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tpbiii

New Old Guitar on the way

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Soo...  I no longer buy old guitars.  I know longer buy old guitars. I ...

But in the first decade of the 21th century -- at the twilight of my guitar acquisition period -- I became interested in Gibson's RW Js from the mid 30s to the early 40s.  They were rare instruments -- RSRGs and AJs were all that seemed to be known in the 20th century.  Later the really early (42-43) SJ RWs were documented and ultimately I acquired all three.  And I proved (to myself but everyone who plays them agrees) that they were at least a good as the prewar herringbones when it comes to bluegrass rhythm.  Since I love to play rhythm in bluegrass bands, this is important to me (and indeed many others as well.)  Old D-28s now go for up to $150K. I wrote all this up for my blog about 5 years ago.

https://vintageacousticinsruments.blogspot.com/

I thought I was done -- I mean I had all three.  Well, (as you may know) starting in 1940 Gibson replaced the AJ with the J-55 -- a mahogany J that only lasted a couple of years (about 400 guitars).  I was not really interested in a J-55 because it seemed to me it was too close in time and design to the early (mahogany) banner SJ and banner J-45 I already had.  And J-55s were rare -- so rare that they are not even noted in the Vintage Guitar Price Guide.  But then I went to SPBGMA (early Feb this year) and found a 1940 J-55 on display.  Not just any  J-55 but a RW J-55.  HUH! THERE IS NO SUCH THING!  But there it was. 

Well that might be another of the rare group of early Gibson RW Js that I have come to admire so much for their power and tone -- an essentially (maybe totally) undocumented model.  Quite possibly the only one. 

Well I had my 44 D-28 with me for jamming purposes, so I did not have to imagine how they compared.  Like the others, it is clearly in the same class as the prewar herringbones -- like the AJs Gary Burnette dubbed "bone crushers."

So eventually a deal was made and it will be here in a week or two.  Of course, I cannot take it out and play bluegrass -- I have not left my house in 4 weeks.  So I guess I will have to be satisfied with pealing the paint off the walls for awhile.😀  Also, J-55 are kind of goofy looking -- some even had a mustache bridge.  Mine doesn't -- but the other bridge is also sort of goofy.

eoBabbq.jpg

Let's pick,

-Tom

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Hi Tom,

Congrats on your "new" Gibson. I love the looks of these J-55's. Roy Book Binder had one many many years ago. I like that bridge much better than the Moustache brigde  on the earlier ones.

Stay healthy,

George

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A rosewood J-55?!? How cool!

Congratulations, Tom. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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That's a real unicorn, Tom. Can't wait to hear it. Maybe you can get David Dugas to drive it around the block at some point.

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I can't think of anyone who would provide a better home for that beauty !    Enjoy !!!   

Edited by fortyearspickn

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5 hours ago, j45nick said:

That's a real unicorn, Tom. Can't wait to hear it. Maybe you can get David Dugas to drive it around the block at some point.

I am sure he will -- we have a session planned as soon as the pandemic allows.

Maybe a word about tone is in order here.  I remember some years ago when I acquired my last early Gibson RW J -- the 43 SJ RW -- I thought it's tone was extraordinary and you passed on the instrument  because you did not love its tone.  That may seem odd -- but it is not odd at all.  I have several different set of rules for measuring different kinds of guitars.  The reason for this is because I am only interested in owning guitars I plan to play -- at least sometimes for something.  I have musical bias based on my own musical aspirations and limitations, the genres I love, the songs I know and aspire to, and places I play, and the people I play with.

The bias I applied to this guitar is a well known and historically important bias, and it is reason that for many, the prewar Martin D-28 is the best flattop ever built.  That is because of that instrument's role is/was so important in the very popular (but by no means universal) bluegrass genre.  What a guitar must have for that genre is a lot of power, a strong low end and (most important) an outsized midrange with a rosewood roar.  Such a guitar is perfect at filling the back beat in bluegrass rhythm to provide the on-the-beat driving backup that defines the genre.  That is the measure that I used in evaluating the new J-55 and that is the measure by which I found it to excel.

