstock and the strat-copy headstocks, so the conversion to the (classic¦ may have been in early 1982. The modified (classic¦ headstocks were the typical Fender Stratocaster styling with a similar headstock, but minus the large (ball¦ at the end of the it, kind of like a Fernandes headstock of today ( Classic Headstock ). They came available with either a maple fretboard, with a (skunk-stripe¦, or rosewood fretboard without the (skunk-stripe¦ (it is believed that the early wood necks were available in maple only). The only rosewood fretboard guitar in the catalog was the Carrera, a solid black with black hardware Pacer with dual humbuckers that were rear mounted, but at least one of the other models with a rosewood board has been seen. The maple fretboards were actually the face of the neck instead of a laminated board like the ones to follow starting in about 1985. The 1982 Pacer series was a stratocaster-shaped body with pickup configurations from a rear-loaded single humbucker or twin humbuckers to the front loaded triple single-coil arrangement. The Voyager Series was unchanged, and the Vanguard was now offered with a wood neck (some of the very earliest ones had the Strat-copy headstocks). All of the wood neck guitars came with either a standard Fender-type, (flicker¦ tremolo made by ESP, or an optional Rockinger Tremolo model with fine tuners and a locking nut which became available in early 1982 (maybe very late 1981).

It is said that Eddie Van Halen first teamed up with Kramer in either late 1981 or very early 1982, about the time of the Rockinger tremolos. Eddie was featured in a few posters and publicity photos posing with some of the first wood neck Kramers sporting a Rockinger tremolo. Kramer actually stated in the June 1982 catalog that the Rockinger was the (Edward Van Halen Tremolo). These tremolos were some of the first to have a locking nut and fine tuners. The locking nut was separate from the brass nut and had a separate set-screw for each individual string, except that the later versions that had the high Eand Bstrings share a common block within the locking nut assembly and tightened with one bolt. I assume this was to prevent the set-screws from cutting the string in half as it was torqued down. The Rockinger required that the ball remain on the string, which it is prone to pop off, and the fine tuners were parallel with the body. The whole tremolo unit itself was made of brass with a thin clear coat on it that wore off fairly easily. The Rockinger tremolo also rested against the body of the guitar.

Kramer had been in a working relationship with Floyd Rose, a young guitarist/machinist, in the designing of his tremolo unit since 1981 or so. Floyd had actually been working on the design for many years before this, but it wasn¦t until about this time that he had gained the attention of Kramer. Kramer saw a great potential in this new double-locking device, and with the endorsement of Eddie Van Halen playing a guitar with the Floyd, they dropped the optional Rockinger in favor of the new Floyd Rose unit between June of 1982 and January 1983. The Floyd Rose Tremolo is a full (floating¦ tremolo, pivoting on two large screws in the face of the guitar body, that allow upward movement as well as downward. It was best well known for its ability to stay in tune even after the most demanding of abuse. The Floyd Rose tremolo requires the cutting of the (ball¦ at the end of the string, and it is held into place by six, vice-like clamping assemblies, one within each of the saddles. Its fine tuners also have much better access since they are on the top of the unit, just past where the hand would rest on the tremolo for the muted effect.

A popular ad of Kramer's in late 1982 has Eddie wearing a striped shirt with one of his famous red/white/black striped uitars. A poster version of this ad has three Pacers below him. A purple Pacer has a standard trem, the middle Carrera has a black Rockinger trem, and the right Pacer had a standard trem on it. Interestingly, Eddie's striped guitar had a prototype Floyd on it and a prototype, Gibson Explorer-shaped, non-tilt headstock (soon to be seen in another version on the 1984 Baretta). It has been rumored that the switch to the Floyd Rose unit was influenced by a sales meeting of which Eddie Van Halen was present. Eddie made some suggestions to the Rockinger engineers on how to improve their product, and they were very rude to Ed and his suggestions. Eddie pulled Dennis Berardi aside telling him of his displeasure with Rockinger's engineers, and that he didn't want to deal with such narrow-minded people. And, it is said, Dennis considered this greatly.

