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1968 J45 Ebony Rebuild


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I have a good story about my old J45 that may not be news to the experienced Gibson geek. But it sure surprised me in several ways. I bought this guitar in 1970. The serial number and a few other determining factors, as best I can tell, dates it straight to 1968. The number is 95571 and it had a single layer white screw-on pick guard with no Gibson logo on it like so many I've seen, just the decal on the headstock. It did come with a factory 2nd, number 2 stamped above the serial number on the back of the head stock. I got it cheap, what did I care? I have a ton of pictures that are unavailable at the moment in case anyone cares.


I'm new to this sight but can only imagine people requesting this that and the other thing. Anything needing answers to questions will just have to wait.


I remember as a kid, never being satisfied with this guitar's intonation. I know, I know, none of us are satisfied with the dreaded intonation factor. But this one was hideous! I had it professionally worked on several times. Still never sounded good. I had just sold my early 60's ES335 single P90 arch top. Boy, that thing was magical. So I went from that gem to this Ebony nightmare. As I got older and busier I played less and less until it dwindle to nothing for 30 years. The J45 at one point laid uncased on a gravel floored pole building in Ohio's harsh weather extremes, winter and summer for five years. Basically it was exiled to the woodshed. It was cracked front and back, walked on by my granddaughter and generally kicked to the curb for dead.


Well 30 years later, I retired, started playing again with a vengeance and began to do my own luthier work, self taught. I had a couple other old guitars that didn't care if I worked on them. They were my first guinea pigs. I did a pretty good job on those guys. Then I remembered the J45 out in the barn. Wow, perfect project for a novice, I thought. I started with the usual saddle replacement, truss rod tweak and lowered the action. I dropped a bone saddle in place of the wood beast trapped in that steel cage. This improved it a ton. I finally decided to really bite off a big project and dismantled the entire thing. I had nothing to lose. It was a mess. Took off the bridge, the neck and the back. Yeh, I didn't hold back. I went for it far beyond my knowledge at the time.


Here's where the surprises started. When the neck came off it revealed laminated sides. I cried over this, then regrouped. When I stripped the black finish, I found the top to be made of four pieces. There was no such thing as book-matching on this guy. When the back came off it turned out to be solid, that was a good thing. Once inside I saw the crudest things. Most blatant was a large 2" X 3" irregularly shaped patch made of luan board glued on like the Marks Brothers hang wallpaper. That was in an attempt to cover the two large top cracks. The beams, I mean, the braces were really crude. I also found that all the back braces were just beginning to lift slightly on their ends. The back also had several major cracks.


I reworked all this. Reshaped the braces, did some scalloping, cleat patched every crack,(7 in all) glued the back braces, removed the brass and steel hardware that came with the adjustable bridge fittings. Filled all that proper with wood. Also filled all the missing peg hole chunks in the spruce bridge plate and installed a Plate Mate. Made my own bridge doctor and installed that. But I was so disappointed by all my findings I decided to go ahead and put it all back together including the original neck, AS IS. I hated having to put that neck back on though. I now have 11 guitars and not one of them, even the electrics, have a neck as narrow as this J45. At 39mm it's a crowded dance floor to say the least. Don't for the life of me understand what such a narrow neck would be doing on an acoustic? But I cleaned it up, shimmed it a bit and it went back on nicely. All said and done the sound was greatly improved and the work and knowledge gained was well worth all the work. But my fingers sure are bumping each other on that skinny fret board.


As I said before, I was really disappointed by all these things I found along the way. But very impressed with how this horribly abused bastard child lived through its own private holocaust and still stood strong. That perhaps speaks to the J45's nickname of, "Gibson's Workhorse." I'm not sure what speaks to the shenanigans I found under its beautiful black finish. I'd like to go with, "beauty's only skin deep." But I think it's more like, when you piece a name brand guitar together out of leftovers and crap, you damn well best, "Paint it Black!"


Still, it was a fun project and a real interesting eye opener. Thought maybe others would find the story fun, too. By the way, I decided to leave it natural without the black finish. I wanted all its battle scars to show. So because of that, and wanting to really drive the point home about its dubious makings, the old neck went back on with its black finish still showing proud. It gives the thing character out the wazoo! This thing is a character.

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