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j45nick

A trip to the guitar hospital

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I took a day away from the computer and hit the road, finally taking my "new" 1950 J-45 to my favorite guitar medic for a physical and required repairs. It's not necessarily an easy trip--over 200 miles each way, on crowded highways full of typical Florida nutcase drivers. Incidentally, you never flip off bad drivers down here unless you want to face the very real possibility of the other driver pulling out a Glock and turning your SUV (if not yourself) into a well-ventilated piece of Swiss cheese. I kid you not.

 

Anyway, it turned into a relatively uneventful drive to the Asylum for Needy Vintage Guitars, and their equally vintage and needy owners.

 

The good news is that he found nothing that I had not already identified as a potential problem, and was un-bothered by what I considered an excessive amount of dome in the top. We all know flat tops are not flat-topped, but this one has a bit more than is typical. He surmised it was built that way, as there wasn't anything loose in the top, the dome was virtually symmetrical both longitudinally and transversely, and the underside of the bridge was carved to that top radius when the guitar was built. That dome may be one reason this seems like an exceptionally loud J-45, as it has a bit more box volume than most. Anyhow, it didn't bother him, which is fine with me.

 

No other surprises. One comment he made was that most bridgeplate damage he sees is from ball ends of the strings pulling up through the slots in the pins and wedging in the plate. He recommended turning slotted pins around so that the slots faced away from the strings, or using un-slotted pins. This does require a slight mod to the bridgeplate to cut a small slot for the string from the top of the bridge through the plate. (You may remember there was a guy here a couple of years ago who was big on using unslotted pins, but was a also a bit of a "my way or the highway" type of guy, and didn't really have much good to say about Gibsons in general compared to his Martins.)

 

Then he wanted me to play so he could see what I was doing these days to determine how to set up the guitar, so he pointed to a guitar on the stand next to the bench and asked me to play that one, since he said it was nicely set up for my style. (I had also mentioned I had been looking at 1950's D-28's before buying the J-45, so I think this was a bit of a tease.)

 

That guitar wasn't a D-28, and it wasn't a J-45. But it had a little bit of those two guitars in it: the D from the Martin, and the 45 from the Gibson.

 

It was a 1938 D-45, the last one built with snowflake board inlays rather than hexagon inlays.

 

The guitar was in excellent condition, and had just been re-appraised by George Gruhn at $400,000. But it was a player, not a museum piece. Same owner for more than 20 years. When you get one of those, you don't let go.

 

I have never heard or played anything like it. It may sound trite to say that the guitar practically played itself, but even with my sloppy fretting, every note rang true. It was stunning. I have never, ever, picked up a guitar that was so easy to play, and had such ringing tone.

 

Then he asked me to look at the top bracing inside a 1938 00-45 he had on the bench. ZW and I have joked here about Gibson top brace scalloping in the past (not talking about modern Bozeman Gibsons, which have beautifully-carved top bracing) looking like it was carved by eye using a sharpened spoon after too many drinks, but it's true. By comparison, the Martin top bracing was delicate, tapered and scalloped, and a work of art as fine as the exterior of the guitar. Granted, this was a 45 model, not something off-the-shelf.

 

Incidentally, he specializes in both vintage Gibsons and vintage Martins, so he has no particular axe to grind.

 

Somewhere along the way, I made the observation that there's nothing like old wood when it comes to guitar tone. He didn't disagree, but also had a lot to say about torrefied wood. Specifically, he felt you could get about 95% of the effect of aged wood by the torrefaction process, based on his analysis and experience.

 

Granted, tone is in the ear of the hearer, but when a guy who specializes in vintage guitars but builds new ones says that, you listen.

 

All in all, it was better than a day at the office. And I know my new old girl is in the best possible hands.

 

Now, as ZW says, we wait...

Edited by j45nick

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Sounds like a great way to spend the day, and you got to play a 1938 D45!! Awesome! Glad there were no unexpected problems with your J45.

Edited by TomPhx

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Wow -- 38 D-45. There were 9 made that year -- 3 in 36 and 3 in 37. The 36 and 37 guitars would have been forward braced, as would have been some of the ones in 38 -- did you check? If not, go back and check.