But that bias is by no means the only tone bias that I use.  Like you I think, my late wife and I were also children of the 60s folk revival -- my first love.  For me, things like the old herringbones do not work all that well in my folk music life.  For that, I found instruments like my banner J-45 (finger style) and 62 Hummingbird (strumming) to be perfect.  Also, there is/was a power issue -- while we often struggled to be loud enough to blend in bluegrass, the response in a folk circle was often "why are they screaming and beating on those instruments?"

And their are quite a few more set of tone rules.  I also love to play bare finger couch music and also blues -- mostly only at home.  That leads to 20s Martin 0 and 00 and to Gibson 20s L-1, and 30s L-00 and HG-00.  And so on.

So when this thing arrives, I will flat pick it, finger pick it, play fiddle tunes and folk tunes on it, and sing with it.  But I will not use for its true intended purpose -- their is no more bluegrass until the pandemic is past. 😥😥

All the best,

-Tom

Edited by tpbiii
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Loves me some Rosewood. I've often said...

My J-45 (rosewood/ebony) sounds like a Rolls Royce. My J-15 sounds like a Dodge Charger Hellcat.

Congrats on that find.

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Very cool Tom!!! A second variant J-55 with rosewood back and sides!! That's just insanely rare! I owned this  1939 J55 (stair step head stock/mustache bridge) back in the mid 1990s. Kind of wish I kept it.  Congrats again on one cool purchase.

 

Fred

39j55ssreduced.jpg

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Very good description of  why we all 'hear' differently.  Musical memory of 'tones' we heard and became embedded in our DNA.   Duane Eddy's twangy guitar  -  Gipsy Kings flamenco nylon stringers - Peter, Paul & Mary.  ...  Sort of a mosaic in our minds.  Thanks Tom. 

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8 hours ago, 59gibson said:

Very cool Tom!!! A second variant J-55 with rosewood back and sides!! That's just insanely rare! I owned this  1939 J55 (stair step head stock/mustache bridge) back in the mid 1990s. Kind of wish I kept it.  Congrats again on one cool purchase.

 

Fred

39j55ssreduced.jpg

Thanks so much for your post!!  I figured there would be more.  Have you seen any others?

All the best,

-Tom

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1 minute ago, tpbiii said:

Thanks so much for your post!!  I figured there would be more.  Have you seen any others?

All the best,

-Tom

 

Hi Tom,

Hope you are doing well. Yours is the first rosewood J-55 that I'm aware of. Of course Gibson being Gibson, there are most likely others along with some examples with maple back and sides.  In fact, there could be examples produced with any combination of rosewood, mahogany and maple for the back and sides (LOL).

Fred

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Wow, Tom -- that sounds like a cool and unusual acquisition!  Looking forward to a fuller report in a few weeks!

Best,
Fred

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Including the one above, I now have the credible reports of two more.

It turns out, one is reported on page 53 of the Fabulous Flat Top book (c. 1993).  Here it is.

eKat2j7.jpg

 

A close examination of this pictures show that it actually is the same guitar that I have acquired.  Funny world huh?

Best,

-Tom

Edited by tpbiii

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1 hour ago, tpbiii said:

Including the one above, I now have the credible reports of two more.

It turns out, one is reported on page 53 of the Fabulous Flat Top book (c. 1993). 

A close examination of this pictures show that it actually is the same guitar that I have acquired.  Funny world huh?

Best,

-Tom

How cool that is!

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and ultimately I acquired all three.  And I proved (to myself but everyone who plays them agrees)

 

I had all three. 

 

Things a hoarder says

Nobody needs all three

 

I just don't want anyone else to have them

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That is heart-leapingly beautiful... what a stunning instrument. The bridge layout is my favourite shape of all the Gibson bridges. I loved it on the two SJ100 reissues I owned, just beautiful!

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