1953 Gibson J-45 nicknamed the "Workhorse"
Posted on August 12 2012
Introducing my favorite guitar ever made- the Gibson J-45.
This guitar came out of the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia. It had been posted for months along with a 1936 Gibson L-00 and had not sold. I snatched them both up as soon as I could get in contact with him. Here is a shot of the L-00 (dorm room photo).
The first J-45s came out in 1942 when Gibson was producing only six models because of the war shortages. It was a bare bones blues powerhouse that continues to be in production today with no end in sight. The J-45 is one of Gibson's flagship models that is commonly referred to as "The Workhorse". They were all made the Jumbo body size with X-bracing using hide glue to keep it all together. During WWII, many substitutions were made including Maple backs and sides, Mahogany tops and the absence or presence of a truss rod.
This one features a Sitka Spruce top and Honduran Mahogany back, sides and neck. Both the back and top are two piece, book matched quarter-sawn solid spruce an mahogany. It has the pre-'55 style 19 fret neck, belly-up drop in saddle and finely scalloped tone bars.
This example has all of the original parts (except for strings!). The only repairs that done were a couple of reglued loose braces done by Jason Burns of Burns Instrument Repair at Homewood Musical Instrument Co. (Burns Banjos and Repair Homewood Music). Jason is an extremely talented open back banjo maker as well as a true-to-the-original repairman. He used hide glue when regluing the braces. Other than that, only simple set up work was required. You can see that the plastic on the original Kluson tuners has gassed and shrunk over the years. I should put new tuners on there but I really like the way the old ones look. I am very very careful when tuning and luckily, it never needs much!
One reason I like these old Gibson guitars is because they are very "lightly built." This one is no exception. What do I mean by lightly built? Well, I guess it is a bit hard for me to explain. It refers to the thinness of the braces and the overall weight of the materials used. It would be better explained by holding an inspecting two guitars: one pre-1955 Gibson and one recent Epiphone Masterbilt. Have you ever played a Masterbilt? I love these guitars but they are heavy as lead! They have big thick tops, backs and braces. They are both built with all solid woods however they had two separate goals. The former, to be the best sounding guitar possible with the materials, techniques and budgets that were available. The latter, to avoid warrantee costs but also make a guitar out of all solid woods because that term sells guitars. A lightly built guitar booms with vibrating resonance that you can feel in your gut when you strike an E chord. A "tank" simply reflects the sound of the barely vibrating top off of the back and out the sound hole. Maybe it would be better explained if we were sitting down with these two guitars and a glass of cool, straight Tennessee whisky.
Dating a vintage Gibson guitar can often be quite a process. Someone that looks at these guitars a lot could notice a few indicators of what time period this one came from. All years are model specific and should be taken with a grain of salt:
1. Block "Gibson" Logo (1947-current).
2. 19 Fret neck, small "teardrop" pickguard and tall thin and scalloped tone bars (1942-1954)
3. Upward belly, drop in saddle (1953-1955)
4. Here's the kicker: the Factory Order Number and letter designation. From 1952 to 1961 Gibson used the alphabet (backwards) to indicate what year the guitar was produced (only flattops, sometimes). Why did they go backwards and randomly decide to quit in 1961? Not sure. Here is a breakdown of what it looks like through the years: (from the website Vintage Guitars Info)
Etc. until 1961
Here are a couple more shots that highlight some cool aspects of this J-45:
|Original Kluson keys have shrunk|
|Beautiful dark grain line in the Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard|
|This was before they stamped anything on the back of the headstock|
|There is some glare on the back. Couldn't get a clear shot without some glare.|
I have two more J-45s to blog about. The '46 will be coming soon but the '43 is in Jason's shop and it may take a while. Feel free to leave me some feedback or follow this blog for more cool guitars.
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