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PatDie

Gibson J-45 vs. Gibson J-45

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Hey there,

first off: I've been a silent reader for quite some time now and just recently signed up as a forum member. Happy to be here! Also, I'm not a native speaker, so I'm sorry for any spelling or grammar mistakes in advance.

With my first thread I'm hoping to get some input to help me making a decision on a new guitar (I also posted on the Acoustic Forum, thought it might be good to get different opinions). After playing for some years now I've been saving up money to buy my dream guitar, the Gibson J-45 Standard VS, hopefully being able to play it a lifetime. I read a lot about potential inconsistencies along different Gibson models and as a guitar in that price range is quite an investment for me, I wanted to make sure to able to compare a few. With the current situation all major guitar shops are locked down, so I ordered three J-45's to give them a play.

My first impression is that each J-45 is individual in looks, feel and sound, but none of them something I would consider being a bad guitar at all. Still, I'm very unsure what my priorities should be when picking one of these three guitars, so here's a quick wrap-up of the different characteristics of each guitar.

The first one:
dcx3Xtp.jpg

Look and feel: Absolutely flawless, I really like the grain of the wood. Straight neck that perfectly plays up and down. The setup is perfect.

Sound: If I didn't have any other J-45 to compare it with, I'd say it's good. Certainly dry, very warm, a decent punch, but the sustain and overtones are lacking a bit (even though I'm lookin for "that" Gibson sound). I could understand someone playing it and calling it dead. I'd say it's alright, but it could be a bit better.

The second one:
YPJImqG.jpg

Look and feel: Straight neck, the setup could be a little better. A glue blob here and there, not perfectly flawless where the neck meets the body, but I guess I don't mind. Something that I find a little confusing is the off-center Burst. It's a little more apparent looking at it than assessing it on an (overexposed on purpose) picture, but the bottom of the body has much larger darker areas than the top. I'm really all about symmetries when it comes to design so that is an aesthetical issue for me, just not sure how significant this should be for my decision.

Sound: It simply beats the first one. It brings all the tonal characteristics I've been looking for and shines a little more on the high notes. It's more versatile and sounds good strumming and fingerpicking.

And the third one:
x6VTFQB.jpg

Look and feel: Well, I didn't know there were J-45s with bridges and fingerboards this light. And I really don't like it. On the other hand, the top looks great and has a very vintage tone to it. Other than that, there are some glue spills again, a white colored stain on the bracing (visible through the soundhole) and a fairly high string action that would certainly need a proper setup.

Sound: Clearly the winner of all three. It's full, warm, loud and punchy while still having this growl. It has beautifully warm overtones and just fills the room.

And here's my dilemma: The "worst" sounding J-45 is the (subjectively) nicest looking one with a flawless finish and overall quality. The best sounding J-45 really puts me off when it comes to looks. I know you can darken Rosewood to a certain extend using fretboard oil, but I don't think it would get even close to the tone of the other J-45s. Also, I don't know if I should mind these minor issues related to the finish and overall quality.

Some might say I should focus on what sounds best, but beside the finish issues aesthetics are a big factor for me that directly translates into the joy of picking up the guitar and jamming with it. On the other hand, it would certainly be stupid to pick the "worst" sounding guitar when you could have one that has so much more to it.

What would you do in my position? Should I try getting used to the light colored bridge and fretboard of the third guitar? Is the burst-issue on the second guitar really not a big deal and therefore it might be a good compromise between looks and sound? Or should I hope that the first one will open up eventually? (even though this wouldn't seem right and it's questionable whether time will bring any improvement)

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks,
Patrick

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Two things....first, I'd go with the one that sounded best to me.  Second...if at all possible, I'd want a qualified luthier to look it over before I plunked down the cash.   Also, I know my own limitations, so I have a luthier do the set up for me.

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Unless you replaced the strings on all three guitars before playing them, so that they all have the same strings of the same age, the tonal differences in your testing don't mean very much. When you do A-B (or in your case, A-B-C) comparisons, you need to reduce the variables to a minimum: same strings of same age, same picks (if used). Even then, slight differences in action adjustment can impact on both tone and playability. Those things are usually easily corrected with a good set-up.