1983 saw a couple of changes for Kramer. A new (super-strat)was offered in the form of the Pacer Deluxe. This is a front loaded strat-shape guitar with a pickguard, but instead of a single coil pickup in the bridge position, Kramer put in a humbucker (later versions after mid 1984 have a coil tap switch on this pickup). Another addition to the line was the new Floyd Rose Signature guitar. This was a fairly symmetrical body shape with sharp-pointed hookson the upper horns and a large concave cut into the bottom of the body behind the bridge which creates something like two shark fins pointed toward each other. Most of these guitars came with the Floyd Rose trem (only bridge available on the Carrera and the Floyd Rose sig models), but an ESP supplied Flicker was still available.

By April of 1984, Eddie Van Halen¦s Baretta model was offered. This was a guitar based off of Eddie's "5150", the famous red, white, and black striped guitar with a single humbucker and a single volume control, which was a modified Pacer Special. The Baretta started a craze that put Kramer on top of the music industry, and they stayed there for many years to come. The Baretta was also the beginning of the end of the classic headstock and introduced the famous "hockey-stick" or "banana"headstock, similar to those seen on all of Eddie Van Halen's Kramer guitars in the mid to late eighties. Many contacts have been made among the ex-employees of Kramer, and the largest majority point their fingers at one of Kramer¦s luthier's, Billy Connolly, of this time to have been the one to make all but about two of Eddie's guitars. It is interesting to note that Eddie's first Baretta ad has him holding a Baretta with a non-tilt headstock with the older logo on it, but very few of the production, "hockey-stick" headstocks had this non-tilt headstock. It is said that one of Eddie's ex-guitar techs has this guitar from the ad. I have been told that these hockey-stick headstocks with a maple fretboard are very rare because Eddie didn't want it to be easy to copy his guitar. Eddie had a thing in his earlier years about people copying his guitars, so there just might be some truth to this story about the maple fretboards. Anyway, everyone wanted one of these new Kramer guitars, even professional guitarists started to trade in their guitars for a Kramer.

Toward the middle of 1984, we saw a change in some of the designs and models for Kramer, and the addition of a new line of more affordable guitars. The Vanguard became a Randy Rhoad¦s style V, the Voyager got sharp points instead of the rounded ones, all guitars came standard with Floyd Rose tremolos and the Condor (a Gibson Explorer-type body) and Ripley stereo guitars were introduced by late 1984. All of the late 1984 model guitars had the rounded, Explorer-type, head-stock which was first seen in early 1984 with the Baretta, but with a tilt-back design. The very first Barettas came with the model name on the head-stock itself, and in late 1984, when all of the Kramer line was using this headstock, the model names were put on the truss rod covers. The largest difference was that the Baretta remained a little different in that the headstock was painted to match the color of the body. The Ripley was a guitar designed by Steve Ripley for Eddie Van Halen and is a stereo capable guitar where each individual string could be panned to the right or left. Eddie is seen holding the new guitar in the 1985 catalog and many ads of the time in magazines, and the Ripley¦s effects can be heard at the beginning of (Top Jimmy¦ on Van Halen¦s 1984 album. The new line of guitars was the Focus series. They were made in Japan and were a cost alternative to the American series guitars. The shapes and pickup combinations were directly taken from the American guitars. All of these Focus guitars came with model names such as the Focus 1000 (Baretta) and the Focus 5000 (Voyager). Interestingly, the Condor never had a Focus equivalent model.

The year 1985 saw a few modest changes for the Kramer lineup. The Duke was dropped from the 1985 line-up for this year as were the aluminum-neck Stagemasters. The early 1985 necks were a tilt-back design and most had a luthier joint making up the headstock tilt (two-piece neck) with the model name showing up on the truss rod cover. It has been rumored that a Canadian company, Lusido, made these necks for Kramer, and an ex-employee of Kramer told me an interesting story behind these necks. Apparently, there was a bad batch of glue used on some of the luthier joints, and they would come apart, so there was a recall on several of them, maybe hundreds. I saw one of these in 1991, and the neck had to be replaced. The fretboard was still in place, but the neck joint came apart. This created a bulge in the fretboard at about the third fret. I have also repaired one of these necks that had not come apart as badly. I just reglued and clamped it over night. Also in 1985, an ingenious invention called the (Finger-tite Locking Nut¦ was designed by a Bill Edwards and was to be offered by Kramer guitars. It was a locking nut design to work with the Floyd Rose unit and allowed (gross¦ tuning without having to use an Allen wrench to loosen the nut, like when you run out of fine tuning on the Floyd trem. Due to problems keeping the unit to designed specs, very few, if any, made it into the public¦s hands. Also, two very futuristic guitars, the Triax and Enterprise, were introduced and dropped this year. These guitars were the brainstorm of Floyd Rose and his attempt at designing a guitar. These were so wild looking, that there is really now way to describe them. They were very futuristic in design, almost like a Star Trek star-ship, and it is believed that they never went into production for the general public, but instead they were NAMM show specialties. 1985 was also the year in which Kramer offered the Korean-made Striker series to appeal to the beginning guitar player and the ones who couldn¦t shell out the money for the American-made guitar, or even the less expensive Focus series guitars. They were relatively decent guitars for a beginner and they had bodies made of plywood.

