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What is Gibson’s holy grail benchmark acoustic?

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So I was thinking today, we all associate Martin with Brazillian Rosewood and the original prewar D28s, their benchmark and most desirable (besides maybe the ULTRA RARE prewar D45) guitar, and I guess the J45 is Gibsons signature acoustic guitar, but which tonewood? I know during the prewar banner guitar times there was a shortage in wood which resulted in not just mahogany J45s, but maple and brazillian rosewood guitars as well, but which one is the holy grail/consistently best sounding Banner J45, or is there no definite winner here? I almost think that the maple ones might be, but Ive never played a banner ‘45 at all so I have no idea. 

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The benchmark holy grail is a matter of opinion....

Blues fingerpickers - 1932 Gibson L-00 12 fret or 1937 Gibson L-0 14 fret (mine).😀

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

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IMO, the clear answer -- particularly as compared to the Martin D-28 -- is the Advanced Jumbo.  The were introduced in 1936, and made until 1940 -- only two were made in the last year.  They are rosewood guitars -- rare for Gibson -- and for many years people thought the were Brazilian because of verbiage in the Gibson catalog that talked about "rosewood from Brazil" -- but the wood had a characteristic look different from the BRW on the Martins. The other thought was it would was another species of RW from Brazil -- Amazon RW.  Eventually it was tested  and found to be Indian -- all the Gibson RW used for the back and sides from c. 1934-1943 was that species, although fingerboards and bridges were BRW.

The other main candidate I think -- although it does that fit my music interests  -- is the Super Jumbo 200. Introduced in 1938 with RW back and sides, later models were built using mahogany and maple.  It is the RW SJ-200s that command a kings ransom.

The popularity of the banners is a more recent thing, and historically they never had the interest of the 30s guitars.  The main reason was they were never on average as powerful as the older models -- the RW SJ may have been and exception and mine is.  The power requirement comes from the days before universal sound reinforcement (1940-50s).  There are a lot of banners and they are quirky guitars with a cool history, but their primary impact is from foreign and modern markets -- they were never highly regarded by the non-urban acoustic genres.

The L-2 is another interesting suggestion.  Historically they were sort of grouped in with L-0, L-00, and L-1, but they were only made around 1931-32.  The first ones were mahogany, but then a few BRW ones were built.  Many of the latter had trapeze setups, but a few had pin bridges.  Many of the trapeze models have been converted to pin bridges.  These were transition  instruments, and like the Martin of a similar period, their tone is unique and very (IME) beautiful.

Here are my late wife and my golden era Gibsons

BlrwfxX.jpg

Front row -- 1926 L-1, 1938 HG-00,  1937 L-Century,  1936 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, 1935 Roy Smeck Radio Grande,  1931 L-1, 1934 L-00 3/4

Back row -- 1935 Jumbo, 1936 Advanced Jumbo, 1936 Jumbo 35 (Trojan)

Here are some banners

yY0xz1Y.jpg

Front row -- 1943 J-45, 1943 SJ, 1943 SJ (RW),  1944 J-45, 1953 J-45

Back row -- 1942 LG-1, 1946 LG-2

Let's pick,

-Tom

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I would say a 1930s Advanced Jumbo.  But as those remain beyond the grasp of most mere mortals how about narrowing it down to something many of us can realistically hope to own. 

1930-1932 12 fret L-00, L-1, L-2.  Gibson built nothing like them before of after.

Gibson Banner J45/50/SJ.  Iconic if because of nothing else the speak more eloquently to a specific place and time than any guitar on the planet.

 

And yes. I own a 1932 L-1 and 1942 J-50.  

Edited by zombywoof

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36 minutes ago, Fidalgo said:

What is Gibson's Holy Grail benchmark acoustic?

A Loar signed F5.

I would not disagree with that,  but if you are leaving the acoustic guitar world, a lot of 30s one piece flange flathead original 5-string banjos are in the same class -- Granada, RB-6, RB-18, All American, etc.  Martin D-28, Loar F5, Granada Mastertone -- The 1945 Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.😊

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1 hour ago, tpbiii said:

IMO, the clear answer -- particularly as compared to the Martin D-28 -- is the Advanced Jumbo.  The were introduced in 1936, and made until 1940 -- only two were made in the last year.  They are rosewood guitars -- rare for Gibson -- and for many years people thought the were Brazilian because of verbiage in the Gibson catalog that talked about "rosewood from Brazil" -- but the wood had a characteristic look different from the BRW on the Martins. The other thought was it would was another species of RW from Brazil -- Amazon RW.  Eventually it was tested  and found to be Indian -- all the Gibson RW used for the back and sides from c. 1934-1943 was that species, although fingerboards and bridges were BRW.

The other main candidate I think -- although it does that fit my music interests  -- is the Super Jumbo 200. Introduced in 1938 with RW back and sides, later models were built using mahogany and maple.  It is the RW SJ-200s that command a kings ransom.