When dealing with Martin (trash?), that would be a good as it gets. Martins IME are all clean and fine finished inside -- Gibsons not so much.

If you live in Key West and get your guitar work done in Pensacola, you have to drive 830+ miles and not leave FL -- so I would say 200 is nothing.

Let's pick,

-Tom

Edited by tpbiii

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Seems as if your journey was worth every mile and only will lead further down or up the right path.

This old 1950er should be in safe hands, OK - no time to waste on misunderstandings or mistakes now.

Some say waiting time is the best time. You hereby have the opportunity to check that theory out.

Thx for the report - look forward to chapter II.

 

Oouhh, , , and that snowflake-Mart must have been quite something.

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Great story, but ...no photos! :unsure:

 

 

What are you getting done?

 

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

 

 

Get the phone camera out next time! Like these visit to mine - oh joy!

 

 

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Great story, but ...no photos! :unsure:

 

What are you getting done?

 

BluesKing777.

 

Get the phone camera out next time! Like these visit to mine - oh joy!

 

 

 

Photographing other people's guitars in the shop without their permission is generally a no-no.

 

General scope of work:

 

neck re-set

fret dress

Re-glue several loose back braces

Bridge plate repair and re-drill holes

New saddle

Replace tuner buttons (originals are badly shrunken)

Set-up

Anything else he finds...

 

The guitar is generally very solid and in very good+ to excellent condition. No breaks, no cracks, no modifications, no previous repairs. Only things non-original at this point are endpin, bridge pins, and strings. Truss rod works fine. Pickguard is a tiny bit warped on one edge but he says keep an eye on it and leave it alone.

 

I've already cleaned it inside and out, and hand-polished back and sides only. Cleaned, scraped, and oiled fretboard. Removed and overhauled tuners.

 

And now we wait. The good thing is I have plenty of other guitars to play in the meantime.

Edited by j45nick

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Sounds more like a fun vacation than a trip to the luthier! My cousin, rest his soul, was a long haul trucker who swore (prodigiously - about nearly everything) that the only safe way to navigate Florida was in a semi. Guess you just reinforced his notion. Nothing like a hands-on visit with a legendary guitar, Martin notwithstanding😂 Keep the information flowing! I once owned a 1950 J-50 that exhibited the high dome you mentioned - wonder how many like that came through during '50.

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400 mile round trip for a luthier visit!!?? makes me feel like a dork for moaning about a 35 mile one way trip to one of the shops I use occasionally.

 

The Martin must have been quite the experience. $400,000. I'd have been afraid to stand to close to it never mind play it.

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Long day trip.

 

I'm only about 170 miles from Gruhns, but I have to pass all the way through Kentucky.

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I once owned a 1950 J-50 that exhibited the high dome you mentioned - wonder how many like that came through during '50.

 

Good question. My other '50 J-45 was re-topped by Gibson in 1968, so it's useless as a reference. I believe Jedzep here has a 1950 that is literally the next FON batch to my original one, so maybe he will comment on his.

 

The construction plan for the J-45 (which is based on a 1957 guitar) has about 3/16" of top dome transversely and longitudinally. That's pretty consistent with my modern '43 SJ re-issue as well. My "new" 1950 has about twice that amount of dome, but everything is good under the hood, with nothing in the top loose or distorted. The saddle on the "new" 1950 J-45 is about half the height of that on my SJ, but there is no sign that saddle has ever been cut down, and the original owner certainly didn't remember it being cut down. He never took the guitar to a tech for anything. Never did anything but change the strings in 68 years of ownership.

 

I suspect that for whatever reason, this guitar was built with a lot of top dome. The back, incidentally, has exactly the amount shown on the plans.

 

I think those full-size J-45 plans are still available from Stewmac. While the bracing plan only shows the un-scalloped late 1950's top braces, it shows all the bridge and pickguard configurations over time. If you're a slope-J fan, it's a great resource.