There is one interesting story that has been told about a very limited run of guitars for Kramer in the middle of 1985. The story goes that Bill Isacsson was running Kramer¦s shop at the time and ran across about 20 board/feet of curly-birdseye maple from a wood supplier, (Sports¦, in Connecticut. Bill couldn¦t pass the wood up and (hid¦ it in the warehouse somewhere. While Bill was on vacation, someone found this wood and they made guitar bodies out of them and then painted them like all of the other bodies. These guitars were much heavier than the other bodies due to the dense wood that maple is. Most of the bodies are not as rounded either, because of the difficulty in cutting and sanding this wood. If the light is reflecting off of these bodies just right, little dimples in the paint can be seen from the grain texture of the wood. This is just a story that I have been told and it hasn¦t been confirmed, of my ¦85 Barettas just might be one of them. It sure meets the description.

The largest notable change for early 1986 was that the luthier-jointed necks were replaced with three-piece, sometimes two-piece, laminated necks in which the wood pieces run parallel down the length of the neck. This neck design change happened in the very early 1986 (actually, I guess you could call these late 1985 guitars) guitar productions, somewhere around August of 1985, it has been observed. Some of these necks are date stamped on the bottom of the neck heals where they join the body. One of the largest new items was the addition of the Ferrington acoustic guitars. These guitars were based off of the acoustic guitars that Danny Ferrington was custom building for many in the music business. They had thin bodies, usually in the shape of an electric guitar, like the Stratocaster, and they had a bolt on neck. These necks were essentially the same as those on the electric guitars. The guitars were offered in acoustic only and in acoustic/electric models. Also introduced this year was the Korean-made Aerostar. These guitars were the cheapest Kramers to date and were a less expensive alternative to the Striker series.

Sometime around these years, an Eddie Van Halen signature model was once suggested, but, as an ex-sales staff member recalls, Eddie wanted it to be exactly like his, right down to the wear marks on the lower horn from the tape holding Eddie¦s picks to the wear on the body from his right arm rubbing against it. Something was even mentioned of a bottle cap needing to be nailed to the guitar body. This idea was turned down, mainly because this new signature model would have retailed in the neighborhood of $2000, and the marketing staff did not want to sell a new guitar that would look used. They just didn¦t believe that it was a product that they wanted to represent the company.

The (banana¦ headstock was lost somewhere between about June and December of 1986 when the (pointed¦ headstock was introduced, and the (official¦ logo changed from the rounded to the pointed logo. The re-introduction of the Stagemaster series was also seen this year. The Stagemaster series has arch-top bodies and neck-through body designs. Included in the Stagemaster series was the Liberty and the signature Paul Dean guitar built for the guitarist from the band (Loverboy¦. There were only four different pick-up configurations in the Stagemaster series. The most popular one is the single humbucker (Standard I) in black which Dennis was holding in the ad of him and Eddie Van Halen in a boxing ring. A special limited edition guitar called the Liberty was introduced within the Stagemaster series with somewhat of a Paul Reed Smith shape to it. The Liberty also had a neck-through design and arch top. It came in solid colors but was also available in a sunburst. The Paul Dean guitar was a neck-through arch-top with the horns on the guitar redesigned with a more bulbous shape to them toward the ends. Early pointed headstock guitars had the word (KRAMER¦ on the headstock the same as the rounded headstocks had: All one-size, capital lettering in gold. The word (American¦ appeared in script lettering at the end of the headstock on US-made guitars. By early-mid 1987, Kramer changed this headstock logo to remain gold in color, but the (K¦ was very large and each letter got smaller as it was spelled. By this year, Kramer was number one in sales for the year, and many guitars were among the top in sales. Kramer was planning a 3/4 size guitar series, similar to the sharpened edged guitars like what Jackson/Charvel were putting out these days, and they were thinking of calling the Stile series after female guitarist, Gina Stiles. This small-bodied guitar was unveiled via a prototype by Stiles at the 1987 July NAMM show. It is believed that this guitar later became the Baretta II and the Pacer Customs I & II, which became available in 1988. The Baretta was still the flagship of the 1987 line-up.