If you did put new strings on all, and your report above reflects that, I would probably go with the one that sounds and plays the best as-is, unless the looks of that one really bother you.

As far as appearances go, the first guitar, with the wide top grain--which looks more like Adi than Sitka--would be my choice.

A 1950 J-45 I bought last year has sapwood in the bridge, which makes it look a little odd, with uneven coloring. The tone however, more than makes up for that slight cosmetic blemish, and now I appreciate it for being unique.

The cutest girl in school is not necessarily the one you want to marry.

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Hi, and welcome to the written portion of the Forum!  🙂

For your dilemma, I would suggest that the third guitar is the obvious choice.  Sound usually wins, in my book, over aesthetics, except in extreme cases.  (That said, the second off-centre burst is pretty goofy though.)

The light-coloured wood that was used for the bridge and (to a lesser extent) on the fretboard on example #3 is kind of cool, I think.  It reminds me a bit of the gumwood and beanwood that was used on some of the 1940s-era Gibsons for bridges and fingerboards.

So I'd recommend "go with the Third J-45".

Fred

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Always go for tone first, period. You will get used to the looks, quickly, and it will never change. But great tone builds, develops, makes love to you ... go for tone.

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Burst-wise I like the appearance of #1 & #3. I definitely don't like #2's burst.

If #3 sounds the best but has high action, that's probably the reason. Strings setting higher above the fret board and sound board usually do help the sound.

If you don't have new strings for all three you could start swapping strings and saddles around to see if you find the right combination.

Take strings off #3 and put them on #1, etc.

Non-related, but Eric Clapton would by 10 strat's and take components and switch them around to get his sound.

Related-wise, our local music store is offering to drop off three guitars to your house for three days and you buy the one you want.

Sounds like fun.

Good Luck!

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33 minutes ago, Dave F said:

If you don't have new strings for all three you could start swapping strings and saddles around to see if you find the right combination.

That is a great, if not hilarious, idea. Getting them all on the same (age) strings would be good, too. Strings that are already on the quiet side coming out of the pack might help in hearing more of the guitar, and less of the new wires. If not playing musical saddles, then at least see if the string heights at the 12th fret can be measured. 

Also in the almost-hilarious department would be the lopsided burst. If new to Gibson, hopefully OP Patrick is able to look past imperfection and maintain a sense of humor. 

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24 minutes ago, 62burst said:

That is a great, if not hilarious, idea. ..... If not playing musical saddles, then at least see if the string heights at the 12th fret can be measured. 

More than once, I've had to scramble to find a saddle that had been moved around during testing 🙂

 

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A few other things to consider.....

First off, it is no good asking what to buy here at this forum because they will eventually say to buy all three! And then more. 😥

Then there is the crooked burst - you know, it is a 'one off' and if it became yours, you could have a talk/discussion point for years. If someone steals it, you could recognise it from across the road!

Now, are you sure you want the Standard? There are all the new model J45s out now without more historically correct tuning machines etc. Sweetwater has nice pics.

So I myself, I, had a 2010 Gibson J45 Standard and a couple of years ago, a dog I rescued had a fight with another dog and went for the kill, ripping the other dog's side open and I had to pay massive Vet bills for the other dog, which survived. I sold the J45 and a Martin OM28 to get some cash.

Even though I prefer smaller body guitars like Gibson L-00s, or LG3s, or Martin 00s etc, I did enjoy grabbing the J45 for a plunkety plunk and oh, oh...started to miss it. So I had a bit of a hunt around for quite a while, tried some new ones - very expensive here....don't know, don't know...tried the torrefied J45 Vintage, don't know, don't know, didn't really want an Adi top....bought a new round shouldered Taylor 717e BE, fabulous guitar but not much like a J45 and more like a Lowden, to me.

Then....a guy started unloading his guitars at a pawn shop here and I was at the door to try, then buy, a worn top 2005 Gibson Dove in cherry but someone wrote on the top! And a couple of months later, he dumped his 2002 Gibson J50. Very worn but when I played some high notes on it at the shop, it just sang out and people looked around! True. Mine!!!!! It needs a few things done but I haven't done it yet because of the Apocolypse... It reminded me of a 1956 J50 I had eyed off from Elderly...