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I'm looking forward to the updated post when this "new",'50, J45 comes back from the doc. Any hints as to how it will sound Nick? Scalloped bracing and emphasized top radius should make for a punchy, loud guitar. The early '50s seemed to favor those with a lighter touch, the later '50s tall tapered bracing for chord chuggers. Obviously neck reset and brace repairs will change it some but it should still be true to itself.

Interesting his observations on the torrefied wood. With some of the builders (Greven, Mcknight, Huss and Dalton, Pre-War, Bourgeois) using it and hearing a difference, I think there is something to it. I played an Adi topped Bourgeois that was impressive, although I have been on the fence with the Gibson models. If it can tame a new Adi top that's saying a lot to me. Of course there is so much to building a guitar to pin it on one thing.

Glad you made it and back in one piece!

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I'm looking forward to the updated post when this "new",'50, J45 comes back from the doc. Any hints as to how it will sound Nick? Scalloped bracing and emphasized top radius should make for a punchy, loud guitar.

 

It is quite loud and punchy. I played it a lot for a couple of weeks before taking it to the luthier, even though it was a challenge with the bass-side action at about .15"(3.8mm, 10/64"). It was fine to play up through the first four frets, increasingly difficult to impossible above that. Of course, lowering the action height may reduce the volume a bit.

 

The volume and tonal balance may be completely different after the work, but we'll see. In any case, it should (I hope) be a keeper.

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Looking forward to hearing about it (and hearing it) when it returns from the shop.

 

And a two-hour drive to a quality repair shop is something I can only dream about. My closest repair shop is an hour and a half away -- by plane. there isn't a single one in all of Kuwait, but there's a guy in Dubai I've heard good things about....

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Update:

 

Talked to the guy working on my 1950 J-45 yesterday. He told me my guitar was now in two pieces. Neck is off and awaiting re-set while he works on the inside of the guitar, re-gluing a couple of braces and repairing the bridgeplate.

 

Also made the final decision to replace the shrunken tuner buttons. I had originally given him a set of Stewmac ivory buttons, but then found the Antique Acoustics exact replica vintage tuner buttons, which are also ivory in color but are slightly smaller, more oblong, and have pronounced concave sides like vintage Kluson buttons.

 

Also going against the grain a bit by installing a set of Antique Acoustics black plastic unslotted repro Gibson bridgepins, instead of bone. I'll see if I can get Bob Colosi to make me a set of near-black custom unslotted bone pins for the future. I know he will do those in buffalo horn, but I'd like to see what he can come up with in bone, but as near to black as possible.

 

This guitar is completely original, and I'm trying to keep it that way as much as possible. Although some J45's in that era had white pins, this one came with the original black pins in the case, although they were too shrunken to re-use.

 

It's like waiting for Christmas, only better.

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Update:

 

Talked to the guy working on my 1950 J-45 yesterday. He told me my guitar was now in two pieces. Neck is off and awaiting re-set while he works on the inside of the guitar, re-gluing a couple of braces and repairing the bridgeplate.

 

Also made the final decision to replace the shrunken tuner buttons. I had originally given him a set of Stewmac ivory buttons, but then found the Antique Acoustics exact replica vintage tuner buttons, which are also ivory in color but are slightly smaller, more oblong, and have pronounced concave sides like vintage Kluson buttons.

 

Also going against the grain a bit by installing a set of Antique Acoustics black plastic unslotted repro Gibson bridgepins, instead of bone. I'll see if I can get Bob Colosi to make me a set of near-black custom unslotted bone pins for the future. I know he will do those in buffalo horn, but I'd like to see what he can come up with in bone, but as near to black as possible.

 

This guitar is completely original, and I'm trying to keep it that way as much as possible. Although some J45's in that era had white pins, this one came with the original black pins in the case, although they were too shrunken to re-use.

 

It's like waiting for Christmas, only better.

My J45 legend came with the black plastic pins.

When the ‘42 LG1 got fixed up I bought some black plastic pins and a set of ebony pins. I kept the ebony ones. They have an old dried out look to them that compliments the guitar. The white buttons also got replaced.

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While I can't help with advice on some of those matters, I can give a really good tip....

 

 

When you go to pick the guitar up when it is finished, don't rush around - check everything twice.