The year 1988, Kramer saw some radical changes in their guitars. The 3/4-size, squared-off corner Pacer series became available with this type of Baretta model being known as the Baretta II. The Pacer Custom, a Jackson Soloist-type guitar made its debut, along with the Artist series, E.E. series, and the Spectors. The Artist series had three guitars endorsed by professional artists: Paul Dean (first introduced in 1987), Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, and Vivian Campbell's Nightswan . The E.E. series was a line of guitars designed by Elliot Easton, guitarist for the rock band (The Cars¦. They came in paisley colors with pick guards, a Tele-caster type or Floyd Rose bridge, and had the (classic¦ style head-stock. They were somewhat of a fifties-type guitar. The Spector Guitars and Basses were designed by Stuart Spector and were imported and domestic guitars with very smooth, rounded bodies featuring neck-through body designs (some of the later and cheaper ones had the bolt-on necks), had 24 frets with a 25.5¦ scale, and many had a highly flamed maple body. Other notable changes for 1988 were those of the Floyd Rose tremolos were now recessed into the bodies of the guitars and some of the Pacer series models had scallops in the lower horn of the body for better access to the higher frets on the neck. Sometime around this year was when, I figure, Kramer started to notice some financial difficulties. I don¦t know if they were not actually seen or were ignored, but the company just wasn¦t the cash flowing river that it used to be.

Toward the end of 1988, Kramer was coming up with some ideas for even more models of guitars. The next big deal in styles and innovations was the Floyd Rose Sustainer. This guitar was a rear loaded, squared-corner, strat-style with twin humbuckers. The big deal about it, though, was the neck position humbucker which was designed by Floyd and two other innovators. This humbucker was no ordinary type of pickup. This was because at the flip of a switch, the guitar would sustain a note for as long as the battery stayed charged. It basically had a built-in Ebow in the guitar. There was a lot of promotioning for this guitar, and some ads had Floyd holding his hand over the pickup making the reader wonder what was so special about the guitar. It was just another guitar among a fleet of many for Kramer these days.

Other items of interest to appear during 1989 was that there would be no more plywood imported guitars in the Kramer line-up. This was to be provided by the (100¦ Series guitar. Also for 1989, all Kramer guitars, even the imports, would have the (Neptune, NJ¦ neck plates on them. Since Charvel and Jackson were doing this with their imports to give the illusion of a better quality product, Kramer decided to do this also. Samson wireless systems also teamed up with Kramer rolling in to 1989 with the addition of an optional built in wireless system into the guitar body itself. The first guitars available with this system were the Barettas, available about March or April. The ProAxe Series and the Showster Series made an introduction into the market in 1989, also.

The ProAxe Series was the guitar that was (Designed by professionals for professionals ...without the custom price tag¦. The body was a 7/8 size, square-edges guitar with the 24 3/4¦ scale neck. It has 24 frets, and the body was designed for easier playing. The body was made of mahogany for its sustaining properties, a scalloped front and back, and the heal was cut down and angled for easy access to the higher frets. The real interesting kicker to the guitar, was the newly designed Floyd Rose (Pro¦. The (Pro¦ is a recessed trem system with a few changes over the old design. The fine tuners were moved back some and placed at more of an angle to expand the playing area, and they provided more of a range than the old unit. The string locks were also changed so that they tightened right at the saddle. The steel is supposed to be heat-treated differently to make it stronger and to produce smoother sustain. This Floyd Rose (Pro¦ was only offered on the ProAxe guitars.