The popularity of the banners is a more recent thing, and historically they never had the interest of the 30s guitars.  The main reason was they were never on average as powerful as the older models -- the RW SJ may have been and exception and mine is.  The power requirement comes from the days before universal sound reinforcement (1940-50s).  There are a lot of banners and they are quirky guitars with a cool history, but their primary impact is from foreign and modern markets -- they were never highly regarded by the non-urban acoustic genres.

The L-2 is another interesting suggestion.  Historically they were sort of grouped in with L-0, L-00, and L-1, but they were only made around 1931-32.  The first ones were mahogany, but then a few BRW ones were built.  Many of the latter had trapeze setups, but a few had pin bridges.  Many of the trapeze models have been converted to pin bridges.  These were transition  instruments, and like the Martin of a similar period, their tone is unique and very (IME) beautiful.

Here are my late wife and my golden era Gibsons

BlrwfxX.jpg

Front row -- 1926 L-1, 1938 HG-00,  1937 L-Century,  1936 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, 1935 Roy Smeck Radio Grande,  1931 L-1, 1934 L-00 3/4

Back row -- 1935 Jumbo, 1936 Advanced Jumbo, 1936 Jumbo 35 (Trojan)

Here are some banners

yY0xz1Y.jpg

Front row -- 1943 J-45, 1943 SJ, 1943 SJ (RW),  1944 J-45, 1953 J-45

Back row -- 1942 LG-1, 1946 LG-2

Let's pick,

-Tom

Tom,

Do you have any J200’s?

Dave

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I'm crazy about small body Gibson's L-00, LG-1, LG-2. The tone is unmistakable Gibson. But this is just my opinion. others will vary.

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8 hours ago, tpbiii said:

IMO, the clear answer -- particularly as compared to the Martin D-28 -- is the Advanced Jumbo.  The were introduced in 1936, and made until 1940 -- only two were made in the last year.  They are rosewood guitars -- rare for Gibson -- and for many years people thought the were Brazilian because of verbiage in the Gibson catalog that talked about "rosewood from Brazil" -- but the wood had a characteristic look different from the BRW on the Martins. The other thought was it would was another species of RW from Brazil -- Amazon RW.  Eventually it was tested  and found to be Indian -- all the Gibson RW used for the back and sides from c. 1934-1943 was that species, although fingerboards and bridges were BRW.

The other main candidate I think -- although it does that fit my music interests  -- is the Super Jumbo 200. Introduced in 1938 with RW back and sides, later models were built using mahogany and maple.  It is the RW SJ-200s that command a kings ransom.

The popularity of the banners is a more recent thing, and historically they never had the interest of the 30s guitars.  The main reason was they were never on average as powerful as the older models -- the RW SJ may have been and exception and mine is.  The power requirement comes from the days before universal sound reinforcement (1940-50s).  There are a lot of banners and they are quirky guitars with a cool history, but their primary impact is from foreign and modern markets -- they were never highly regarded by the non-urban acoustic genres.

The L-2 is another interesting suggestion.  Historically they were sort of grouped in with L-0, L-00, and L-1, but they were only made around 1931-32.  The first ones were mahogany, but then a few BRW ones were built.  Many of the latter had trapeze setups, but a few had pin bridges.  Many of the trapeze models have been converted to pin bridges.  These were transition  instruments, and like the Martin of a similar period, their tone is unique and very (IME) beautiful.

Here are my late wife and my golden era Gibsons

BlrwfxX.jpg

Front row -- 1926 L-1, 1938 HG-00,  1937 L-Century,  1936 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe, 1935 Roy Smeck Radio Grande,  1931 L-1, 1934 L-00 3/4

Back row -- 1935 Jumbo, 1936 Advanced Jumbo, 1936 Jumbo 35 (Trojan)

Here are some banners

yY0xz1Y.jpg

Front row -- 1943 J-45, 1943 SJ, 1943 SJ (RW),  1944 J-45, 1953 J-45

Back row -- 1942 LG-1, 1946 LG-2

Let's pick,

-Tom

Well, you seem to be the most qualified considering that you look like you’ve owned most all of the prewar Gibbys. I would like to know if you dont mind, which one (or 3 considering how many you’ve owned) is the best sounding dread to you?

14 hours ago, BluesKing777 said:

 

The benchmark holy grail is a matter of opinion....

Blues fingerpickers - 1932 Gibson L-00 12 fret or 1937 Gibson L-0 14 fret (mine).😀

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

Sorry, Im a flatpicker (how could you guess?) and completely forgot what a broad spectrum of genres gibson has the magic guitar for.

8 hours ago, Fidalgo said:

What is Gibson's Holy Grail benchmark acoustic?

A Loar signed F5.