 

 

Even though my luthier is close, I found a fret problem on the patient around the 7-8 1st string when I was playing it last night and will now have to go back to the luthier! Oh yeah, that would be good for Nick's little drive to his luthier. :mellow:

 

 

 

BluesKing777.

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While I can't help with advice on some of those matters, I can give a really good tip....

 

When you go to pick the guitar up when it is finished, don't rush around - check everything twice.

 

Even though my luthier is close, I found a fret problem on the patient around the 7-8 1st string when I was playing it last night and will now have to go back to the luthier! Oh yeah, that would be good for Nick's little drive to his luthier. :mellow:

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

Thanks!

 

I will take that advice, for sure.

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Amazing story about the Martin d45. Holy cow, not many people can say they played something like that.

 

As for the road rage potential, I know a guy who went nuts and killed a guy in a road rage. Shot him dead right there on the main drag. He's still in prison.

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Just got a call from the luthier that my "new" J-45 is ready. Headed up there Tuesday to pick her up.

 

In the three weeks he's had this one, I've been on a bit of a 'hog slope-J tear, swapping daily between my 2006 Fuller's 1943 SJ and my re-topped "old" 1950 J-45.

 

These two guitars have necks that are as different as chalk and cheese. The SJ has the wide, fairly shallow Luthier's choice neck, 1.78" at the nut and just under 2 3/16" (2.19")spacing at the pins.

 

The re-topped J-45 is only 1.56" (1 9/16") at the nut, with 2 1/8" pin spacing (2.125"). The neck is unusual in that the "new" narrow 1968 board (top also dates from 1968) is on the original, deep-C shaped neck from 1950, so the guitar (fortunately) plays nothing like the typical late-60's Gibson acoustic with the narrow nut and the "backless" neck (as ZW calls it).

 

Gibson obviously re-shaped the neck slightly to accommodate the narrow board, but they fortunately did not turn it onto a "backless" wonder.

 

The interesting thing is that while the substantially wider modern neck and slightly wider pin spacing on the SJ are more forgiving when it comes to fret-hand finger placement and fingerpicking, the old J-45 is actually a slightly easier guitar to play in the flatpicking style I primarily use. Yes, left-hand finger placement is unforgiving, but the conscious effort required for that seems to be making me a better player. I've always been sloppy with my left hand, but you can't get away with that with the narrow-nut guitars.

 

Go figure: they both play well.

 

Tonally? With the same strings (Sunbeams), the scalloped-braced modern SJ is more balanced than the straight-braced J-45, which has more pronounced bottom and trebles. Even the "new" top on the J-45 is now more than 50 years old, so "new" is a relative term. It's well-aged.

 

All of this slope-J frenzy has been part of the waiting process for the "new" 1950 J-45 to come back from the doctor. With a nut width of just over 1.70" and pin spacing of 2 3/16", I am hoping that it is going to bring the best playing properties of those other two together in one package. Plus, it looks really, really nice, with just the right amount of wear. (pictures when it comes back, I promise)

 

We'll see.

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A good idea to dig into the other 2 before the new one arrives.

That way you'll really know what you get home on Tuesday.

The width might be the most obvious difference, , , from there investigating sound'n'soul is ready for entertainment all summer.

 

Look forward to HQ-pics - also of The Three Graces. No, , , that's a wrong term for slope shouldered folk-guitars. Anyways. .

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Just got a call from the luthier that my "new" J-45 is ready. Headed up there Tuesday to pick her up.

 

 

 

All of this slope-J frenzy has been part of the waiting process for the "new" 1950 J-45 to come back from the doctor. With a nut width of just over 1.70" and pin spacing of 2 3/16", I am hoping that it is going to bring the best playing properties of those other two together in one package. Plus, it looks really, really nice, with just the right amount of wear. (pictures when it comes back, I promise)

 

We'll see.

 

 

 

That was quick! Don’t forget to give him a gift...... [laugh]

 

1.70” nut is do-able almost for me....surely most 50s are not like that? Can I have it?

 

Guitar teach: “Arch those fingers!” (Whack)....