The Showster Series guitars were a guitar built with metal enhancements into the body of the guitar. These guitars were designed by Rick Excellente, the designer of the ¦57 Chevy (Tail-fin¦ guitar that was offered in 1986. He had found out that this metal attachment actually enhanced and contributed much more to the guitar¦s sound by retaining the natural motion of the string. In other words, what the metal was to try to produce was a better sustaining guitar with a more natural sound through organizing the vibrations through the guitar body. The Metalist XML model had an external metal (wing¦ attached to the lower right section of the body, near the guitar¦s controls. The Metalist had an external rim/internal plate to provide its metal loading. Then the last model was the Savant. The Savant had a metal bar internally loaded through the bottom of the guitar. Another interesting feature of these guitars was the addition of a rear mounted cord jack. This was to try to eliminate, or at least reduce the event of a cord (pull-out¦. The bodies of these guitars were basically a strat shape, but they were (density contoured¦ for better resonating quality. Most guitars resonance is a random thing and Kramer was hoping to organize it to build a better sounding guitar. There were two Showsters available without the metal-loading for a cost alternative, yet still have the sleek new shaped body and the rear mounted cord jack. These were the model 260 and the model 360. It was also throughout this year, that Kramer continually fell deeper into financial problems, despite their efforts through new guitars and technologies. There is the possibility that they were just trying to get too technological in their guitars, and guitarists are not usually the ones to stray far from traditional values. Kramer tried to keep their heads above water and tried to regain the market share that they were beginning to lose from endorsers going to other manufacturers, but they were losing ground quickly.

There was a plan that Berardi had in mind, though. Dennis sent out a letter on June 16, 1989 to all of the Kramer dealers introducing a new venture for Kramer Music Products. This was the beginning of a sister company to Kramer; Berardi/Thomas Entertainment, Inc. Berardi/Thomas Entertainment was an expansion into the management business for Berardi. Dennis was to act as the manager and arranger of concerts, demos, and promotional programs, and Tres Thomas, Esquire, was to be the legal advisor for the company. Berardi saw this as an opportunity to have well-known and rising hot guitarists alike join the Kramer family and help boost the sales of the Kramer Music Products through their endorsements. Dennis first started having interactions with the Russian heavy metal band, Gorky Park, back in 1986, and by 1989, he had become their American Manager. On June 6, 1989, Jim Lewis, Vice President of A&R for PolyGram Records sent Dennis a letter stating his enthusiasm of working with him and Gorky Park. Gorky Park¦s first US record was released on August 22nd on the Mercury/PolyGram label. By Dec of 1989, Kramer had declared bankruptcy. The declaration of bankruptcy for the company was a big shock to many. Few could have any understanding of how one of the greatest guitar manufacturers of the decade could go bankrupt at the snap of the fingers. The story with the most truth and fact to it, out of all of the rumors, is that Kramer simply had run their finances too thin. They had run their credit to the max and owed money to a lot of different people, such as endorsers, and to many different parts suppliers.

Kramer executives came up with a brainstorm to try to help the band and have a last ditch effort to bail them out of trouble by having a guitar give-away to promote Gorky Park. This GP guitar was a triangular-shaped guitar called the (Balalaika¦. The (Balalaika¦ is actually a traditional Russian stringed instrument with three strings on an acoustic, triangular body. There was an actual (KGB¦ guitar give-a-way in early 1990 in which you were a (Kramer Secret Agent¦ and had to (penetrate a conspiring (Kramer) establishment¦ to enter. This was, without a doubt, another large marketing mistake made by Kramer¦s management in their quest to really screw up a great company. This was obvious by the lack of warmth and acceptance of the band by the American metalheads. The United States still had many of the (old world¦ ideals that the United States is better than any other country, and this included our music.

Kramer continued to keep the doors open and to sell guitars after this declaration of bankruptcy, but it looks like they were only selling the imported guitars and had actually closed the manufacturing facility in Neptune, NJ. They were still running ads in Guitar Player magazine up to about March or April of 1990, that I have seen. A popular one was a Telecaster-shaped solid body (first introduced in 1987 as the SC-3, but only for the one year) that Mick Mars of Motley Crue fame had modeled with (the guitars had the old (banana¦ head-stock and both the early and late gold colored logo). In apparently a last ditch effort to pull through, Gorky Park never did anything of value in this country, the give-away was a bomb, last efforts to sell more guitars were a flop, and the company finally closed its doors in about June of 1990.

