Kramer Artist Series

Kramer Artist Series

“Lick Of The Week” with Stevie K

Brother Steve is off the hook in this week’s lick, trick, and concert.

Pinky Swells in the name of Phil Keaggy. Jaw on the floor 🙂.

Thank you Steve for sharing your expertise and talents with us all!

Steve Kuykendall is a lifelong musician and remains an active indie artist and teacher. His music is available on Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify. You may also find Steve on Cedro Rosa and as an active member of the guitar community on Linkedin.

In 1985, the number one selling guitar brand in America was Kramer. They rode a rocket ship to glory, but like all businesses it wasn’t an overnight success and the company was actually founded in 1975. Still, ten years in and the proof was in the pudding, Kramer led the pack. Trouble followed quickly and the general public could not imagine Kramer would essentially be gone by the beginning of the next decade.

Without a doubt, Eddie Van Halen was the guitarist that accelerated Kramer’s trajectory beginning in 1983 when they built him a Frankenstrat replica. Within in the next few years nearly every guitar player with a respectable perm could be seen onstage with a Kramer.

As part of their domestic domination in the mid 80s, Kramer released a trilogy of “Artist” series guitars centered around Paul Dean, Richie Sambora, and Vivian Campbell. Essentially, the Artist series could be included in the “American Series” batch of guitar that technically had its start in 1986.

However, “American” is somewhat of a stretch. 

Around 1984, perhaps a little earlier, Kramer started sourcing necks from ESP.  That relationship began a couple of years prior when early Kramer models sported an ESP Flicker tremolo. As the companies cozied up to each other ESP eventually began producing Kramer bodies as well. 

Side note- George Lynch played a Kramer Baretta prior to his “discovering” of ESP’s main store in Tokyo while on tour in 1986.  It’s reasonable to suspect he knew of the Kramer/ESP connection and sought out the source :-).  KAMIKAZE!

By 1987 ESP was either wholly making Kramer guitars or the parts were shipped to Kramer’s Neptune, NJ facility and assembled in the USA, the “American Series”. 

So despite a neckplate stamp of “Neptune, NJ” that doesn’t mean it was made in America.  It was Kramer’s play on Charvel doing the same thing with their Japanese imports stamped “Ft. Worth, TX”.  

First up in the Artist series was Paul Dean. Debuting in 1986, Dean’s guitar was the only one of the bunch to have a neck-through construction. The impetus for the design goes back to 1983/84 as Dean originally had a signature guitar with Hondo and that shape served as the basis for his Kramer model. 

Kramer Paul Dean Specs:, Mahogany body, Ebony fretboard, Seymour Duncan pickups, One volume and tone control, 3 mini toggle pickup selectors, Original Floyd Rose

Paul Dean plays a Harvest Yellow model in Loverboy’s video for “Heaven In Your Eyes”.  -Maverick 

Next was Richie Sambora’s guitar in 1987. This one and a custom Jackson were his main “Slippery When Wet” tour guitars. 

1987 Kramer Sambora Specs: Maple body, Maple neck, Maple or rosewood fretboard, Star fret inlays, Triple Seymour Duncan humbuckers, Original Floyd Rose, One volume control, 2 coil tap switches, 5-way selector

Also in 1987 came Vivian Campbell’s guitar with its own special name, Nightswan.

The story goes…

In the mid 80s Buddy “Blaze” Webster and Vivian Campbell met at the Greater Southwest Guitar Show in Dallas.  Blaze was an established custom builder and the two had a guitar conversation that eventually led Blaze to build Vivian a prototype. Blaze used Warmoth parts, added some sculpting touches, and the prototype became known as the “Shredder”.

Quickly into the relationship, Blaze was swooped-up by Kramer to manage some design work and artist relations. He retained the rights to the Shredder, onboarded Vivian as a signature artist and their guitar received a new name, Nightswan, courtesy of Mrs. Campbell. There were five totally 80s paint schemes: two polka dot finishes, holoflash, aztec, and lightning.

Original Kramer Nightswan specs: Mahogany body, Maple neck, Ebony fretboard with ping pong fret inlays, Seymour Duncan Full Shred and JB humbuckers, Original Floyd Rose, Master volume, 3-way switch

Kramer’s business started getting sideways a year later, royalties to EVH and Floyd Rose were adding up, and numerous bad decisions quickly led to Kramer’s demise in the late 80s. Caught up in the mess, the Kramer Paul Dean was discontinued in 1988, Sambora’s in 1989, and Campbell’s in 1990.

Kramer officially went belly-up in 1991. Gibson bought the brand out of bankruptcy in 1997 followed by a string of unsuccessful attempts at resurrection until a couple of years ago. Nowadays, it appears Gibson has thrown a fair amount of resources into Kramer which includes bringing back classic models like the Pacer and Baretta… and classic 80s paint schemes.


Thanks JP, for the compliment and your sense of humor with the inside joke :-)!

David Still

Wow Dave,
Terrific history lessons. I always get such a kick out of reading these stories. And by “kick”, I mean my right leg as left knee is still in “kneehab”.

JP Pierre Moatti

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