New Vintage: Gibson's 2013 J-35
Posted on March 19 2013
The Gibson J-35 was the precursor to the J-45 from 1936 to 1942. It had a couple of variations in bracing patterns but was cosmetically a 14 fret jumbo, sunburst or natural with a firestripe pickguard. This combination made for an absolutely gorgeous instrument. Gibson has reintroduced the instrument for their 2013 line of Gibson Acoustics from Bozeman, MT.
The J-35 has was discontinued in 1942 but was reintroduced in this configuration sometime in the 2000s by Gibson through Fullers Guitar in sunburst. It closer resembled the Gibson Jumbo (1934) because of its small pearl inlaid Gibson logo. These are very nice guitars but the 2013 production version is a bit different.
The original J-35 had 4 main bracing patterns: 3 tone bar scalloped, 3 tone bar unscalloped, 2 tone bar scalloped and 2 tone bar unscalloped. "Scalloping" refers to the careful shaving of mass away from the parts of the brace where extra mass is less needed, such as the very center. It appears that Gibson scalloped seemingly at will during this time period. Some say that it depended on whether or not the builder though it was necessary on a certain top. If they felt the top was too strong and would inhibit tone then they scalloped the braces. This is just hearsay though, I was not there in 1939. The 3 tone bar versions are largely seen from '36 to '39 and 2 tone bars until '42.
Cosmetically the only differences between old and new are the natural finish, Kluson repro tuners, unfortunate banner headstock and the addition of the LR Baggs Element pickup. I questioned Gibson's decision to put a gold banner logo on the headstock but I think I know what really happened. These guitars are largely designed in Bozeman, MT however sometimes the Nashville guys sink their claws into the design, hence the banner. One Nashville guy in particular thought this would be a good idea and had the unfortunate superiority for it to stick. This is purely hypothetical of course. Don't get me wrong, I love banner headstocks on wartime period Gibsons however the J-35 was decidedly prewar and never had a banner. The Bozeman guys almost got away without putting the banner on there as you can see from the NAMM prototype:
But the production version's headstock had this logo:
|Why would you do this HJ?|
Gibson's new production version uses a 2 scalloped tone bar style bracing closely resembling what would have been in a '39-'42 J-35. They call this their "1930s Advanced X Bracing." This is the same bracing used in the current Advanced Jumbo and the J-45 TV with the only difference being that they use different glue. The AJ and J-45 TV use hot hide glue to brace the top while Titebond is used to brace the top on the J-35. Titebond is easier to work with and still provides a great bond. Hide glue dries very hard and brittle. This seems to transfer energy better than a Titebond joint. Guitar nerds such as myself will swear that hide glue sounds better but the difference is marginal at best. Hide glue is still used on the neck joint of all Gibson acoustics because is it much easier to reset the neck in the future.
I have played two 2013 J-35s and both were phenomenal instruments. The J-35 was positioned (price wise) to compete with the Taylor range of prices so they can be had for much cheaper than the J-45 standard. I have heard a lot of people say that they just weren't as good as the 45 standard but I must disagree. Don't be fooled by the price point. These guitars were priced and built by two different sections of the company. The price is basically a marketing trick.
In my opinion, the J-35 is a "better" guitar and not just because of the price. The only structural difference between the 45 standard and the 35 is the bracing. The 30s advanced bracing in my opinion results in a more resonant guitar. I liked the sound of the 35s better than the 45 standard. What do you think? Which model did you like better? Keep in mind that the J-35s will probably have fresher strings than the 45 standards.
I do not work for Gibson and have no affiliation with anyone in that company. I don't care if Henry sells guitars or not. I normally would not consider new guitars because they usually don't do it for me but for some reason this one does! I was pumped about their reintroduction and I think Gibson did a great job with the exception of the banner. If finances permit then I may get one!