A company of Michael Jackson's in 1992 agreed to fund the reorganization of Kramer with Henry Vacarro Sr. In 1992, the Jackson company agreed to purchase the former Kramer Guitar Co. from HVV. The Jackson firm paid only $200,000 of the $1.5 million purchase price, according to Henry V. Vaccaro Sr., of HVV, which was formed to buy the Kramer assets. The company eventually defaulted on the contract when Michael Jackson was facing legal troubles in other areas of his personal life and career. HVV Corporation, the owner of what was left of Kramer by Vacarro, obtained a $1.8 million judgment against Jackson Communications, Inc. In 1996, U.S. marshals seized a grand piano Jackson used to compose the songs for his classic Thriller album, as well as two Rolls Royce automobiles. Jackson himself was not named in Vaccaro's lawsuit since he did not take any money out of the corporation.

Kramer went from the (I have to have one!¦ guitar to the (What in the hell do I have this guitar for?¦ guitar. All of a sudden, no one wanted a Kramer. Over night, it was like flipping a switch. Some guitar stores today still have brand new Kramers that they can¦t get rid of. Some of them even have the promo Gorky Park guitars, some of which the stores never had to pay for because the company just dried up. Today, the easiest place to find a Kramer is in a pawn shop, because most music stores won¦t take them in as trades. They know they will sit there forever. Before you knew it, people were showing up in the (Guitar Scene¦, and they don¦t even know what a Kramer guitar is. Several years went by, and you never heard the name (Kramer¦ spoken much at all, but all of that was to change, at least a little.

In the spring of 1995, some of the original investors, like Henry Vaccaro, ex-CEO of Kramer Music Products, and Andy Papiccio, ex-Vice President of Manufacturing, revitalized the old company and set forth efforts to reconstruct it. This new company was called Kramer Music Industries, Inc, or KMI for short. They were shooting for a release of production during the 1996 year, but problems with tooling and setting up the equipment had delayed this. They were trying to manufacture guitars that were similar to the earlier Kramer guitars, but with more of a (retro¦ look to them. They had names like the previously-made Kramer Pacer, Stagemaster, Classic, Jazz King, and the NS-2 Spector bass. There were other models called the Route 66, Disciple, Ray-gun, and the Generator, to name a few. These guitars came with wood necks similar to the ¦82-¦84 (Classic¦ headstock, and the aluminum neck equipped guitars had a modified version of the old Kramers. These new aluminum necks had the whole rear of them enclosed in wood for the (natural¦ feel of a traditional guitar, and they also came in the 25 +¦ scale (the re-evaluation of this aluminum neck design was actually initiated back in 1991 with the help of Phil Petillo, the original luthier for Kramer). There is a mention of a previously not available (micro-adjustment¦ on these redesigned necks, but there was no mention of them in the KMI literature. There were approximately 14 different electrics proposed with prototypes and two prototype acoustics were designed and built. These guitars were never a reality for the general public. When some of the financial backers in the new company decided that it was not going to be as rewarding of an investment as they had hoped, they decided to back out of the company and demanded a pay-off. In the fall of 1996, to gain the funds to refund some of these investors, Kramer was acquired by Gibson Music Corp, the manufacturer of the infamous Les Paul guitar.

As I have last heard, Gibson is keeping the company as a separate entity. I have recently heard that they are gearing up a new manufacturing plant in Memphis, TN, but this has not been confirmed. At the Fall ¦97 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, Gibson had no Kramer guitars on display (also none were at the Winter ¦98 NAMM show). The guitars of this new company have yet to be seen, but I have heard that Gibson is proposing to release a new line of Kramers by the end of 1998. We have no idea if this will actually happen this soon, but there are many people who are waiting anxiously to see whether or not theses new Kramers can be compared to the great products of the original company. On the other side of things.....