No doubt, a mandolin like no other.

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The answer that immediately comes to mind for me would be an Advanced Jumbo from the original run. That would not be my personal choice as far as a holy grail Gibson acoustic goes (I personally prefer mahogany guitars) but I’ve seen the  original AJ noted for this distinction so many times now I suppose that it is just sort of tattooed on my brain. 

My personal favorite Gibson acoustic as far as pure tone goes has long been Russ Barenberg’s banner-era maple J-45 (perhaps the most mahogany-like maple guitar I have ever heard). I believe that particular guitar even has laminated back & sides. The reality is that Russ is much more responsible for that particular tone than the guitar itself, but I just like that pairing.

The most memorable Gibson I have ever encountered personally was back in the 90’s when I was on the hunt for a 30’s L-00. It was a 13 fret model that had undergone a left-hand conversion at some point in it’s life. That ruled it out for a purchase by me. But that guitar simply stunned me even just based on the crude noodling I was able to pull off with it.

I continue to hold steady with my 2008 J-45 TV as the last guitar I’ll likely part with so I guess maybe that’s my personal holy grail Gibson. Unfortunately,  it is my own tone that comes across most clearly regardless of what guitar I happen to be playing.

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12 hours ago, Dave F said:

Tom,

Do you have any J200’s?

Dave

No. They can be great guitars, but IMO there best use historically is as strummers behind people with big voices, which I don't have.  Modern ones are maple, and maple doesn't cut as well as mahogany or RW in acoustic string bands like bluegrass.  The simple answer is I don't know nearly so much about them as the Js and others.

Best,

-Tom

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Well, you seem to be the most qualified considering that you look like you’ve owned most all of the prewar Gibbys. I would like to know if you dont mind, which one (or 3 considering how many you’ve owned) is the best sounding dread to you?

 

"Best"  is often subjective.  Since I love power bluegrass, the only ones I have found that can do that in sort of the same way as the old D-28s are the three RW Js: AJ, RSRG, and SJ RW.  But I also love others for other reasons.  For example my go to ragtime/folk/gospel fingerpicker (with finger picks) is my 44 J-45.  My favorite bare finger picker is the 1931 L-2.  And (oddly I guess) my favorite folk revival strummer -- that is where my late wife and I started in the 60s -- is a 62 Hummingbird.  It is not as powerful as earlier Js, but its full balanced tone seem to me just right for that. 

Let's pick,

-Tom

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22 hours ago, Fidalgo said:

What is Gibson's Holy Grail benchmark acoustic?

A Loar signed F5.

 

We have a winner....

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A fun question. If not limited to flattop guitars, I'd agree with the Loar F5 suggestion. Other acoustic, but not flattop, contenders could be 1930s Mastertone banjos, pre-war flathead banjos, and Loar signed L-5s.

Presuming flattops, there have been a lot of great suggestions. I can think of only one context in which Gibson flattops dominate a musical genre like Martin D-28s and D-18s dominate in bluegrass: fiddle backup. If you want to play fiddle backup, you have to have a Banner J-45/50/SJ. Those are the iconic guitars in that context.

Thanks for the question and all of the insightful answers.

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Either a '30s AJ, '30s SJ200 or '50s J185 for the grails.

'40s J45 for the benchmark.

In my opinion, in terms of impact on popular music, three families of acoustics in particular have left the biggest footprint. Gibson J45/50, Martin D18/28 and Gibson 17" Jumbos.

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Agreed , Jinder. It's hard to argue with the oft quoted "the workhorse" moniker, whether it's the J-45  or the 50. You often see a 45 on late night shows being played by (whatever you may think of them) Graham Nash or any other guest on so many songs. It seems that if you need a generic guitar that virtually any guest can handle-it might well be a J-45.

 Not to disparage Martins or Taylors but they are so comfortable-sounding and unassuming. Short scale doesn't hurt either.

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I couldn't afford Gibson's Holy Grail.

Thank goodness it's not necessary and they've got lots of models that can fit the bill at a more reasonable expense.

H

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9 hours ago, blindboygrunt said:

Its surely between the J200 and the J45 and the humming bird?

Agree, , , with a Dove hovering somewhere in the background. . 

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To me  a holy grail is not only about subjective performance (to which most all of us are drawn) but also about rarity. Holy Grail (courtesy of Merriam-Webster): something that you want very much but that is very hard to get or achieve

For me this rules out all of the better sellers in the Gibson lineup.

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Tom, thanks for sharing the video!

I guess I was being a little cheeky when I said a Loar signed F5, but I do think that is THE Gibson, thanks to Big Mon walking into that barber shop on that day. I know that the old Granadas and RB's are also highly prized and iconic and carry hefty price tags. The 30's AJ's are also very rare and "benchmark". The best rosewood guitar I have ever played was '37 AJ. 

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