Documenting history as well as my experiences with repairing and restoring vintage guitars.

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Kluson factory (undated) Image Credit:  1970s Kluson Catalog Scan About John Edward Klucikowski was born March 8th, 1893 in Germany to Po...

A Brief History of the Kluson Manufacturing Company

Kluson factory (undated)
Image Credit: 1970s Kluson Catalog Scan


John Edward Klucikowski was born March 8th, 1893 in Germany to Polish parents Joseph Klucikowski and Mary Schwab. They immigrated to the United States in 1898 and settled in Carlinville, Illinois, a small city halfway between St. Louis, Missouri and Springfield, Illinois. But by the 1900 US Census they had moved to Chicago and were living in a nice brick home on North Ridgeway Avenue [14]. John's father, Joseph, died in 1904 [5]. John had five siblings; Frank, Agnes, Theresa, Anthony, and Joseph. He was the the third oldest, born after Agnes and before Theresa [14].

In the 1910 census, John was working as a receiving clerk and by his 1917 draft registration card, he was a machinist working for the instrument manufacturer Lyon and Healy [8]. By this point, Lyon and Healy was on the tail end of a boom in manufacturing that really put their name on the map. They had a reputation for quality instruments and, notably, manufactured their own tuning machines. Lyon and Healy tuning machines from that era still work incredibly well for their age, this would've been a perfect environment for John.

John Edward Klucikowski (undated)
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By 1919, the family had "Americanized" their surname and began using Kluson instead of the Polish-sounding name Klucikowski [4]. A descendent of John's brother told me that the name change was influenced by the cost of signage. Either way, the family's name became the brand we know today.

According to WD Music, the present day owners of the Kluson brand, John Kluson founded the Kluson Manufacturing Company in 1925 [9]. By 1935, Kluson took an order of 10,000 units for a slide guitar bar invented by James S. Allen of Indiana [13]. Around 1939, Kluson acquired the patent for Safe-Ti-String tuners from the now defunct Fretted Instrument Mfg Inc (previously Oscar Schmidt). That patent would be important for Kluson. By 1942, John lived at 2454 N. Springfield Avenue and his company was located at 3830 N. Kilbourne Avenue [1]

Sanborn Map of Chicago Vol. 28 Revised (1905 to 1951)
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1947 Job Posting
Factory work included a punch press, drill press, and assembly
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As the 1940s wrapped up, Kluson was already producing tuning machines for Gibson and hardware (tailpieces, bridge pins, etc) for numerous other manufacturers. In 1949, John patented three new versions of his tuners which include the ubiquitous covered tuners, "waffle-back", and "seal-fast" tuners. This would be the last major innovations to leave the Kluson factory.

Kluson's patented covered tuning machines

1946 Job Posting
Plating was done in chrome, gold, and nickel
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In an incredible stroke of luck, John's tuning machines would catch the eye of a fledgling instrument manufacture led by Mr. Leo Fender. He would use Kluson tuners on his first guitars and notably ordered them with the Safe-Ti-String posts; a now iconic look of an original Fender product. Fender would order individual bass-side tuners, line them up on his headstock, and clip the plates of the inner 4 tuners in order to make them fit inline with each other. Kluson would also end up manufacturing the tuners used on Fender's innovative low end instrument, the Precision Bass. 

1950 newspaper ad for old tooling being sold
A neat glimpse into the machines that build Kluson
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John died in April of 1956 at the age of 63 and was buried in St Joseph Cemetary in River Grove, Illinois [2][3]. He never married and never had any children. Some, or perhaps all three, of his brothers took over the firm and continued to produce tuning machines and hardware well into the 1970s. 

Without John's drive for innovation and comfortable with a steady stream of income through Gibson, Fender, Kay, and other manufacturers, their product lineup remained nearly unchanged for twenty years. This stagnation would allow competitors such as Schaller, from Germany, Grover, from Cleveland, Ohio, and the dirt cheap Japanese tuning machines to overtake Kluson's market share. These new companies brought better gear ratios, more stable plastic compositions, and competitive prices

1966 Job Posting
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As CBS-era Fender switched to Schaller, Gibson to Grover, and Kay to the Japanese imports, Kluson began losing its foot hold in the market. A surge of competitively priced guitars from Japan combined with a declining interest in the guitar led to a collapse in the market. This shuttered many manufacturers such as Harmony, Kay, Valco, United Guitar, and Jackson-Guldan. These five manufacturers churned out millions of instruments and relied on Kluson and Waverly to supply tailpieces, brackets, screws, plastic pins, and any other hardware. The loss of those customers would've ruined Kluson.

1987 Newspaper ad seeking to find heirs to Kluson
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In 1981, the doors shut for the last time having lost their clientele to innovative competition as well as bankruptcy. The brand name vanished before it was bought by WD Music, currently based in Florida, who produces reproduction tuning machines. The Kluson factory on North Kilbourn was demolished in the early 2000s and the lot is now residential.


  • Kermit Norris [10]
  • Hank Barthold [11]

If you know of a Kluson Manufacturing Company catalog or any documention relating to the company, I am very interested in purchasing it. Please contact me 

I will pay for a Kluson catalog from the original era (pre-1981) 

Kluson Catalog c.1950

Kluson Catalog c.1970



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