So maybe try a few more different models if you are not sure - when you know, you know! These 2 were 1/4 of the new price, but of course need some things done.😎

 

Lf2coWuh.jpg

 

Jj3p3Xmh.jpg

 

BluesKing777.

 

 

Edited by BluesKing777
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Hey P.D. - and welcome inside this X-braced G-saloon. What a strong first post. You did an excellent thing by gettin' all 3 home. Must be huge fun. Even with flaws and asymmetries and missing overtones. 
Like everyone says, there's no real choice =
# 3 is the winner. And yes, you could dye that bridge then give it some oil (the stripes will look kooler darkened, but represent no real issue). I did that to my 66 CW, , , piece of pie. .

Man, could it be a gas to hear them lined in an alphabetical test-film. Possible ? , , , if not, enjoy every minute you spend with these musketeers. And don't forget what's been said already : 1 - The strings must be identical and put on within the same hour, , ,  2 - action means a lot to sound. 

Let's hear more as the tale unfolds

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Go for tone, every time. In ten years' time, you won't give a fig about glue drops, off-centre sunbursts or the colour of your bridge and fretboard (which has never bothered me as I can't see them when playing!).

The one thing that will keep you coming back to this guitar (the one you pick anyway!) is tone...that thick, woody, responsive and rich J45 tone which we all love, and for many people is why we ended up playing Gibsons. 

Pick the one that sounds the best...action etc can be easily sorted. Don't even think about the aesthetic angle. I've bought guitars in the past that look incredible but sound so-so, and they ALWAYS end up sitting in their case and being sold. The ones that have stayed with me are the ones that make my soul sing when I pick them up, the ones that are stuffed with songs because they sound so inspiring. 

Oddly enough, back in 2008, my former band and I had an endorsement deal with Gibson and ordered ourselves three new J45s. They arrived and were all fantastic, but in very different ways. My bandmate Simon's was rich, deep and plummy, filled with sweet, feathery overtones, oddly sounding halfway between a J45 and a D28. Gavin's was the complete opposite, sounding dry, fairly bright and a little scooped in the mids, very thumpy and similar to an OJ reissue. Mine was right in the middle, and sounded the most like a "typical" J45, really balanced and woody with a big midrange and powerful bass, slightly recessed and bell-like in the top end. 

The three sounded different enough to play together in our CSN-style acoustic shows, and really blended beautifully. It sounds like you're in a similar situation with your selection...happy picking, both in the playing and choosing sense!

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You might want to factor in that new guitars generally, at least, take a few years to break in and that their sound changes over the years. Some get considerably louder and looser feeling after the break in period, and after many many years some become considerably mellowed sounding, all of this being a good thing and something that happens to a fine instrument.  
 

Also, consider that when thinking about buying something, it is not unusual to start magnifying things about it, making things like a very small flaw or a scratch seem much more important than it will actually end up being.  Or magnifying things like worrying how someone else will notice something when later when the artificial magnification/worry  goes away.  And, forgetting that  some flaws or scratches end up becoming the pride battle scars or proud identifiers of the unique instrument one owns.  On the other hand, one can also make a case that if the instrument doesn’t seem right by you,, there are plenty more to try until one does.
Just food for thought.

QM aka “ Jazzman” Jeff

 

 

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I understand your thinking completely. I also am concerned about the visual aspects of a guitar. There is no reason whatsoever you should not be able to get one you like both the tone and looks of, especially if you have narrowed it down to the J-45 Standard. There should be a lot ot them to pick from.

With that said, personally I love the look of the fretboard wood of #3, and would have no problem with the bridge. With some oil, I think they would look super and really pop. Maybe you ca ask the store if you can oil it yourself, or have them do it for you.

Also, have you played more J-45s than these three recently? If so, and #3 still stands head and shoulders above any other you have ever tried...

Lars

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First of all thank you for the warm welcome and great responses! I'm happy about receiving that much food for thought on the topic and maybe it will help somebody else in the future picking the right J-45. I reckon choosing a Gibson is all about looking past imperfections and if you put some effort in it, you might be rewarded with a sound no other guitar in the world could give you (That's at least how I'm staying positive about picking a Gibson guitar, haha).

