1969 Kustom K-200D

 

Kustom is remembered almost exclusively for their amplifiers: high-powered transistorized circuits that were among the first to seriously compete with tube amps. The extensive use of stuffed Naugahyde coverings gave them a unique look that has since become iconic. However, in its early years, Kustom tried to become a much more diverse manufacturer; they produced PA systems, organs, electric pianos, guitars and basses. None of these products survived into the 1970s, but the guitars and basses have achieved recognition as professional-quality instruments.

Bud Ross founded Kustom in 1964, creating a factory in Chanute, KS to manufacture amplifiers. He discussed the possibility of manufacturing Kustom guitars with Holman-Woodell, a Neodosha-based company who produced guitars for Wurlitzer, La Baye and other brands, but the talks ultimately went nowhere. By 1967, Kustom had taken onboard a couple of former woodworking teachers, Doyle Reeding and Wesley Valorie (Reeding was a former employee of Holman-Woodell), who proceeded to design a line of guitars for the company.

The resulting K-200 series have been described as a mix of Gretsch and Rickenbacker, occasionally with a hint of Mosrite as well. The semi-hollow construction is a mix of convention and innovation: the top was carved out and a center block glued in down the center, and these two pieces were merged to a matching pair that formed the back. The neck was then bolted on and the electronics installed. All guitars and basses shared the same body. The top-of-the-line K-200A guitar featured DeArmond 2000 pickups, multi-dot fret markers and a Bigsby vibrato. The K-200B featured less ornate markers, cheaper DeArmond pickups and a trapeze tailpiece. The K-200C had the fancier fret markers but with the cheaper pickups and trapeze tailpiece, and it also had a slightly less ornate headstock shape. The K-200A and K-200C were all maple, while the K-200B was built of ash for what Kustom called their “zebra” finishes.

The K-200D bass represented only a small fraction of all the instruments built in the series. It had single-dot fret markers (three dots at the 12th fret), a maple body and neck, trapeze tailpiece, and the larger headstock shape. The pickups were essentially 4-pole variants of those found on the K-200B and K-200C. Like the guitars, it was offered in a variety of finishes including a couple of remarkably hideous multi-colored bursts. Like the guitars, it often appears in finishes not documented in the catalogs. While this bass appears to have a greenish tint, the original color was blue; the original color is still visible under the pickguard, which protected the clear coat from sunlight and prevented it from yellowing. The K-200D featured a short 30” scale and a fuller neck profile than the guitars (which had wafer-thin necks), making it very easy to play. The only notable design flaw is the “reverse” mounting of the trapeze tailpiece, which has caused the mounting flange to bend under the tension of the strings. The pickguards have a tendency to crack as the plastic shrinks over time, though the same can be said for any number of guitars from the period. This bass sports a replacement pickguard, as the original shrank and cracked profusely. Everything else on it is original.

Despite being excellent instruments, the K-200 series were only produced for about three years. Their demise was probably due to lack of sales; the last catalog to feature them shows significant price drops. It’s possible that the easy availability of Gretsch and Rickenbacker guitars reduced the market for the Kustoms, though the K-200 series have a very different feel from either of their major competitors. It has been estimated that 3000 guitars and basses were produced at the most. This particular specimen is all original, including the case, and has no damage apart from some scattered finish wear. The DeArmond pickups produce a very clear tone with emphasis on the mid-range. The bass is surprisingly light given its all-maple construction.

 

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