It all started with the above photograph from 1944. Author John Thomas, a law professor and musician, in the preface to his new book Kalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII, writes :
“I can no longer recall just how I stumbled upon this photograph. But I do know that it haunted me for some years. I printed it out, pinned it up on the cork board on my office wall, and found my attention drawn to it more often than I care to admit”
And so the journey began to find out who these girls were, posing in front of Gibson Guitar’s Kalamazoo, MI, factory. And what of the “banner” guitars? I met up with Thomas recently at Brooklyn’s Retrofret Guitars.
Glimpse from the book : The Girl with the Flower in Her Hair
‘Jenny didn’t wind the fine wire around the core wires of what we call the wound strings that are used for a guitar’s four lowest strings.”I was just too nervous for that, I guess.” But she did coil the completed strings and place them in wrappers and then in boxes. “A gross of strings is 144. It was 20 gross plus” When I ask what “20 gross plus” means, she tells me that that was how many strings she could coil in a day. “I told you I was fast.”‘ [Page 69]
Here’s John going in detail about each of the three guitars.
1) 1943 LG01, one of only 139 ever shipped,
2) 1943 Southerner Jumbo that went to WWII,
3) Rare 1943 L-50 with a “Banner”
A companion CD to “Kalamazoo Gals” is coming out on March 15th. Here’s John, and co-producer, Eric Dawson Tate, talking about what lead to his producing “The Light Still Burns”
A slideshow of images shot at Retrofret Guitars where John Thomas had brought in three Gibson guitars. Mamie Minch, head repair tech at Retrofret, plays them all, and as you’ll see, made minor fixes.