A spin-off company, Vaccaro Guitars (founded by Henry Vaccaro, the main financial backer of Kramer throughout the 70¦s and 80¦s), is already making their guitars and is presently searching for dealers to carry them. Their guitars are even more of the (retro¦ look, and presently offer four guitar models and two basses. Names on these guitars are the X-Ray, Groove Jet, Generator X, and the Satellite. Henry Vaccaro Jr has told me that they made a great showing at the recent Winter ¦98 NAMM show, picked up a few dealers, and even have a some people wanting to endorse for them. These Vaccaro guitars utilize the redesigned KMI necks (which have a torsion cable adjustment within them for the micro-adjustments), (retro¦ colors and sparkle paints, and either Seymour Duncan or Rio Grande pickups. I wish Henry Vaccaro, Henry Jr, Phil Petillo, and the rest of them at Vaccaro Guitars the best of luck in the coming years.

March 4, 2004
From - March 4, 2003

Henry Vaccaro said he never expected to get caught up in a legal battle with Michael Jackson's family. But he did, and in the end, he wound up with Jackson memorabilia that could be worth a small fortune. Vaccaro says his story with the Jackson family began back in 1993, when, he says, the Jackson family failed to follow through on a deal to buy Vaccaro's guitar company. Vaccaro said the family never paid him what they owed, and after years in the courtroom, the items of memorabilia became the focus of the legal drama. Vaccaro says he managed to get the entire warehoused Jackson collection — thousands of items — after the Jackson family failed to pay a $60,000 bill for the storage of the items. Vaccaro said he picked up the bill, and the case with the Jackson family was settled as he became the owner of the family's memorabilia. The deal of a lifetime left a complete stranger owning the Jackson family's personal history. ‘Largest Private Collection’ "It's pretty big. It's the largest private collection in the world of Michael Jackson and Jackson family memorabilia," Vaccaro said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "Well, you know, it's crazy … how they could let a complete stranger get all their personal possessions?" Vaccaro's enormous collection had been displayed in a 6,000-square-foot section of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse. But the collection — which was only seen by outsiders on, a pay-per-view Web site — is on its way out of the United States, according to Vaccaro. The collection has been sold to a mysterious overseas buyer, and will be shipped out of the country in just a matter of days Why didn't Michael Jackson, the wealthiest and most famous member of the musical family, step in and stop this?

According to the pop star's spokesperson, Michael Jackson was shocked to find out that the warehouse contained some of his most personal items. Jackson says he only gave his family permission to use this memorabilia for a theme restaurant they supposedly planned on opening.
Jackson wasn't directly involved in this legal battle, and he says he now wants to buy back his family's treasured possessions, according to his spokesperson. Vaccaro says the collection includes Jackson family costumes, including one of Michael Jackson's earliest stage costumes with his name handwritten on the inside label. Vaccaro also has a photo of a young Jackson wearing that very costume. Surprising and Private Items While Vaccaro says he was excited to see the costumes and the gold and platinum records that came with the collection, he says he was surprised by the inclusion of very personal items — such as sketches, notes and a medical contract for surgery supposedly performed on Janet Jackson's nose. "Yes, we have that contract … and I think Michael paid for the first plastic surgery," Vaccaro said. Vaccaro said he also found another nose-related item in the collection — a sketchbook that contained several drawings of noses of various shapes and sizes.
Vaccaro also revealed sketches that he claims were signed by Michael Jackson. One is a sketch of a boy, titled "Little Boy 1994"; another is a sketch of Charlie Chaplin. ABCNEWS checked with some handwriting experts on the signatures on some of the items. Not all of them agreed on whether Michael Jackson signed some of the items. Vaccaro said he was also surprised by personal letters sent by the Jackson parents.
"A lot of intimate letters going back and forth," Vaccaro said. "I mean, you know, there's a letter from Joe Jackson to the producers of the Victory Tour book, where he approved the photographs of his children, but he wanted their skin tones to be 20 to 30 percent lighter in the finished product. That surprised me. "There's also a letter from Mrs. Jackson complaining to the Jehovah's Witness Fellowship, because evidently they must have expelled Michael, and you know, she's really giving them hell," Vaccaro said. The New Jersey businessman says Michael Jackson's legal problems only increased the value of the collection. "It bought attention back to it because the initial sale had fallen apart, and then it was resurrected with his problems," Vaccaro said. Jackson was charged in December with seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 and two counts of giving the child an "intoxicating agent," reportedly wine, between Feb. 7 and March 10, 2003. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Vaccaro wouldn't say what his buyer paid for the collection, but he told ABCNEWS that he did very well.

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