What I'm really taking away is that tone should always be above anything else - and that (while some guitars do open up eventually) you should never wait for a desired tone to maybe appear over time. Also, I took the potential tonal differences due to the age of the strings into account. At least that's what I thought: All three models were built between end of February and end of March 2020 and from the looks and feel, the strings on all three guitars were just as new and fresh as the guitars themselves. Yesterday, I started switching strings around and even experimented changing the saddles between the models. It didn't do anything on #1, it stayed too dry and lifeless - even for someone like me who doesn't like bright, ringing and bell-like overtones at all.

Where it does get really interesting is changing things up between #2 and #3. It is quite hard to describe tone and I am really new to trying to put something I hear into words, but after changing strings and saddle (having a little height difference) between #2 and #3 I was quite surprised about the result: #3 kept its big volume; the body just vibrates by the slightest picking. But it did lack the woodiness and "thump" that I originally picked a J-45 for, instead the bell-like top end became very present. It reminds me a lot of a D-28 I played in a shop last year. Sure a great instrument for many and certainly a good instrument to be played where it's a lot about volume, but not what I'm looking for tone-wise.

Well, I could've simply changed everything back to how it was and I'd still have #3 as the "winner". But it turns out that #2 just needed that change of a slightly higher saddle (which also fitted slightly better into the notch than the original saddle) and an (apparently) newer set of strings. It's not as loud as #3, but compared to the first testing it seems much more balanced, a little more punchier in the mids and the overtones just blend beautifully to a dry thump. It's a sound you'd like to hear when playing some folk-fingerstyle songs on a rainy November day in an off-grid cabin (Not sure if that makes sense 🙂). And here's the most important take-away: I like #2 with the new setup more than I originally liked #3. Now I'm making things complicated I guess. Turns out you only think you've heard the best sound until you hear something better? Or maybe comparing them back and forth is starting to mess with my ears (and mind).

This leaves me wondering: The burst on #2 is certainly off-center. Should I even bother when tone is everything? I scrolled through J-45 pictures on google and found quite a few where the burst is not perfectly centered. Or should I keep hunting for the right one, especially since it seems like I haven't heard the real potential of a J-45? J-45s are not super easy to get here, most shops have 1 or 2 available in good times and at the moment there's a real shortage of J-45s available. Seems like the 2019 models are mostly sold out (with a returned one here and there to find) and more 2020 models should arrive some time in September. So if I decided to continue my search it would most certainly be a project postponed to fall.

So maybe give it another shot and see if I can find THE one (looks, feel and sound all to my approval) out of the few left in the different shops? Don't mind the off-center burst? Or just stay with #3? Or just wait until fall? I'm really thinking out loudly at the moment, I guess I'll have to play #2 and #3 a little more and see where my gusto is taking me.

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There is no one perfect guitar. The sunbursts are all hand-done, and no two are alike.

While the appearance of a guitar has always been important to me, it is a distant third to tone and playability.

Whether you buy now or later depends on how anxious you are for a new guitar. At this point, it's unknown how the supply of new Gibson acoustics will be impacted over the next six months or so.

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6 hours ago, Jinder said:

Pick the one that sounds the best...action etc can be easily sorted.

The saddle swapping/action height measurement was only suggested because guitars with different string heights can sound and handle differently, as Pat confirmed for himself.

2 hours ago, PatDie said:

I reckon choosing a Gibson is all about looking past imperfections. . .  

What I'm really taking away is that tone should always be above anything else -

. . .  it turns out that #2 just needed that change of a slightly higher saddle (which also fitted slightly better into the notch than the original saddle) and an (apparently) newer set of strings.

. . . 🙂. And here's the most important take-away: I like #2 with the new setup more than I originally liked #3.

 

In having another look at lopsided SchiefBurst, a question comes to mind- you say you're not a native speaker, though your English is excellent. First thought was, "not only do you not see the burst while playing it, but an audience wouldn't see it either, due to the arm covering it while playing". Thought #2- "Wish I'd taken that factory tour- I suppose the dark edge is sprayed on last... wonder if it could be buffed down/evened out... nahh- you'd go thru the clear first". Thing 3, relating to your location- if this was a new guitar purchase, and you were in The States, it might even be possible to have them correct it under warranty. Lacquer is so repairable, it could easily be blended toward the center, "melting" into the previous coats. But then- it wouldn't be unique, or as BK777 says, you wouldn't be able to pick it out from afar if it was stolen!😉.

