THE BEGINNING

The company was founded in the late 1970s by Dennis Berardi and Gary Kramer, a close friend and associate of Travis Bean, to manufacture aluminum-necked guitars. Gary Kramer, Dennis Berardi, Peter LaPlaca (a Vice President at Norlin, parent company of Gibson in 1974), and investor Henry Vaccaro joined forces to open a plant in Neptune, New Jersey. Soon thereafter, Gary Kramer moved to Los Angeles, and his connection with the company would become in name only, long before the wooden neck era that began in the 1980s.

KRAMER HISTORY

THE STORY BEHIND THE AXES

Transition from Aluminum to Wooden Necks

1976-1981
  1. Trademark pitchfork aluminum-reinforced necks — "Alumi-necks"
  2. Ebonol fretboard
  3. Schaller tuning keys and bridges
  4. Schaller and DiMarzio pickups
  5. Used exotic woods and hybrid wood/aluminum necks until 1982

Introduced in 1976, early models featured the trademark "pitchfork" aluminum-reinforced necks with a fret board made of ebonol—material similar to one used in bowling ball production. Unlike Travis Bean, Kramer went beyond the idea of a neck forged entirely out of aluminum, due to both its weight and its feel.

Instead, Kramer opted for wooden inserts in the aluminum necks. The inserts, set in epoxy, were usually walnut or maple. The bodies were made of fancy woods such as curly or Birdseye maple, walnut, and koa.

The hardware was top-notch as well: Schaller tuning keys and bridges; Schaller and DiMarzio pickups; custom-made strap pins; aluminum cavity covers. Kramer's "alumi-neck" line lasted roughly until 1982.

Out of this early part of Kramer history were born some exquisite musical instruments; truly a fine example of American lutherie. Generally, the ratio of basses to guitars produced was about 4:1, primarily because bass players were more willing to experiment.

By 1981, Kramer had the tools, and the experience, to take guitar mass production to a new level. Switching to wooden-necked instruments both held the promise of keeping production costs low as well as being able to appeal to traditionally-minded guitar players.

Highlights

1981
  1. Wooden Necks
  2. Schaller tuning keys and bridges
  3. Schaller and DiMarzio pickups

Wooden Necks - Offshore Rockinger - EVH

LATE 1981
  1. Headstock changed to the “beak” style
  2. Offshore production began in Eastern Asia
  3. Fulcrum trems were made in Japan
  4. Necks made in Japan
  5. Guitars assembled and finished at Kramer/New Jersey
  6. Partnered with German inventor, Helmut Rockinger and installed his tremolos, precursors to Floyd Rose® systems

Kramer first released wooden-neck models in late 1981, following Charvel's lead on producing instruments that essentially copied the strathead headstock shape from Fender. Although it isn't clear whether a lawsuit from Fender ever materialized, Kramer stopped releasing guitars with the trademark Fender headstock shape after only a thousand or so instruments were built. Instead, Kramer opted for a "beak" reminiscent of 1960s Kent guitar headstocks. Wooden-necked instruments represented Kramer's first foray into offshoring the production of guitar components to Eastern Asia. Tuners and vintage fulcrum tremolos and necks were made in Japan and shipped to New Jersey for fretting and finishing. Kramer execs saw that the guitar techniques of the early 1980s demanded a high-performance tremolo system and partnered with a German inventor named Helmut Rockinger, using his tremolos as precursors to Floyd Rose systems, on its instruments.

A chance encounter between Dennis Berardi and the manager of Eddie Van Halen on an airplane flight set the foundation for Kramer's meteoric rise in the 1980s. Eddie was interested in a tremolo that stayed in tune, which the Rockinger system offered. A meeting between Eddie Van Halen and Kramer execs took place, and Eddie was sold. At the meeting, he reportedly quipped that he would help make Kramer the "#1 guitar company in the world."

On the Road to Being Number One

1983-1986

By 1983, the Rockinger trem (a.k.a. the “EVH Trem“) was out, and the Floyd Rose® system was in. Kramer was the only guitar company offering Original Floyd Rose® tremolos stock on their production guitars, a competitive advantage of Kramer over other guitar manufacturers of the period.

In late 1983, Kramer switched headstock design to the "banana" headstock design.

By late 1985, Kramer began installing Seymour Duncan® pickups in its guitars. When the sales figures came in, Kramer was the best-selling guitar brand of 1985.

In 1986, Kramer switched to a “pointy headstock” design, no doubt influenced by other manufacturers at the time.

By 1987, Kramer was using Japan exclusively for manufacturing its necks and bodies. The “American Series” of instruments were Japanese parts, assembled in Neptune, NJ. The Striker and Aerostar series were made completely in Korea.

The first sign of trouble came in 1987, when a massive labor strike hit Korea. At this time, Kramer was starting to fall behind on its orders to guitar stores. Kramer was also becoming overextended financially due to artist endorsement deals, advertising, and royalties to Floyd Rose.

Highlights

1983
  1. Headstock changed to the "banana" style
  2. Floyd Rose tremolos become a standard feature

Highlights

1985
  1. Seymour Duncan ® pickups became standard
  2. Kramer becomes “The Best Selling Guitar Brand.” (continues through 1986)

Highlights

1986

Headstock changed to the “pointy” style

Transition Period to Gibson, 1987-1997

1987-1997

The original Kramer company effectively came to an end in 1991, mostly due to financial problems. A notorious firesale of surplus necks, bodies, and hardware was held out of New Jersey.

By 1995, Henry Vaccaro owned the Kramer Brand; in addition, he was the only one of the original partners interested in continuing in the guitar business. He tried one last time to produce Kramer guitars from surplus parts in the Neptune plant, but only a few hundred were made.

The Kramer Brand was sold out of bankruptcy to Gibson Guitar Corporation. Kramer's exclusive use of the Floyd Rose® tremolo, Schaller tuning keys, and Seymour Duncan® pickups held it to a higher standard, above and beyond other makers in the 1980s.

True to their late 1980s slogan, “A Step Ahead,” Kramer delivered by innovation. In turn, Kramer found its spot in guitar history—outselling Fender and Gibson two years in a row (1985-1986).

In recent years Kramer has reissued classic guitars and limited runs with custom art.

Highlights

1987
  1. Japanese made Kramer necks and bodies and assembled guitars in Neptune, New Jersey, for “American Series”
  2. Labor strike hits Korea creating massive backorders
  3. Falls behind on royalties to Floyd Rose®

Highlights

1989

Dennis Berardi had started Berardi/Thomas Entertainment, Inc. and overextends on endorsement deals

Highlights

1990
  1. The original Kramer company effectively came to an end mostly due to financial problems.
  2. A notorious firesale of parts was held out of New Jersey.

Highlights

1997
  1. Gibson purchases Kramer out of bankruptcy.
  2. Online retailer, Music Yo, begins to sell Kramer products directly to consumers
  3. Kramer reissues classic guitars assembled in the USA as well as offers guitars made overseas