 

There is little rhyme and reason to what works, nut size and spacing-wise, but obviously for my fingerpicking, I prefer the older small bodies with the 1 3/4 nut and big V, and their newer versions ala Waterloo as the stock of old L-00s for sale seems to be pretty junky at the mo.

 

BUT....the BK is 1.72 and can mostly get it done. The LG3 is 1 11/16” and can almost get it done. My Matons are 1.736” with a fat C neck and work very well.....etc, etc..... so 2 small and quick tests at a shop can guide me to the “light”. (If I can live with it!). Disappointing beyond belief with that nice guitar in hand at the shop that you can buy but realise after a little test that it won’t be staying - here it is- play a stock standard cowboy C cleanly, sometimes just that is a challenge on narrow necks, then add the pinky to the C chord on the first string, third fret. (Move the bass note to the sixth string and we have Gary Davis C). On most nuts narrower than 1 3/4” it is fairly impossible to play the notes cleanly together on the first and second string. Not always depending on the nut spacing!

 

The other test I do is a few bars of something like the plain old A7 chord with 2 fingers and the 3rd string open.....but then add the pinky to the third fret first string and play while moving it between the second and open then third again. Can’t do it - guitar and I have a tearful departure because I can research and narrow down a possible guitar but this A7 chord in real life there and now in your hands.... is the cruncher. For example, there will NEVER be a full fingerpicking version of St Louis Blues - on the wrong necks, the notes in the A7 segment can only be played one string at a time.....

 

There you go, a quick fingerpicker’s version of playing various necks. Now, someone please explain to me the advantage of 1 5/8” nuts on 60s guitars for flatpicking....is it easier with the strings close together one note at a time, I assume?

 

 

 

BluesKing777....desperately wanting Nick’s 1950 J45..... [smile]

Edited by BluesKing777

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Yeah, a nice little grouping of vintage gold we've been treated to in the last couple of weeks. Can't get over the flaming on Zomboid's L1 top though.

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Yeah, a nice little grouping of vintage gold we've been treated to in the last couple of weeks. Can't get over the flaming on Zomboid's L1 top though.

 

I have nothing to report, JZ, but I DID have to go play something old and out came the 44 Martin 0-17...and everything I said in the previous post doesn’t apply, inexplicable really, as the nut is 1 11/16” and the neck medium C but I can play the Davis C on it and St Louis Blues. AND, the people I told in another forum that my only pickup that fits this guitar, Fishman Rare Earth Blend with no adjustable pole pieces, is wrong, wrong in that fir some reason the 1 and 2 strings ARE not too loud like every other guitar I put the pickup in..... :mellow: Figure that all out and give me my birth year J45 ......

 

 

BluesKing777.

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Haha. Sometimes you (I mean my) hands just settle in like a glove on any given day and play OK. Your playing is in that upper echelon so your hands know where to go, and I trust your ear and any analysis of gear. I wish I was born earlier so my birth year J50 would have a rectangular bridge, but I ain't complaining. Mine is actually 2 years before my birth year.

 

Keep up the good work on the attempt at making us vintage nerds feel special.

 

Edited by jedzep

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Now, someone please explain to me the advantage of 1 5/8” nuts on 60s guitars for flatpicking....is it easier with the strings close together one note at a time, I assume?

 

BluesKing777....desperately wanting Nick’s 1950 J45..... [smile]

 

 

Maybe like a mandolin in that regard. (Not serious about that.)

 

It may be the way the guitar is set up, or something else. My old J-45 just plays really, really easily, despite the narrow nut and its accompanying frustrations and demands on the left hand.

 

The thing is, where you pick, there is virtually no difference in string spacing based on the nut width. It's all about the string spacing at the bridge for the picking hand itself. But if you only have a couple of fretting fingers on the strings at one time when flat-picking, like in single-note runs, it's not about squeezing a lot of fingers on your fretting hand into tight places to make chords, either.

 

The old ones like the L-OO, with 2 3/8" pin spacing and 1 3/4" nut width, really are a lot easier to finger-pick, and more forgiving of a clumsy left hand like mine.

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