You shouldn't have to look past everything, Patrick. Surely the people who build these guitars, and the final check person at the end of the line, know the importance of quality control. It's not always about tone. We each have our own priorities, and they can change over time. Tone is what happens when all of the ingredients come together- the guitar, the player, and how comfortable the person playing the guitar is, are just a few of those things. 

 

 

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In my experience, a great sounding guitar only continues to improve in appearance over time while most any guitar, no matter how beautiful, with tone that is less than satisfactory will become one that you never want to look at anyway.

It is great to play and hear a guitar with a fresh set of strings, but I've always found it to be just as important, if not more so, to get the chance to play them with a much older set of strings. This will tell you just how much of any responsiveness, vibrancy and resonance that you detect is in the guitar itself as opposed to a fresh set of strings. In my opinion, the great guitars still manage to play and sound rather lively even with old strings. The tone will obviously be quite a bit different, but the guitar itself will still seem plenty "alive" on it's own as compared to those guitars that are totally dependent on a fresh set of strings to sound decent.

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1 hour ago, Guth said:

In my experience, a great sounding guitar only continues to improve in appearance over time while most any guitar, no matter how beautiful, with tone that is less than satisfactory will become one that you never want to look at anyway.

It is great to play and hear a guitar with a fresh set of strings, but I've always found it to be just as important, if not more so, to get the chance to play them with a much older set of strings. This will tell you just how much of any responsiveness, vibrancy and resonance that you detect is in the guitar itself as opposed to a fresh set of strings. In my opinion, the great guitars still manage to play and sound rather lively even with old strings. The tone will obviously be quite a bit different, but the guitar itself will still seem plenty "alive" on it's own as compared to those guitars that are totally dependent on a fresh set of strings to sound decent.

I agree with you on that, Guth, and just recently replaced strings on three guitars that had been on for about a year.

If you are going to compare to nominally-identical guitars for purchase, however, it helps to have identical strings on--which usually has to mean "new" so you can be sure the strings are taken out of the equation as a variable.

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23 minutes ago, j45nick said:

If you are going to compare to nominally-identical guitars for purchase, however, it helps to have identical strings on--which usually has to mean "new" so you can be sure the strings are taken out of the equation as a variable.

Agreed. But in this particular case, I would automatically rule out Option 1. The way I look at it is that no matter how good a guitar sounds with fresh strings, if it sounds dead with old strings then I know that I can obtain better.

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If I were you, I would call all shops within reasonable driving distance and see what other J-45 are available. First ask them for  good pictures, then ask them if you can try the ”good looking” guitars out at home for a few days. If possible try to keep the three you have now for just a little longer, so you don't have to compare tone by memory.

Also, consider how you would relate to the cosmetically perfect new guitar once you put a ding in it. It's bound to happen, you know...

I play tennis, and I hate it whenever I get new shiny rackets and they begin to get scratched up (you simply can't play tennis without scratching rackets...well you could, but it wouldn't be real tennis...). After about three months or so they are all scratched and worn and it bothers me no more. The court warrior patina is actually pretty cool too. The same can be said for guitars...

Lars

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4 hours ago, Lars68 said:

I play tennis, and I hate it whenever I get new shiny rackets and they begin to get scratched up (you simply can't play tennis without scratching rackets...well you could, but it wouldn't be real tennis...).

Ever played racket-guitar, Lars. . 

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4 hours ago, E-minor7 said:

Ever played racket-guitar, Lars. . 

 

That's how all this madness got started 😃

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ive swapped too many guitars, convincing myself that tone of A was lacking, and Tone of B was glorious. i ran out of letters.

im older than i used to be. my ears are too. i simply dont know what sounds great anymore, so i just play what i have more. why am i saying all this?

im so tempted to say choose 3. 

bur maybe 1 with some play time and a year will be just as good. AND look the best.

pick 1
 

[sal grabs coat sprints out back door and takes off down street evading mob of guitarists throwing tomatoes]

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